Last spring Barbara and I joined our friends, Nancy and Bob D., on a delightful cruise on the Snake and Columbia Rivers in the Pacific Northwest. After the usual difficult experiences in getting anywhere the last leg was a bus ride through the Palouse and I now appreciate its importance to photographers. At Clarkston, Washington the bus brought us (Palouse hills in the background) to our home for the cruise, American Cruise Lines’ American Pride. Can you hear the banjos and tambourines?
The ship and its crew were first class. Can you imagine being smiley and nice to old people week after week? They do it well. (Come to think of it, so do the folks at Medford Leas where I live most of the year, and they’re not even a cruise ship.)
The cruise began down the Snake River which flows into the Columbia River and we followed that to Astoria, Oregon beyond which is the Columbia Bar and the Great Pacific Ocean, over 400 miles from our boarding. The weather tends to be cloudy and showery in that part of the world but the scenery en route was magnificent.
The Columbia River is a cargo river (to Portland, Or.) for cargo to-and-from the far east, and the railroad tracks that border it are carriers of grain and goods further to and from the continental U.S..
There is also exciting scenery in the eight locks through which we descended the 735′ from Clarkston to sea level at Astoria. Here’s a typical scene as we edged out of a lock after the descent. The Mate (second to the Captain) was piloting from the port wing control station and, Yes! we were that close to the lock walls. It took me back to piloting our rented 40′ houseboat through locks on the Rideau waterway on the way to Ottawa. Yes, scary.
The above lock was at the Dalles (said to be from the French dalle meaning a sluice or rapids). As we exited the lock we looked back at the Dalles bridge (on U.S. 297) over the river, and the spillway from the dam which controls water flow and also generates electricity. Its generators can produce roughly enough power for almost two million homes. We later toured the generator room at Bonneville Dam and the aura of those machines, able to produce about a billion watts, made this old electrical engineer’s heart beat a little faster.
You remember Lewis and Clark, don’t you? We read in school about their exploration of the northwest as commissioned by President Jefferson after his Louisiana purchase. Well, that’s about as much as I knew, too, but this trip changed that. Jefferson believed that from the headwaters of the Missouri one could easily transit to the headwaters of the Columbia and thus achieve a northwest passage down the Columbia. It took Lewis and Clark over two years from and back to St. Louis, an unprecedented expedition during which they lived off of the land, encountered hundreds of native American villages and peoples, wintered four miles from the Pacific beach (1805-1806), and lost only one man (to a ruptured appendix). I hadn’t realized but learned that the Columbia had first been entered by Captain Robert Gray in 1792, who named the river after his ship. So, Jefferson wanted to connect the dots.
We learned this and much, much more in our splendid morning briefings by a guide named Todd Weber who has made a career of historical guiding and does it wonderfully.
When not listening to an entertaining lecture, reading a good book, napping, adjusting attitudes, dining and after-dinner entertainments we enjoyed shore trips. One memorable visit was to Multnomah Falls, named from the Multnomah tribe of Native Americans. The falls are in two segments for a total of 620′. They are fed from underground streams from Larch Mountain, and are said to be some 15,000 years old which was older even than anybody aboard.
Days and nights along the river were pleasant and frequently beautiful.
Eventually we reached Astoria which overlooks the infamous Columbia Bar. Strong current, shoal waters and heavy swells from the Pacific can create storm waves of up to 60′. The Coast Guard uses these situations regularly to train its rescue crews. Here we also see the all too typical fog rolling in from the mysterious Pacific.
Then our return to Portland followed by a farewell view of Mount Hood.
A gallery of titled images from the trip can be viewed by clicking here.