Driving the interstate, you might notice the distinctive outline of an octagonal structure on a high bluff in the western Gorge. This is the Vista House Visitors Center at Crown Point (503/695-2230, www.vistahouse.com , 9 a.m.–6 p.m. daily Apr.–Oct.), 733 feet above the Columbia. Construction began in 1916 when the Columbia River Highway  was formally dedicated.
The occasion was marked when Woodrow Wilson pressed a button in the White House, which electrically unfurled Old Glory at the flat circular dirt area that was to become the visitors center. In deference to Prohibition, the event was toasted with loganberry juice.
Vista House was completed two years after the highway’s official dedication. The outside observation deck up the steps from the main rotunda showcases 30 miles of the Columbia River Gorge . A plaque outside pays homage to Samuel Lancaster for the “poetry and drama” the highway embodies. Photos of the various stages of the road’s construction are displayed in the main rotunda, as are wildflower cuttings of the region’s native plants.
In the gallery of Vista House, volunteers run an information desk while educational exhibits and displays relate the history of the building and the highway.