Before the rails were up and running along the stunning Columbia River landscape of Oregon and Washington, 19th-century westward travelers faced treacherous conditions. Many emigrants perished before reaching Oregon Territory. Only recently have railways bridged the wide gap formed millions of years ago. Today the gorge remains the major commercial route through the Cascades, and the tracks are a shining example of human engineering and a mecca for rail enthusiasts. Mount Hood, Union Pacific, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains seem to connect in a magical way with the land, blasting out of raw, rock-faced tunnels, gliding under bridges, snaking along the edges of towns and along the big river, always rolling somewhere distant, symbolic of our national connectedness--and our restlessness.
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