Eons of spewing volcanoes and cataclysmic floods created the Columbia River Gorge, where Oregon’s grandest river rolls through towering cliffs of basalt. Even Congress agreed this place was special. Twenty-five years ago, it named the Columbia River Gorge the country’s first National Scenic Area, protecting the Columbia’s most dramatic stretch, the eighty-five miles between the Sandy and Deschutes rivers.
There’s a good reason it’s known as the Wallowa Country. An hour east of La Grande, you drop into a canyon along the Wallowa River, pinball around the bends and drive into a valley of small towns with a high-alpine backdrop worthy of a red-eye to the Alps. This is a vertical world that sits on the precipice of the Hell’s Canyon gorge and is home to more than thirty 9,000-plus-foot peaks, the most in the Pacific Northwest.