So hubby and I took a trip out west over the Fourth of July weekend. Our friend, Rich who had moved out there last year, got married on that Friday after the 4th, which just happened to coincide with my birthday. Let me tell you, it was an awesome birthday for me!

First of all, we flew out on Wednesday, which was the actual holiday day. We pretty much assumed would be a hectic traveling day, but it truly wasn’t. In fact, the airports were just about empty and all the staff (including those pesky security officers) was friendly. Literally, nothing could have gone smoother.

Once we landed in Portland, we hopped into our rental car and headed east towards Hood River, where Rich lives. We were given specific instructions to take the historic scenic highway in order to appreciate all the beauty of the Columbia Gorge.

Now, being from the Detroit area, everything is pretty much flatlands. Strip malls, gas stations, and concrete. The further away from the city, you’ll see farmlands and beautiful greenery, but it’s still primarily flatlands (unless you travel further north). So to look out your window and be consumed by all this lush greenery and (gasp!) mountains, you can’t help but be in awe.

(Side bar: I kept teasing Rich whenever he told us he just lived “uphill” from downtown Hood River, that nothing is just uphill around here. Everything is “up-mountain.”)

But back to the scenic highway route. After taking Exit 22 off of I-84, we headed “uphill” toward Vista House, which is an art-deco building literally perched on top of a cliff. From that view, you can see almost endlessly down the gorge in either direction.

Continuing to head east on the historic highway, we ended up at our first waterfall, LaTourell. You easily can see the falls off of the road, but by taking a short walk down the path, you can actually get a better, up close view the fall. Hubby and I were daring enough to step right up to the falls. Let me tell you, it was 90+ degrees outside, but the closer you got the the falls, the force of the falls and the mist made it feel like it was in the 50’s!

Next stop on our trip was Wahkeena Falls. From the road, you could some nice shots of the bottom of the falls where it cascades down onto some rocks. However, the half-mile trek up to the bridge provides you with some other spectacular views of the falls.

Once again, hubby and I were daring enough to get up as close as we could to the falls. In fact, if you travel on the right side of the falls, you’ll eventually stumble onto a shallow cave where you can get a unique view of the falls.

Our last stop on our scenic journey to Hood River was at Multnomah Falls; which I just found out is the second tallest year-round waterfall in the US at 620 ft in height (for those geeks like me that are interested, Yosemite Falls is the tallest).

Legend has it that a Native American tribe was infected with a deadly disease and was in danger of dying. The daughter of the chief went to the top of a cliff and was told by a Great Spirit that to stop the epidemic, she would have to throw herself off the cliff and sacrifice herself. She did this and died. The chief wept bitterly and cried out to the Great Spirit to give him a sign if this sacrifice was not in vain. At that moment, water began to fall from the top of the cliff, forming Multnomah Falls. The legend also says that under the right conditions, you can see the daughter’s face in the waterfall. In fact, we were able to see a printed picture of her face in the falls. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to capture her image on our camera, nor were we able to spot her face.

After that, we made our way to Hood River and checked into our hotel. After a quick dinner, we headed to the downtown area to meet Rich and other out-of-town guests at a local pub where we were able to enjoy the Hood River fireworks out in the parking lot. It was quite a long traveling day, but certainly beautiful and calming … a great way to have started off our vacation.

The next day, hubby and I headed back to Portland to check out it’s downtown area. This was the first of three consecutive days of us checking out Portland. It’s such a nice downtown area, especially the Pearl District where most of the cool shops are. In that area, hubby and I found what we would call heaven … Powell’s City of Books, the largest used and new bookstore in the world, which occupies an entire city block and is divided into nine color-coded rooms that houses over 3,500 different sections. I swear, we could just live there … especially since there’s an in-store café to provide us sustenance. Now, if we could only find a shower … Needless to say, we hit that store two of the three days we headed downtown.

Other cool things we checked out down there was the the Pioneer Place mall (where we got our first glimpse of the iPhone. Sigh …), the only Doc Martens retail store in the country, and Platinum Records (where hubby finally got new DJ headphones and some hard-to-find Buzzin’ Fly vinyl).

