“… and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”
I can’t say that seeing Multnomah Falls in Oregon transformed me into Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit – but I have to say, my immediate impression was that I was in Middle Earth – perhaps somewhere near Rivendell.
Instead, we were about 30 minutes from Portland, in Oregon – at one of the most spectacular tiered waterfalls in the United States – a set of falls made all the more beautiful by the Benson Footbridge about 30 metres above the lower cascade.
The footbridge was built by Italian stonemasons in 1914 and paid for by Portland lumber baron and philanthropist Simon Benson – who, in a very Portland sentiment, once said “No one has the right to die and not leave something to the public and for the public good.”
There are a number of legends surrounding the creation of the falls – all of which surround the beautiful young daughter of the local chief, and all of which end with tragedy.
In one, Coyote was the greatest of the Animal people and he carved the falls from bare rock to create a swimming pool for the young maiden – and they were happy until a couple of snarky old grandmothers started making fun of the young lovers, and made them the butt of their jokes. So the young woman swam away, pursued by her lover, until they were eventually turned into ducks who can still be seen swimming on the pond at the base of the top cascade.
Another even more tragic legend is that the walls were once a dry cliff – and that the local tribe were struck down by a plague. A prophecy said that a young maiden needed to be sacrificed to the Great Spirit – but the local chief refused. His daughter, on the other hand, couldn’t bear to see the people suffering – so dived from the top of the cliff, dying on the rocks below. The sickness immediately went away, and the Great Spirit, to show his satisfaction, sent a stream of water over the cliff; a stream that has never stopped since.
Multnomah is one of a number of falls along this stretch of the I-84 highway out of Portland – others include Bridal Veil, Horsetail, Lower Oneonta, Wahclella, and more – quite a few of which are located just metres from the highway.
And all of them would bring joy to an adventurous hobbit’s heart.