Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bishop's Cap

Bishop's Cap

Some photos of Bishop's Cap, the giant rock formation on the Gorge Highway just east of Shepperds Dell Falls. If you search for info about it, much of what you'll see are old vintage photos and postcards from the early 20th century. Couple of reasons for this. First, the rock is much less visible than it once was, as logging is no longer allowed here and the surrounding forest has grown up around it. Second, gazing at unusual rock formations doesn't enjoy the same vogue it did a century or so ago. These are the same reasons the once-famous balancing rock at Coalca Landing, south of Oregon City, is largely forgotten now. Likewise the "Pillars of Hercules" at the overlook near Bridal Veil Falls. There are a couple of exceptions in the gorge: Rooster Rock has its own state park (although it's more famous for its clothing-optional beach), and Angels Rest is one of the rare major trailheads that isn't named after a waterfall. But for the most part the Gorge's rock formations and their melodramatic Victorian names have been consigned to the history books. (Crown Point was once called "Thor's Crown" if that gives an idea of how melodramatic these names often were.)

Bishop's Cap

For those of you who weren't paying attention in Catholic school, an actual bishop's cap is called a "mitre". Based on the old postcard views of the rock, I guess there's a resemblance, in the sense that they're both sort of rounded and taller than they are wide. Oregon: End of the Trail, a 1940 WPA-produced tour guide, insists it was also known as "Mushroom Rock" at that time. That name doesn't seem to have endured, probably because the rock looks nothing like any mushroom I've ever seen. Besides, a name like "Mushroom Rock" just isn't melodramatic enough for the Gorge.

A 2011 study for the state's Historic Columbia River Highway Advisory Committee (which is different than the Columbia Gorge Commission) noted that views from the old highway were increasingly blocked by trees and bushes, and proposed that a short list of protected "viewsheds" be established where vegetation could be removed to protect the view. The area around Bishop's Cap was on the short list for protection, but it's not clear what the current status of this proposal is. If the proposal involves chopping down trees so drivers could get a better look at an enormous rock, I'm not sure I'd be in favor of that, to be honest.

Bishop's Cap

Bishop's Cap featured in a November 1949 Oregonian article "Tourist Treasure for Oregon" about the state's many scenic wonders and how we might lure more out-of-state visitors to come see them, which suggests it wasn't completely obscured by trees at that point. The "Mushroom Rock" name also showed up in the Oregonian once, in the February 12th, 1922 paper, in something titled "A Song of the Columbia River Highway". There's no music provided to go with the words so I assume by "song" they meant "epic poem". I can't really offer an opinion about its merits; my eyes keep glazing over at the sight of a poem that long, and I can't seem to read enough to tell whether it's any good.

The place names might not have faded out of public awareness if rock climbing was more popular in the Gorge. Looking at all the sheer cliffs and spires and so forth you'd think it would be, but it turns out the rock itself is crumbly and treacherous, "rotten" in rock climbing parlance. There are a few spots where it has some popularity: Broughton Bluff at the far west end of the Gorge, and Rooster Rock, but overall it seems to be kind of a rare activity, at least that I'm aware of. Those are the only two places I've ever seen people climbing, at any rate. I found one trip report (with lots of photos) from someone who climbed St. Peter's Dome a bit further east in the Gorge. They were obviously a group of hardcore climbers and the report sounds like they have no intention of ever going back there ever again. Let me go ahead and say that if you ever see a post here about the top of St. Peter's Dome, or any of the similar pointy bits around the gorge, and I haven't made it explicitly clear that it's a guest post, you should assume I've been hacked and alert Google or the authorities or somebody.

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