While getting lost trying to find Platinum Records, we happened to stumble on the Portland Street Market. Finding little jewels like that is just so much fun. Oh, and we ate at a Todai restaurant (which, for some reason, we always seem to find in any major city we’ve traveled to lately. Why, oh, why won’t they open one in Detroit?!). We met a really cool Filipina waitress there and got to talking about the area. In fact, every place we went to downtown, the people were always nice and friendly.

Oh, and did I fail to mention? No sales tax in Portland. That made for easy (not to mention, fun) shopping! So, really, what I’m saying here kids, is that downtown Portland is a fun place to be.

Another one of our days was spent making the trek to the Pacific coast. From Hood River, the coast is about 2.5 hours away. For those of you that know me, getting to put my feet in the sand of any major body of water is a must. It’s definitely the Cancer in me that loves the water.

Anyway, everyone we talked to recommended heading to Cannon Beach which is just south of Astoria, OR. As I continued to look at the map along the way, I kept thinking that Astoria, OR was significant in some movie or another but I couldn’t remember exactly which movie. And then we stepped onto the beach. I took one look at the rock formation off of the coast called “Haystack Rock” and said one word to hubby: “Goonies!” Yep, one of my favorite movies of all times was filmed both on that beach and in Astoria, OR. That was definitely a thrill for me.

But seriously, the real reason we were in Portland, OR was for Rich and Melissa’s wedding. All the festivities leading up to the wedding were so much fun. First of all, there was the above-mentioned fireworks. Then the next day was the rehearsal dinner at the Cathedral Ridge Winery. I’ve never seen grapevines up close before so that was definitely a thrill. Not to mention the beautiful landscape with Mt. Hood as the backdrop. Oh, and the later it got, the louder the frogs became (think “Bud-Weis-Er”). It was actually quite fun watching the “boys” trying to catch frogs and then show them to the “girls.” I’m such a tomboy, that unlike the other “girls” I was actually excited to see the cute little green creatures.

And finally, the wedding itself was beautiful. Set inside St. Mary’s Catholic Church, it was just awesome to see one of our closest friends (who we thought might never get married) say “I do” to such a great person. One great highlight of the ceremony was hearing Sinead O’Conner’s voice (a recording, of course … not the real Sinead) singing “Make Me A Channel of Your Peace.” I just can’t seem to get the image of her tearing up a picture of the Pope in that famous Saturday Night Live episode. Another highlight was after the mass when the bridal car, Rich’s prized (and I mean PRIZED) Audi TT, pulled up and it was decked out in “Just Married” decorations. If I only had my camera handy to catch his appalled look.

The reception was in the ballroom and on the patio at the beautiful Columbia Gorge Hotel, which is set on a cliff overlooking the Columbia River. Everything about the reception was wonderful; the food, the music, the company. As Rich was friends with hubby back in high school and college, it was fun for me to get to know some of hubby’s classmates and to visit with some friends and family that we hadn’t seen in a very long time. Rich even “DJ’d” his own reception (read: iTunes playlist). Despite all of us harassing him about the “last minute” nature of putting everything together (including a slideshow of pictures to go along with the first dance, father/daughter and mother/son dance as well as ones of a bunch of friends and family that continuously played throughout the night), Rich did an excellent job. My favorites were definitely the instrumental Pixies and Duran Duran songs he played during dinner. That, and all the excellent 80’s songs we danced to most of the evening. Oh, and those mojitos, too! I have to say, Rich and Melissa threw an incredible party!

Unfortunately, I don’t have too many pictures from the wedding as I relied on hubby’s better digital cam to take the shots. And, well hubby won’t be letting me post them any time soon until the graphic designer in him touches up all the photos. Grrr …

So, after 5 days of nonstop fun, it was time for us to fly back to Detroit. I can’t tell you how difficult it is for me now to look outside and see flatlands once again. Perhaps one day (possibly in the near future?) we’ll move out west.

If you’d like to see more pics from our trip, click on the album below: