It hits you shortly after leaving Hood River . Verdant forests give way to scrub oak, which transition to sage and the grasslands of eastern Oregon. You’ve come to The Dalles, a place Lewis and Clark called the “Trading Mart of the Northwest” in 1805.
Instead of seeing a Native American potlatch on the Columbia River, however, the modern visitor will see 10,000 souls living in the industrial hub of the Columbia River Gorge . One also sees now-defunct aluminum plants and Google’s new multimillion-dollar processor farm, both by the river.
These days, The Dalles (the name derives from the French word for flagstone) focuses on historical tourism as well as an emerging red-wine grape industry and already-thriving cherry-growing agriculture. The new Google facility is reckoned to provide about 200 new jobs for the community.
For a traveler interested in Northwest history, a complete perspective on Oregon’s past is impossible without a day trip to The Dalles. Downtown is awash in bits of Oregon’s past—the Oregon Trail Marker, the stunning 1897 old St. Peters Landmark church, and the historic Baldwin Saloon. Explore the old Fort Dalles  grounds and the Fort Dalles Museum, housed in the original surgeon’s quarters from the days when the fort was active.
Another early landmark, Pulpit Rock , still stands in the middle of 12th Street, just as it did in the 1800s when the Methodist ministers preached to the Native American population and settlers. Enjoy the work of local artists at The Dalles Art Center, located in the historic Carnegie Library.
The Dalles played a preeminent role in Oregon’s early history. Five hundred years ago, nowhere in the Northwest boasted such a cosmopolitan mix of peoples as the area around The Dalles.
During the great fall and spring migrations of salmon, the banks of the Columbia River—and particularly those near Celilo Falls, just upstream and now smothered by The Dalles Dam—were lined with many Native American groups trading, fishing, performing ceremonies, gambling, and socializing. Note that due to Homeland Security directives, tours of The Dalles Dam are not currently offered, although the dam’s visitors center in Seufert Park (I-84 Exit 87, 541/296-9778) remains open.
Lewis and Clark floated passed The Dalles in 1905, and later the land route of the Oregon Trail terminated at The Dalles, as the Gorge’s high cliffs and rapids precluded further wagon travel along the Columbia.
The first white settlement at this transport hub was a Methodist mission, established in 1838. In 1854 the town of The Dalles was platted, and a town charter was granted in 1857. Then as now, the Columbia River Gorge  was the principal corridor between eastern and western Oregon, and almost all freight bound in either direction passed through The Dalles. Steamboats docked at the riverfront; stagecoaches rattled off to far-flung desert communities. The streets were crowded with miners, ranchers, and traders.
The completion of the railroad and later barge lines through Columbia River reservoirs served to increase freight transport through The Dalles. The area is also the nation’s largest producer of sweet cherries, and orchard workers from Latin America impart the community with cultural influences from their countries of origin. Despite the recreational boom of the last decade, The Dalles remains largely hard-working and practical.
For self-guided walking tours, shortly after you enter town via Exit 82 (City Center exit), stop off at the Chamber of Commerce (404 W. 2nd St. at Portland St., 800/255-3385) and pick up its pamphlets The Dalles: Historic Gateway to the Columbia Gorge and Walking Tours to Historic Homes and Buildings. Take a gander at the restored Wasco County Courthouse next door, which was moved from its original location. This court presided over much of the country west of the Rockies in the mid-1800s. At the time, Wasco County comprised 130,000 square miles and included parts of Idaho and Wyoming.