Family Trip to The Dalles, Oregon - 2023

Family Trip to The Dalles, Oregon - 2023

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Not too long ago, we took another good trip out to The Dalles, Oregon, for our car club spring mini-meet. This doesn’t involve taking the old Willys with us, but is more just a social get together time, and conveniently meets the requirement for two meetings a year. This year, like last, we went to The Dalles, Oregon, as a reasonably central place for everyone to meet - though I do hope next year is somewhere different, as we’re running out of things to do in The Dalles.

We departed on a Thursday afternoon, right after my daughter got out of school. Grab I-84, and… just drive west. Seriously. It’s 84 west, all the way through.

I do enjoy road trips! I’ve talked before at some length about road tripping with the Chevy Volt, and the same things remain true. While we mostly use it to run into town and back on battery, the fuel burn on the highway isn’t awful (not great, either, at 35-38mpg cruising at 70+mph), and the weight and shape means it’s just a rock solid highway cruiser. I’ve driven a lot of vehicles a lot of highway miles, and the Volt remains one of my favorites - it’s boring, in all the good ways. I will suggest tossing the car into “sport” mode for highway use, though - it’s more responsive without having to really mash the throttle. I’ll also suggest that using hold mode (or the Android app for it, if you’ve got a 2012) helps quite a bit when you know you’re going to be on the highway for a long time. The Gen 1 Volt’s gas motor isn’t as powerful as the electric motor, and even with mountain mode holding more state of charge, you can still overwhelm the battery pack’s capacity with a lot of climbing (with the engine wound out in the process). Toss it in hold mode early on with a lot of pack capacity remaining, and it’s better behaved. I’ll drop it out of hold after the last set of passes, but highway travel with a mostly-full battery is nicer when you’ve got climbing to do.

And I just like this framing of an interstate sign with the sunset.

Sorosis Park

We had a morning with nothing much going on, so went up the hill to Sorosis Park - and they’ve got an awfully nice big wooden play structure for the kids! It’s castle themed, and has quite a few interesting features, including some sound tubes linking various parts of the play structure for “shouting through tubes” purposes - which, apparently, is a great deal more fun than just shouting across the play structure!

There’s a polar sun dial near the playground, in case you aren’t sure what time it is. It’s a simple enough design. I really should build a sundial for our property one of these years. I like the simple solution to standard vs daylight savings time.

While we were there, we also saw some rather aggressively friendly squirrels. They were entirely comfortable with people, and one of them was trying to raid some breakfast items off one of the tables. I don’t have squirrels out here, and I grew up with them, so they’re always fun to see.

One of them was entirely comfortable with dumpster diving for a meal, too. Interestingly, this was one of the slimmer squirrels in the group.

The big, fat squirrel seemed more than happy to just snack on grass, or whatever he managed to find in the grass.

Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum

We also went back to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum we wandered through last year. They’ve got a bunch of nice tables if you want to take a picnic lunch there, and the waterfall to the left makes a great spot for group photos!

If you go, plan to be there at either 11AM or 2PM for the raptor talks - they have a range of birds they rescue and they like to show them off!

They’ve put quite a bit of time and effort into the exhibits, and it shows - a lot of the “migrating west” exhibits are a range of artifacts set up with a painting behind giving a good sense of the terrain and environments. The Oregon desert is not a particularly friendly place to cross, especially in the summer.

I’ll build a raft and float down the river, please!

I’d not realized that a huge chunk of the western United States was, at one point, one county. Wasco County, when created in 1854, was 130,000 square miles - which is larger than all the current US states except Alaska, Texas, California, and Montana.

They have a wall exhibit showing the size of the county over the years, until it eventually was reduced to something resembling a normal size county. Quite the loss of area in 60 years!

A roughly 1900 era cash register. I can’t say I prefer our current flat glass tablet style ones over this work of art. This sort of aesthetic, in which everything is well decorated and quite beautiful, regardless of function, is one of the draws of the Steampunk movement. Turning everything into black mirrors just hasn’t been an improvement.

Given my recent interest in older styles of lighting, I was happy to see old incandescent filament bulbs in some of the “old town” exhibits. If you’re going to reproduce scenes from the early 1900s, they’re most assuredly not LED lit. If they’re doing it right, this bulb is being underdriven and should last a very long time.

However, the kerosene lamp (dead flame, if you’re paying attention) clearly hasn’t been actually used. And that wick is more than a tiny bit high… but you can see the reflector behind it that was used to help ensure that all the light was being sent in a useful direction.

Leather embossing appears to be a simple “brute force” sort of thing - press a patterned steel wheel into leather, very hard. Hand crank on the right, embossing wheel on the left, and a massive set of jaws to let you work large pieces through. Select wheel, squeeze leather.

Similarly, leather punches just shoved dies into leather hard enough to imprint them and, if desired, cut them to a shape. Lots of brute force.

There’s a full size “plank house” on display as well, which is a design suited to life in the western Oregon rain forest. It used to be that homes and buildings were designed to suit the local climate. You didn’t build the same kind of house in western Oregon as you did in the eastern deserts of the state. Unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot of that with the trend to build “the same standard box homes” everywhere, and rely heavily on mechanical climate control to keep them livable. That’s not a design that’s going to last particularly far into the future, one way or another. Homes should be built for their local climate, and to be habitable without a lot of power spent on air conditioning and heating.

