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The Great Northwest, Face to Face


WASHINGTON-OREGON BORDER – The light comes streaming through the gaps in the curtains early this morning, and out the window of my sleeper car I can see clear blue skies and the beautiful Columbia River flowing alongside the tracks.

In the wee hours of last night, the train arrived in Spokane, where it was broken up into two sections. The front half of the train is making its way through Washington to Seattle, its final destination. The back half, which I’m riding on, takes a turn to the South, and has spent much of the night and the morning following the Columbia River, which marks the border between Washington and Oregon.  In a few hours, we’ll arrive in Portland.

Looking across the river to the Oregon side, I see the small, craggy buttes slowly give way to large rolling hills, covered in vegetation. Soon, Mount Hood emerges in the distance. Tall, powerful and snow-covered, this peak dominates the landscape. The train moves slowly by, and we all get a good look.

Soon, my leisurely journey through the West will be ending: Upon arrival in Portland, I’ll grab a taxi at the depot and head straight to the airport, making my way back East by plane. Late tonight, I’ll arrive in Lexington, covering in about 5 hours of air travel what has taken nearly two days by train.

It will be good to be home tonight, but I think I will miss the train. I’ll miss the great food, the attentive staff, and the slower pace of travel. But more than anything else, I think I’ll miss the scenery. This is an intimate way to travel, a long study of the nuances of our countryside. Taking it in is like studying the lines and curves of a loved one’s face, at once familiar and surprising.

We’ve always known that the Northwest was here, and heard that it was beautiful. But now I know for myself, because I have seen it face to face.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.