“A Sight So Nobly Grand”

“A sight so nobly grand” are the words of Joel Palmer.

Joel Palmer was unusual among the pioneers in that he came out to Oregon Country to see if it lived up to it’s reputation before bringing his family. His first journey on the Oregon Trail was in 1845 when he was 35 years old and the following year he returned to Indiana to fetch his family for a permanent move to Oregon Country.  In 1848 he joined the rush to California and returned to Oregon Territory the following year having made $2000 in the gold fields.  He was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Oregon Territory by President Franklin Pierce and served 3 years. His sympathy with the plight of the Indians was unpopular with many. He was elected to the Oregon Legislature and chosen as Speaker of the House and then elected to the Oregon State Senate in 1864. In 1871 he was appointed Indian Agent at Siletz Indian Reservation, but resigned “disheartened and utterly discouraged in this work.” He died in 1881.

Mt. Hood, a snowy crown overlooking Oregon City, the official End of the Oregon Trail, as seen from the I-205 viewpoint looking across the Willamette River falls to Oregon City.


I never tire of the view of Mt. Hood!  Portland, with an annual average of 68 clear days, doesn’t always have a clear view of the mountain. Whenever we do, we are known to gasp, admire it’s beauty and say something like…

“Oh! Look! The mountain is out today!”

Looking at the “backside” or eastern slopes of Mt. Hood from Hood River.

As the pioneers traveled west, their  journey to the Willamette Valley was barred by the Cascade Mountain Range. The only possible highway was to float their wagons on rafts down the Columbia River where they encountered dreadful rapids. This was one of the most arduous, treacherous and expensive portions of their journey.

Excerpts from A Sight So Nobly Grand by Joel Palmer with Introduction & Annotation by John Palmer Spencer. (Italics mine.)

“September 30.  This day we intended to make arrangements for our passage down the river, but we found upon inquiry, that the two boats…were engaged for at least ten days, and that their charges were exorbitant, and would probably absorb what little we had left to pay our way to Oregon City. We then determined to make a trip over the mountains, and made inquiries respecting its practicability of some Indians, but could learn nothing definite, excepting that grass, timber and water would be found in abundance…  

October 11.  I had never before looked upon a sight so nobly grand. We had previously seen only the top of it, but now we had a view of the whole mountain.  No pen can give an adequate description of the scene.”

This photo is taken from Timberline Lodge at 6000′ elevation on September 7, 2016 in the area where Joel Palmer climbed in 1845 to an elevation of roughly 9000 feet on Mt. Hood’s 11,249 foot peak in worn out moccasins exposing his bare feet to snow and ice. Palmer Glacier, named in his honor, is visible – the lowest large patch left of center. Palmer Glacier is the only place in the United States offering summer skiing and is where the US Olympic ski team does its summer training.

“October 1845 marked a milestone in the history of the Oregon Trail; a group of emigrants crossed the flanks of Mount Hood over the Cascade Range for the first time.  One of their leaders, Joel Palmer, made the first recorded climb to the glaciated upper reaches of the mountain…

“Joel Palmer, Sam Barlow, and thirty wagons traveled 130 miles around the south side of Mount Hood in 1845.  Their trip represents but one month of a migration that spanned nearly six months and 2,000 miles…

 “After that winter, the mountain would no longer be a barrier to the wagon trains of white settlers.  Sam Barlow…obtained a franchise from the territorial legislature to develop the south-side route into a toll road.  The Barlow Road had a significant impact on Oregon’s history.  Emigrants poured into the territory in growing numbers…”

Excerpts from A Sight So Nobly Grand by Joel Palmer with Introduction & Annotation by John Palmer Spencer

On October 19, 2016 after days of rain, the skies cleared and the beautiful sunrise illuminated the profile of Mt. Hood. I am awestruck and take this photo while driving to work.

Driving home that same day I see the results of our rain – Mt Hood glowing with with a fresh layer of pristine white snow. I look for a place to pull over and take a photo. It’s not the best shot, but – hey, I wouldn’t complain if I had that view of Mt. Hood from any window of my house!

img_0309-2

A big snowy difference from my September photo. A big thanks to my colleague Trudy, who took this picture on 10/19/16 from Timberline Lodge, on the mountain’s southern flanks.

Mount Hood “a sight so nobly grand!”

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