It’s a simple form of construction based around that which there’s no shortage of - wood. Keep the rain out with the roof, and don’t worry about the rest of the details too much.

There’s also a very large sturgeon, carved out of a log.

The Fire Museum in City Hall

if you’re downtown during the week, stop into City Hall. In the back, you’ll find a beautiful old steam fire engine, a hand pumper, and various other exhibits related to the firefighting history of The Dalles.

This is a 1879 Amoskeag Steam Fire Engine. Rated at 550 gallons per minute, it was kept with the boiler pre-heated and a bed of coal already laid in the boiler, so that during the 10 minutes or so it took to get to the fire site (horse drawn), it would build up a head of steam and be ready to pump from whatever water source was available. In 1892, the town got a fire hydrant system, rather improving the capabilities of this sort of pumper. This engine remained in service until 1915, when the town upgraded to motorized engines. At 6700 lbs, the horses tended to get tired quickly when towing it.

I expect, in operation, this would have been a good bit greasier. You can see the little oil cups used for lubrication of the bearings.

And continuing my theme of “But we don’t make things beautiful anymore,” these old steam pressure gauges…

Before steam pumpers were available, towns used hand pumpers. This still beat a bucket brigade, but they were heavy, hard to use, and still limited by the availability of water sources near the fire.

It’s not a big museum, but it’s worth a stop when you’re in town!

The Dalles Downtown

Continuing on theme of “Explore all the parts of the town we could find,” we spent an afternoon or two searching for and taking photos of our family with the assorted murals downtown - and enjoying our time downtown as well.

There are well north of 30 murals and old advertisement paintings on the walls, and we’re pretty sure we found most of them. When they’re too large to use a normal camera for, there’s nothing wrong with sending your sky camera up and out to get the full scale of the mural! It’s a seriously impressive amount of work that went into painting downtown walls, and it’s a whole lot more fun to wander around than typical bland walls. I wasn’t exactly sure how people would react to a family running around with a drone obviously following them to get photos of murals, but the few people who noticed seemed quite excited to see us having fun in their downtown. I remain amazed just how many people don’t notice a quadcopter in the air 15 feet up…

In one of the parking lots, I found one of the more baffling things I’ve come across in my life. This is an old GMC truck that seems to be in perfectly usable condition, which isn’t unusual in my world. But… look at the finish on it. Look at how it shines. That’s not normal for an old truck.

On further investigation, the worn finish has a layer of clearcoat over it. The whole truck’s finish is covered in a nice matte clearcoat as you can see at this angle quite well (look by the headlight for the reflections). I’ve no idea what, why, or… well, why. It seems, based on the bare metal, that the existing patina was sanded or wire brushed in some areas, and at that point, I’ve no idea if this is actually the original finish that’s been cleaned up and protected, or if someone paid a lot of money for a “weathered finish” that was applied on top of bare metal. But someone went out of their way to protect the aged finish in the current state, and that’s just baffling to me. I guess this would be a “show old truck”?

We stopped in at Klindt’s Booksellers, which has been in continuous operation since 1870. I’ve been moving back to paper books lately in my general rejection of modern digital intermediation of everything, and it’s nice to see local bookstores doing well. Yes, we did buy some things here!

There’s also a very interesting outdoor “food/beer/games/gathering” area that I’d like to figure out how to create locally. It was early in the season and not much was open, but there are a few food trucks (or “tiny house kitchens”) around the outside of the area, a good selection of tables both around the edge and under cover, and some other seating areas. The tables in the center have a range of outdoor games (Connect 5 was one I saw), and based on the “No alcohol beyond this point” signs, somewhere serves beer.

I’m not sure if these are propane firepits, wood firepits, or natural gas, but they’re just wonderful for long form in person conversations with a group of people. I’ll talk about it more in some future post, but I’ve got a Solo Bonfire “smokeless firepit” and have been using it weekly with a group of people all winter long. Firepits after dark are just great environments, and if you’re opposed to the digital intermediation of all human interactions, you should be figuring out how to do a firepit.

The area seems to still be under construction, but the shade structure in the middle has some tinted corrugated material. It’s a simple enough build, and I expect in the summer evenings, it’s a quite popular social destination. I may have to trek back at some point this summer to see how it is at night.

Old Saint Peter’s Landmark

Finally, we had a scheduled tour of Old Saint Peter’s Landmark - a former Catholic church built in 1897. In the late 1960s, the church congregation moved, and a group of citizens got together and saved it from demolition. It’s now a museum, and still hosts weddings and assorted other events.

Of course, if you’re going to have your sky camera with you, it’s worth inspecting higher level sculptures a bit more closely.

Inside, it’s just a very, very nice church building. I’ve no idea what the original construction costs were, but very clearly “cost wasn’t a problem.” This is an interesting contrast to our current church building, which was built around 1915, and is very much a plain, utilitarian sort of building.

There’s a lot of very intricate marble work up front.

We just don’t do structural pillars quite like this anymore.

There’s a decent pipe organ, which, unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to hear. I do love pipe organs.

The Gospel writers each have a corner up high.

I’m not sure where the images they used came from, but I’m guessing it wasn’t based on actual photos…

And they have a beautiful set of stained glass windows.

Some showing scenes, some just generally artistic patterns.

Again, I miss the style of old churches. Just a different way of approaching the world.

The Dalles!

After two years of exploring The Dalles, it feels like we’ve hit most of the interesting tourist things to hit. If anyone has suggestions for next year, I’d love to hear them!


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