The Loop

I’ve lived on the old Columbia River Highway in Bridal Veil, and currently live along the course of the Barlow Trail in Brightwood. My love of the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood, and my interest in their history has driven my research into the story of both routes and the development of the Mount Hood Loop Highway. Mount Hood is the only glacial peak with a road that completely circles it allowing access to the peak from every direction.

Wagon at Government CampThe great highway during the initial surge west of the immigrants was the “Great River of The West”, the Columbia. Many families rafted what was left of their earthly belongings, and in many cases what was left of their families down the perilous river route through cascading rapids and laborious portages to the Willamette Valley in search of the “Land of Milk and Honey”. Because of this migration, the initial establishment of the overland roads by and large carried traffic from east to west following game and native trails, the primary route being over the southern shoulder of Mount Hood.

Sam Barlow and Joel Palmer arrived in charge of separate wagon trains at The Dalles in September of 1845 and found a shortage of everything, and a long wait for the dicey trip down the river. They both felt that the prospect of staying in The Dalles until a guide could be secured was more than their patience or their budget could endure. Considering the fare charged by the River Guides and the expensive prices for supplies at The Dalles, and the fact that the trip was not just a leisurely float downstream, a land route around Mount Hood sounded like a good idea. Hearing of Sam Barlow’s plan to cross the southern shoulder of Mount Hood, Joel Palmer decided to follow him with his own wagon train, overtaking them soon after.

Moving south along the Deschutes and up the White River they burned and slashed their way to the south shoulder of Mount Hood before succumbing to the arduous labor and the oncoming winter weather which required them to stash their wagons and head in the most expedient way to Fosters Farm and on to Oregon City, with the weaker ones of the party riding their tired stock. December of that same year found Samuel Barlow petitioning the territorial government for a permit to operate a toll road over the path that he and his companions traveled the previous October.

In time several routes were pushed through the Columbia River gorge to the valley, including supply/trade and cattle trails as well as a Military road. By the 1880’s railroads were running through, and of course in 1913 the first paved road was built through in the form of the Scenic Columbia River Highway, of which much has been written.

Meantime on the South side of Mt. Hood Sam Barlow’s road was changing too. Nearly put out of business by the gorge routes, the old Barlow road went through many private hands and states of repair and disrepair before it was handed over to the state to be developed into a highway, much along the same route that we drive today along Highway 26.

Welches HotelBy the late 1800’s the immigrants had established their civilization and now many of the next generation wanted to play in the outdoors that their parents fought to survive in fifty years before. Mount Hood is in Portland’s back yard and it beckoned from its position on the horizon visible from most any part of the city, calling them to the mountains. Outdoor sports were very popular then, much like they are today, and many would take the road to the mountain for a guided trip to the summit, or as time went by to the ski slopes in the winter. Summer found them taking wonderful alpine hikes, festooned with breathtaking vistas, fields of wildflowers, creeks and lakes. Fishing and hunting trips were also taken to teaming rivers and the forests abundant with wild game.

Mountain lodges and road houses were established to cater to the tourists, including Welch’s Ranch and Tawny’s Mountain Home as transportation methods and road conditions improved. Horse drawn stages and then auto stages started regular runs from Portland to Mount Hood and back. Many would stop and stay at Welches and others would make the trip to Government Camp where the guides would take them to the top of the mountain.

In 1911 E. Henry Wemme, an automobile enthusiast and Portland businessman, purchased the old road from the Mount Hood & Barlow Road Company with the intentions of improving the route to the mountain and points east for the automobile that was to become the new wave of modern transportation. Two years later he offered the road to the government, who turned down his offer. He died the following year and willed the road to his attorney, who in 1917 presented it to the state who removed the tolls on the road and took over maintenance. By that time there had already been talk of plans for a road that would allow travel completely around Mount Hood.Mount Hood Loop

In 1914 Thomas H. Sherrard, supervisor for the Mount Hood National Forest along with William L. Finley, a naturalist, Rufus Holman, the Multnomah County Commissioner, Leslie Butler and Charles Bell from Hood River and Jacob Kanzler of Portland took a horseback trip around the east side of the mountain much along the route of the present highway 35, which created more interest and faith in the feasibility of a route that would follow the upper Hood River Valley around the east side to the Wapanitia cutoff and the south side road.

Wapanitia Cuttoff

In 1919 a cooperative agreement was signed between the state and the government to build the road. It was started late in the year of 1919, and was completed in late 1924. The first traffic to follow the new road came in the summer of 1925 after the winter snows cleared. The road was only used seasonally until improvements were made and snow removal started in 1967.

And so “The Loop” was complete. Fred McNeil wrote that at its dedication the Mount Hood Loop road was called “The necklace about the old volcano with Portland as its pendant”. The Loop hasn’t lost much of its allure since then and is travelled often today by folks out for a “Sunday Drive”. It is easily travelled in a day, including stops for pictures of mountain vistas, waterfalls and lunch. If anything has been lost, it’s the lack of awareness of what is being passed unnoticed by those that are “making tracks” and not “smelling the rhodies” while encapsulated in their climate controlled, surround sound equipped cocoons that travel at speeds not thought of by the pioneers that travelled before them.

