Over Hills and Dalles

Today we trolled back and forth over the Columbia River, crossing into Oregon and Washington on our way back from Mt. Hood. Another glorious day, with the mountain an ever-present feature in almost every vista.

We went back through the Fruit Loop, with orchards everywhere, and all the fruit boxes out as it is just about harvest time. You’ve probably been eating Hood River fruit your whole life – and loving it.

We next drove east along the Columbia River to Maryhill, and the Maryhill Art Museum.  You may remember the genius road builder of yesterday, Sam Hill, who was the major force behind the Columbia River Highway, which we traveled yesterday.  He is not the source of that expression “What in the Sam Hill are you doing?”  However, he might well have been.  Sam wanted to build a utopian Quaker community on the Columbia, a settlement he called Maryhill, after his wife, daughter and mother-in-law.  (He was lucky in his nearest and dearest’s names.)

That never caught on, but the grand home he built on the river survived, though it was never finished as a home – and is now an art museum, perhaps one of the stranger ones in this country.  Sam went to Europe to help out after WWI, and made three friends who supported his museum idea in a variety of ways.  One was Loie Fuller, a Folies Bergere dancer who was quite the rage for a while – in a kind of Isadora Duncan way, with lots of flowing fabrics.

And then there was Queen Marie of Romania.  Yes, she became a Sam Hill fan, and even emptied out the royal attic to give him some Romanian furniture for the museum.  She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and a cousin of Tsar Nicolas II, so quite well connected.  Since Sam helped Romania with war recovery, they were friends for life.

The third force behind the museum was Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, widow of a sugar magnate, who worked tirelessly to see the museum open after Sam’s death.

It’s not clear how all three got along, but that Sam must have been some charmer. (His wife decamped from her home in Minnesota years earlier.)

At any rate, here’s a glimpse of the Romanian, modern, art glass, Native American, antique chess sets and other genres represented. I particularly liked the Indian waterproof jacket, which is made of strips of seal intestines sewn together.  Now I know where Uniqlo got their inspiration.

The most interesting item was something delightful and unexpected – the Théâtre de la Mode (Theatre of Fashion). It was a 1945–1946 touring exhibition of fashion mannequins, approximately 1/3 the size of human scale, crafted by top Paris fashion designers. It was created to raise funds for war survivors and to help revive the French fashion industry in the aftermath of World War II. The original Théâtre de la Mode exhibit toured Europe and then the United States, and is now part of the permanent collection of the Maryhill Museum.  Look how wonderful the various sets were!


And then back to the great outdoors.  There were wonderful falls near Maryhill, and they were the scene of Indian salmon fishing for centuries.  But then a dam was built that eliminated them, and the drama of the river that Lewis and Clark saw at the places where we stood today.  Such is progress.

But we are not quite done with Sam Hill, yet.  About a mile from his house, Sam felt compelled to build a full-sized, astronomically aligned recreation of Stonehenge – as the Druids would have built it had they only had access to concrete blocks and been a little more rigorous with their building techniques. His version is a memorial to the local WWI soldiers dead in battle – and it features a view of Mt. Hood.  It’s quite something.

Then it was on to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, which celebrated the journey of Lewis and Clark, with whom we have crossed paths often. Lots of interesting artifacts of the period and factoids about the Corps of Discovery.  Those boys lived hard and worked hard.

Now, about Dalles, or The Dalles, to be precise. This is a town that is the end of the Columbia River Highway – the old historic road.  The name of the city comes from the French word dalle (meaning either “sluice” or “flagstone” and referring to the rocks carved by the river). We are here tonight, having been fortified by lunch at Cousins – a real family restaurant where they greet you as “Cousin” when you walk in.  How odd that our waitress was named Jo.  She raises llamas and spins her own yarn.  There’s more – but we’ll spare you.


Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: