Hats off to an Oregon landmark

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HERMISTON — A basalt pile decorates much of Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon, thanks to some lively volcanic action millions of years ago.

Some of the pile stands out from the rest.

Take Hat Rock.

Years ago it was a beacon for the Lewis and Clark expedition as they floated the West en route to an extremely humid winter camped at Fort Clatsop along the Pacific Ocean.

Fast forward to the present.

Today, Hat Rock is the centerpiece of a state park on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. It’s a fine place for a hike, I tell my wife, a fabric artist. I have bribed her to hike with me in exchange for a trip to the grand opening of a quilt shop in Stanfield one recent Sunday.

It’s the heart of bird migration season. Stepping out of the car, we hear road rage in the sky. It’s the honking of at least 300 Canada geese flying high overhead, destination unknown.

The hike around the fishing pond is modest. A paved pathway leads past the work of an overly eager beaver that has fallen a Russian olive tree across the footbridge. Wonder thinks the route is impassible.

Being stubborn, I have other ideas.

After much encouragement, she ducks down and makes her way, gingerly, past the obstacle, with only minor wear to her extremities.

North of the bridge, we leave the main trail and hike up the hill to Hat Rock itself.

The rock is surrounded by a fence to keep climbers from turning it into their personal playground and graffiti artists from using it as an “art” canvas.

When Lewis and Clark cruised by here, there were no fences. Or reservoir. Back then, in 1805-06, there were no parking lots and homes with river views, except, of course, for whatever Indians were camped in the area.

No Camping World store, either.

We return down the hill, enjoying sweeping views downriver, back to the lakeside path. There Canada geese and ducks ply the pond and play battleship. Several other geese fly low over our heads as they turn the pond into their personal airport. We can almost feel the wind from their wing beats.

Splashes of fall color catch our eyes.

It’s not wall-to-wall color, like you’d see in Wisconsin or New Hampshire when Jack Frost does his magic. Still, the maples, in particular, are engaged in a fall finery fashion show.

Part of the fun of going to Hat Rock is the drive through Wallula Gap, which for rock lovers like me never gets old.

Ramparts of basalt tower over the river. Hawks play in the updrafts. Occasionally, a barge will cruise by, adding color to the scene.

If you go to Hat Rock from Walla Walla, plan for about an hour drive each way.

And watch out for low-flying geese.

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Jeff Petersen can be reached at jeffpetersen@wwub.com or 509-526-8363.

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