Model A on Laurel HillDo yourself a favor the next time that you are looking for adventure and take the Mount Hood Loop and please, stop and read an historical marker, or visit a museum. There are many shops and restaurants along the way that are just waiting to be discovered as well. If you’ll leave your cocoon and take a side trip or two and stop and smell the rhodies, maybe you’ll figure out why I love my neighborhood so much. Oh, and wave as you pass Brightwood, it’s right off the highway on a great stretch of the old road.

Click here to see vintage pics from the old Mount Hood Loop Road from Wemme to Hood River.

Click here for Mount Hood Loop Map

Mountain Lights

Illuminating Mount Hood. Lewis and Clark Expo

It was 1905, one hundred years after the Corp of Discovery was sent west from the United States into the wilderness to report the makeup of their newly acquired territory, and Portland Oregon was throwing a party to celebrate the occasion. In four months, 1.6 million people toured what was the equivalent to a World’s Fair with exhibits from nineteen states and twenty one different countries. Extravagant, if not substantially built buildings were constructed in the Spanish Renaissance style. It was quite an event with many different publicity stunts to draw attention to cooperators and to the event itself. One of which was an attempt at illuminating the summit of Mount Hood in a way that could be seen from Portland and the Lewis and Clark Expo.

Illuminating Mount Hood was nothing less than an obsession to folks in the late 19th century, as there were many attempts, and a couple successes.

Perry Vickers, Mount Hood’s first full time resident, started a tradition of building a bon fire on Mt. Hood in 1870 that lasted for many years. It was most likely not so much for the enjoyment of the people in Portland, but for the enjoyment of the locals who either participated in the building of the fires, or for those in Government Camp or campers at Summit Meadows, where Perry Vickars had facilities for travelers and campers. After a few bon fires, he was the first to initiate a blaze in an attempt be made visible from Portland. He used magnesium for the flame and was seen from Summit Meadow, but not in Portland. This was in 1873.

Several other unsuccessful attempts were made before two Portland men named George Breck and Charles H. Grove, on their second attempt on July 4th, 1887, were able to illuminate the mountain clearly, and bright enough to be seen in Portland. Their attempts were what gave Illumination Rock its name. Other notable names from the party were acclaimed conservationist William G. Steele, N.W. Durham. Govt. Camp’s first citizen and famous mountain guide Olliver C. Yokum, Dr. J.M. Keene and Dr. Charles F. Adams.

In 1901 plans were being made to illuminate the mountain as a part of the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition. Portland businessman and event co-organizer W.M. Killingsworth wanted an electrical light display featuring a huge statue of Lewis on one side of the mountain, and another of Clark on the opposite side. The logistics of such an event were wholly impractical for obvious reasons. Disregarding the construction and placing of the statues that would indeed need to be massive to be seen from such a distance, taking electricity to the mountain was also impractical, even if generated from the closest stream that could be used to power a generator, it was a fanciful but impossible feat.

On July 4th. 1905 “Plan B” for the illumination of Mount Hood for the exposition was put into place. A party consisting of George Weister, E.H. Moorhouse, Horace Mecklem, Mark Weygant and guide Peter Feldhausen proceeded up Cooper Spur for the summit, arriving at around 6pm. Upon reaching the summit, they held on in the frigid cold until the planned time of 9pm when they ignited the red powder that was to provide the flame. When the flame was ignited a wind blew through, taking some the fire down the mountain, thus subduing the flame making in near impossible to see in Portland, but it was reported at being visible in the Hood River Valley to the north. The party left the mountain top right away.

Many more illuminations were done in the subsequent years, with the most spectacular fire being the one that was done for the Mazama Climbing Club’s 75th anniversary in 1969.

The previous story doesn’t touch on the heliography that was done from the summit of Mount Hood, and will most likely be a subject of another story in the future.

Battle Axe Inn, Government Camp, Oregon

The Battle Axe Inn, in Government Camp was for many years the hub for much of the activity on Mt. Hood’s South side. Many mountain rescues were headquartered from the old inn, as well as community gatherings and parties. Many a cold and tired skier found warmth and rest in front of its grand rock fireplace. Continue reading Battle Axe Inn, Government Camp, Oregon

Mt. Hood History Blog

Welcome to my new blog… as if I have time for another project. 🙂

Some may already be aware of my web site. www.mounthoodhistory.com It is becoming quite popular as time goes by, but I was inspired by the “Cafe Unknown” history blog. http://cafeunkown.blogspot.com/ It’s a great blog with some really good info about Portland, Oregon’s history. Perhaps I can create a similar web site focused on my own center of interest, the Mt. Hood Loop Highway, including the Historic Columbia River Highway.

So if you come here to visit, please give me a heads up so I know that I’m not talking to myself.

Gary Randall
Brightwood, Oregon