Sunday, April 29, 2018

Dalton Point

Next up we're looking at a few photos from Dalton Point, a little state park in the Gorge right on the Columbia River. The park's built around a boat ramp, and I don't own a boat, so it's not somewhere I go regularly. I figured it might be good for some photos, since there are weirdly few places along the Oregon side of the gorge with river access, thanks to the big freeway right along the river's edge. You might think that would make this a popular park, but the handful of times I've been here it's always been empty or nearly so. It could be that I'm just never there at peak times, but the sorry state of the ramp and the parking lot make me think it doesn't get a lot of attention from anyone. The Oregon State Parks website doesn't even mention it, for whatever reason (though this isn't the first time I've run into this). Its location may work against it too; coming from Portland it's another 5 miles past Rooster Rock (which also has a boat ramp and a small marina), and (like Tunnel Point) only accessible to westbound traffic. Doubling back at the Warrendale-Dodson exit makes it an extra 18 miles versus going to Rooster Rock, which had better facilities the last time I checked. Not that I really minded the lack of other visitors; it's not something you encounter much in the Gorge anymore, and it was kind of nice, to be honest. Luckily nobody reads blogs anymore (present company excluded) so I can post about it here without the secret getting out.

There's an internet theory going around that Dalton Point is named for a "W. Dalton" who lived in the area circa 1889, and who also gave his or her name to nearby Dalton Falls. Neither Google nor the library's Oregonian database could tell me anything more about this person; I'm going to assume he or she was real because a myth would at least have an interesting story attached. I did find a few links about Dalton Point, at least, but it's not a long or particularly compelling history. It didn't appear in the Oregonian until the modern river-level highway went in, and at first (starting around 1961) there was just the occasional car accident, mostly people failing to negotiate a bend in the road and going into the river. I gather the highway didn't initially have guardrails through at least this part of the gorge, which would be a big, big problem on a wet, icy, or windy day. (Incidentally, while researching this post I did come across the one and only mention of Dalton Falls in the Oregonian on March 1st 1914, and it just relates to construction on the old highway.)

A Feb. 16th 1964 article about new boating facilities in state parks mentions Dalton Point briefly, saying the state was adding a shiny new boat ramp & parking lot, & paving an existing access road. After that, it showed up in the paper every so often when the state wanted to remind the public that a.) Dalton Point existed, and b.) there were assorted water things you could potentially do there. For example, a May 10th 1979 article about Portland-area boating said Dalton Point was a good place for water skiing. You probably wouldn't see this in a contemporary article, as water skiing has kind of fallen out of fashion in the last few decades. I tried it once, years ago; it's harder than it looks, especially if you wear glasses and are spooked about falling and losing them. Shortly after that article, a June 26th piece mentioned Dalton Point was going to get boat ramp upgrades as part of a larger gorge plan, full of improvements that largely haven't come to pass, like a "low level" trail from Lewis & Clark State Park in Troutdale out to The Dalles, trails connecting down to it from Portland Womens Forum & Crown Point, and a youth hostel(!) near Latourell Falls.

A Feb. 22nd 1987 article mentioned that Dalton Point was a low priority for windsurfing development, back when windsurfing was the hot new sport & the state saw dollar signs & wanted to promote it. I tried windsurfing once, years ago; again, it's harder than it looks. A month later, the paper pointed out that it was a great secret spot to fish for walleye, which instantly became untrue the moment it was published. So that's really about it, history-wise, other than the occasional road closure or abandoned vehicle.

Via my usual exhaustive Google searching, I gather Dalton Point is a good place to set off in a kayak. I've never tried kayaking; it looks really fun, though I suspect it just might be harder than it looks. It seems this is a good jumping off point to row over and climb Phoca Rock, a rocky island in the middle of the river (Phoca is a genus of seals that includes the ubiquitous harbor seal.), or get a close look at the Cape Horn cliffs on the Washington side. Or you can make it part of a longer trip: Here's someone's blog post about kayaking from Dalton Point downriver to Chinook Landing in Fairview, west of Troutdale. And here's someone else's tale of running into stormy conditions & submerged pilings here during a kayak trip from Idaho to the Pacific Ocean. That's... a long way, and more than the journey itself I find myself envying them having that much free time to spare, just paddling down the river and not having to stop now and then to hop on a conference call or whatever.

If you're in a tiny boat on the Columbia, you do have to worry about the occasional tugboat pushing a few barges. They don't turn all that quickly and they probably can't see you anyway. Luckily the NOAA nautical chart for this stretch of the river shows that the commercial shipping channel is way over toward the Washington side of the river in this area; it's called the "Fashion Reef Lower Reach", in case that ever comes up as a Gorge trivia question. (I have no idea where Fashion Reef is, or what's so fashionable about it.) The chart also tells us the water is up to 8 feet deep in the vicinity of the boat ramp (though I don't know what time of year they take water level readings), and there are a number of submerged pilings & other obstacles to look out for, which we already know from one of the links up above. Contrast this with Tunnel Point, which has nowhere to launch even a tiny boat, possibly due to river traffic plowing along just offshore. You could potentially get mowed down by a load of wheat right after getting in the water, if somehow you didn't notice the huge barges bearing down on you. (Note regarding the nautical chart link: NOAA's Chart No. 1 is a key to what the cryptic marks on all the other charts mean.)

If you don't like getting wet, it looks like there might be a way to hike downstream to Rooster Rock from here. I've been speculating about this but have never actually tried it; there's no official trail, I have never heard of anyone doing it, and I have no idea whether it's actually possible. You'd be right next to the freeway much of the way so it wouldn't exactly be a high-quality fun wilderness experience, either. You'd probably have the riverbank (such as it is) all to yourself, though.

One thing I wouldn't have expected prior to Googling the place to death is that Dalton Point is a significant nature spot, home to a variety of rare plants and insects. In retrospect it makes sense: There's very little riparian habitat left along the Oregon side of the gorge, since much of the shoreline is now just riprap supporting the freeway. So come spring and early summer, this is apparently a good place to come and see native wildflowers and insects. Some assorted links I came across on the subject:

Miscellaneous other Dalton Point(ish) items I ran across on the interwebs:


Bill Sharp said...

I still read your blog from time to time. I drove out to Dalton Point today because, from your description, it looked like it might be a good place to sketch. The water is pretty high right now and both ends of the trail ended briefly at water. Not sure if it's like that later in the year. Maybe there are better viewpoints later when the water is lower.

Talha Khan said...

I've tried waterfowl hunting a handful of times at Dalton Point, but haven't had any luck.