A Day in The Dalles: Maryhill Museum, Stonehenge and More

Aboard UnCruise Adventure’s S.S. Legacy, there is always an evening activity. The night before our arrival into The Dalles, Oregon was no exception.

On this night, to prepare us for the next day’s adventures, the onboard Heritage Guide Kenny dressed as Samuel Hill. 

Ol’ Sam Hill was a mid-19th century industrialist, lawyer, road builder, gambler and subsequent millionaire.

Sam, along with his wife Mary, ventured west across rolling plains and dangerous mountain ranges to settle in this high-desert wilderness in Washington state. Maybe you’ve heard of him?

Welcome to The Dalles, Oregon.
Welcome to The Dalles, Oregon.

The Dalles, Washington -A Step Back in Time

I felt pretty silly to walk off the ship and be greeted by what might have been “Gunsmoke’s” Miss Kitty’s “girls” and a handful of slick card dealers. A lot of laughs and photo ops.

Our Welcoming Committee at The Dalles in full costume.
Our Welcoming Committee in full costume, greet us at The Dalles landing.

After the previous night of costumed story-telling, temptations of the next day’s activities with a visit to an American Stonehenge, I was amped and ready to explore. All the words in the world could not have prepared me for what would be one of the weirdest places to see on a river cruise.

Onto the motor coach and we were off to visit Maryhill Museum. As a fan of Auguste Rodin the artist and sculptor, I had read about this museum years ago.

The Story Behind Maryhill Museum 

In character as Sam Hill the previous night, Kenny colorfully explained Sam’s plan to build a palatial home on the top of a lonely butte overlooking the Columbia River, to honor his wife, Mary.

Turned out Mary was a city gal who didn’t want to live in Nowheresville, USA. The sweltering heat of desert summers and damp, bone-chilling winters high above the Columbia river, not to mention the isolation, were too much for her. Mary packed her bags and soon headed back east, never to return.

Samuel Hill, still hell-bent on building his dream mansion, decided to turn Mary’s mansion into a museum. 

As a close friend to the Queen of Romania (go figure!), a huge cache of royal possessions was donated to his museum, courtesy of Queen of Romania.

On November 3, 1926, several days after a formal dinner at the White House, the Queen traveled cross-country by private train to disembark at Maryhill for the dedication event of Maryhill Museum. The Queen donated over 100 pieces of art and personal treasures from Romanian royal palaces. 

One of the quirkiest museums you’ll ever visit, Sam Hill’s collection of Rodin sculptures, watercolors, plaster studies and more soon became the largest collection of Rodin outside of Paris. 

Unfortunately, Samuel Hill never lived to see his museum’s completion.

It wasn’t long before locals and visitors alike, upon seeing this mashup of early Renaissance meets French Chateau mansion, would exclaim, “What in the Sam Hill!” And that’s how the expression, “what in the Sam Hill” began.

What to See From The Dalles, Oregon

Here then, is a photo tour of our day docked in The Dalles, Oregon. Starting first at the quintessentially quirky Maryhill Museum, a visit to an out-of-place Stonehenge, and the historical Columbia Gorge Discovery Center.

Starting at Maryhill Museum…

Maryhill Museum viewed from the expansive garden.
Maryhill Museum viewed from the expansive garden as you drive up the hill.

Our bus let us off almost right at the entrance to the museum. On this very warm September morning, the parking lot was nearly empty. It felt like we had the entire estate to ourselves.

View of the Columbia River from the patio at Maryhill Museum.
View of the Columbia River from the patio at Maryhill Museum.

I like to wander about and let everyone else go ahead of me, especially when I’m in a group. It’s always nice to stop and look back to see where you’ve been without the heads of people blocking the view.

Case in point above: this gorgeous scenic overlook from the museum patio.

Our admission fee was included so off we all went in varying directions.

The gold throne from the personal collection of the Queen of Romania, who was friends with Samuel Hill.
The gold throne from the personal collection of the Queen of Romania, who was a close friend of Samuel Hill.

So much to see at this eclectic museum located truly in the middle of Nowhere, USA. We had about two hours to roam around the dozens of exhibit halls and rooms before we were back on the bus for lunch on the ship.

Un-Cruise Adventures SS Legacy in The Dalles
Amazingly, we were hungry. Maybe it was the dry climate of the high desert and all the walking we did at Maryhill? Who knows.

Lunch finished and off we went to see what this Stonehenge thing was all about. Back on the bus once again.

America's Stonehenge built by Sam Hill. It was the first monument in America to honor military personnel who died in World War 1.
America’s Stonehenge built by Sam Hill was duplicated in size and the original form of England’s Stonehenge.

Story goes that when Sam Hill visited Wilshire, England and laid eyes on the real Stonehenge, he was smitten with the landmark’s mystery and improbable construction.

He decided to build a replica of England’s Stonehenge near Maryhill Museum and dedicate it to honor America’s military personnel who died in World War 1.

Columbia Gorge Discovery Center

Last on today’s agenda, the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center. A docent dressed in some sort of quasi-pioneer costume showed and demonstrated how a musket was loaded and hopefully fired.

A private showing of raptors at the Discovery Center was the finale for the day. A rescue facility and educational center for local school kids, the handler brought out several raptors of varying sizes.

The most amazing of all was the Great Horned Owl. So docile and calm, we all were able to get up close and take his photo.

The Great Horned Owl was one of four raptors shown to our private Un-Cruise Adventures group.
The Great Horned Owl was one of four raptors shown to our private UnCruise Adventures group.

The sun was just starting its evening descent when we returned to the S.S. Legacy, just in time for cocktails of course! Only one day remained and it would take us to the edge of the continent at the entrance to the Pacific Ocean, as Lewis and Clark discovered on November 15, 1805.

My Week aboard S.S. Legacy:

Day 1: Aboard the S.S. Legacy to cruise the Columbia and Snake Rivers
Day 2: Bonneville Dam and towering Multnomah Falls
Day 3: A relaxing “sea” day on the river. 
Day 4: Jet Boating through Hell’s Canyon
Day 5: Walla Walla Wineries, the Whitmans and the Oregon Trail
Day 6: Maryhill Museum, The Dalles and a real Stonehenge (That’s this article!)
ay 7: Following Lewis and Clark to Fort Clatsop and a visit to Astoria, Oregon

Disclosure:  I was a guest of UnCruise Adventures aboard the S.S. Legacy and I provided my own transportation to Portland via Amtrak, round-trip from Chicago.

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