The Nelson House - In the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies - CycleBlaze

February 15, 2019

The Nelson House

The Nelson House

The rolling hills east of Mount Hood have probably been our favorite weekend bike escape for the past twenty years.  Several times a year, usually in the spring or fall, we would make our way up the Columbia Gorge to the country around The Dalles or Hood River for a short multi-day loop or a series of day rides.  It’s fabulous cycling country, with miles of empty roads rolling through the wheat fields and sagebrush, and with awe inspiring open vistas extending to distant volcanoes on either side of the gorge.  If you’re ever in the region you should give it a try, and experience roads like these:

On Highway 216 in Sherman County, at the top of the climb from Shearers Falls.
Heart 1 Comment 0
Descending from Wasco into Scott Canyon, with the Goodnoe Hills on the Washington rim of the Columbia Gorge on the horizon.
Heart 1 Comment 0
Climbing from Mabton to Bickelton in the Horse Heaven Hills.
Heart 1 Comment 0
Dropping from Tygh Ridge toward Dufur, with Mount Adams in the distance.
Heart 1 Comment 0

If I were to list out my ten favorite day rides in the region, probably half of them would be over there.  High on this list would be any of the loops that include the Emerson Loop Road and took us past this beloved old relic:

The Nelson House, on Emerson Loop Road.
Heart 1 Comment 0
Another view, showing its scraggly old locusts and decrepit wagon. These are the oldest photos I have of the place, from about 15 years back.
Heart 2 Comment 0

It’s such an evocative scene, this magnificent old Victorian homestead abandoned out here in the wheat fields without another structure or tree in sight.  I could hardly believe it the first time we cycled past.  We’ve probably passed it a half dozen times by now, and each time I’ve had an emotional reaction - relieved it’s still here, a bit saddened to see evidence of further decay, hopeful that it will outlast me.  It’s been my favorite relic of Oregon’s pioneer past since I first saw it. 

I haven’t been alone in my admiration, apparently.  Somehow I stumbled across this OPB article about the place yesterday, of a visit to it with the last survivor who remembers it from their childhood.  I learned that it was the Charles Nelson house, and that it’s believed to be the most photographed homestead in Oregon.

And I learned that it’s gone.  It burned to the ground in The Dalles Substation Fire, that terrible fire that burned out of control for weeks last summer while we were in Canada and for a while was the top priority fire in the country.  Hearing that the house is gone is terrible news to me.  I feel a personal sense of loss, just as I did last summer when we walked through the ruins of the McDougall Memorial United Church in Alberta, or the year before when we passed the destroyed Dewey Bridge in southwestern Colorado.

All the news

Not much news to report today, actually.  On the tour front, at Rachael’s insistence we’re renaming the journal to give the Kingdom of Two Sicilies top billing.  She makes a good case, and it’s her journal too.

On the coffeehouse circuit, I find that I was wrong about the woman at Café Ponte.  She’s probably not Italian, and she’s not Chiara - she’s Kiana, a Hawaiian name.

And on the home front, we’re both excited that the PIFF schedule (Portland’s international film festival) was published yesterday.  We spent last night poring through it, marking our favorites, and plotting out our calendar for the coming weeks.  The first press screenings begin Monday, and the event shuts down the week before we leave for Palermo.  Suddenly it feels like we’re almost ready to leave town again.

Heart 0 Comment 0

And, on the weather front, I’m surprised to look out the window of the coffee shop and see that it’s sunny out.  Unexpected, because the forecast last night was for at best a few dry but overcast hours today.  Let’s ride.

Today’s ride

Soon after I got back to the apartment it started raining again, so Rachael and I stayed put for a bit.  An hour later it stopped though and Rachael and I headed out to Sauvie Island.  With so many of the coming days committed to midday film showings, I wanted to make it out to the island again before the sandhill cranes head north for the season.

We rode together for the twelve miles out to the island, keeping a good, steady pace.  We wanted to get a decent workout, but also we didn’t want to spend any longer on the highway than necessary.  There’s a lot of winter gravel on the shoulder and the truck traffic was pretty heavy today, so it felt a bit less safe than usual.

Once on the island, we separated.  My plan was to take a somewhat shorter ride and keep my eye out for the birds, and Rachael wanted to get in all the miles that she could before the rains returned.  We both got our wishes, but she came home with a bit extra: she was out a bit longer, got in her miles, and also got to experience a few miles of rain and headwinds at the  end.  A very nice ride, and an excuse for a well earned good meal on the town.

There’s always some reason for a doubletake on the riverfront.
Heart 1 Comment 0
Morning ritual at the Japanese memorial.
Heart 1 Comment 0
We rode together the twelve miles out to the island, then each went our own way.
Heart 2 Comment 0
At the quiet north end of the island. Note the two red tailed hawks perched on the utility pole.
Heart 0 Comment 0
An unusual sighting. I don’t recall seeing two red tails perched together like this. Maybe it’s a sign of spring.
Heart 2 Comment 0
So why did you chase off my friend?
Heart 3 Comment 0
I like this - it looks like a river.
Heart 3 Comment 0
This stick figure must believe he’s out of sight, I think. I’ve been following him down the road for awhile, and until now he kept flying off before I could draw at all near.
Heart 2 Comment 0
No, that’s a bit too close.
Heart 1 Comment 0
I was hoping to find some sandhill cranes today.
Heart 1 Comment 1
Jen GrumbySo glad you got to see them!

2 of my favorite sounds are the call of sandhill cranes and bugling elk.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
This is a bit unusual also. Usually the cormorants have these pilings to themselves.
Heart 2 Comment 0
Rate this entry's writing Heart 3
Comment on this entry Comment 6
Gregory GarceauMan, that Nelson House really is cool. Eerie too. The Addams Family could have lived there.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Bruce LellmanI, too, explored and photographed the Nelson House twenty-some years ago. I posted one of my photos of it on Instagram the day it burned. A sad day to be sure. Not only did the house go but the tree and the farm implement as well. Now it is like there was never anything there; erased from the earth.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Bruce LellmanHuh. If I followed you on Instagram, I’d have known that.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Gregory GarceauIt has a certain aura, alright. I was always tempted to walk out and explore it up closer, but decided to heed the signs. Hard to believe there’s just bare earth here now.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Scott AndersonWell, of course that was what I was hinting at but I myself do not get very involved with social media, not even FaceBook, so I am not one who should try to convince anyone else to get involved with any kind of social media. I just think that with your great eye for a good photo you might enjoy Instagram.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Jen GrumbyWe recently watched Oregon Field Guide Season 30, episode #3006, which featured the Nelson House and other sites in Abandoned Oregon.

If you haven't seen it, check it out. The episode also includes an interview with an impressive Oregonian cartographer.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago