COLUMBIA & SNAKE RIVER, 2005

Cruise West

Day 1, Tuesday, April 12 Sail from Portland
I'm using "Continental One-Pass" miles for the air fare, so no extra $$, just lots of miles.

Continental CO 1629Houston - Portland 9:15 - 11:234:08

It's a non-stop flight. I even luck out in that it's an exit row so I have lots of leg room. !!! On arrival in Portland we are met at the airport by a Cruise West representative; then transfer first to a local hotel where we will all gather and wait and wait for boarding time. It's raining hard at times, and even sleet and some hail. This doesn't look good for what we can expect for the week. Then mid-afternoon, we can board a motor coach to the Portland Art Museum and a complimentary tour of the museum (ho-hum, but something to do), or we may walk the 5 blocks down to the docks (not in this weather) and our vessel at the downtown waterfront. Boarding is finally about 5PM. My cabin (308) is larger than I expected (from my experience on the Spirit of Glacier Bay) but the bunk is short and very narrow.

This evening, before we depart, there is a mandatory safety and orientation meeting, snacks and a champagne punch. There are only 43 passengers this time (and a crew of 22) - the ship is half empty - we later learn that the next trip has only 26 passengers. Since Cruise West is currently running two ships (Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of '98) I'm guessing that next year they only run one.

On departure from the Tom McCall Waterfront this evening, we slowly cruise the Willamette River to view beautiful riverside homes and the downtown skyline. During (our excellent) dinner our vessel meets the Columbia River and leaving the Willamette, turns right, heading upriver past Portland International Airport for a week of exploring. After dinner, (7 to 8:30) we join our Exploration Leader for a presentation on the upcoming week and what to expect each day. Tonight the vessel will anchor in a quiet spot along the Columbia River (about half the time the ship will anchor; the other times we just keep cruising all night).

Our "Expedition Leaders" are Meriwether Gill (related to Meriwether Lewis) and Karine Rosvold (from the "Between Two Oceans" trip). Meriwether is the "expert" and Karine is really nice but hasn't done this trip too often.

Day 2, Wednesday, April 13 Columbia River Gorge
We are encouraged to come out on deck as daylight sweeps out the shadows of the deep green, misty Cascade Mountains and watch the crew try to get the anchor raised. It seems that there is some kind of problem (don't know what) but it takes almost an hour. Under way eventually; Beacon Rock stands sentinel as an ancient plug of a shield volcano on the port side before Bonneville. The monolith is one of the largest basalt formations of its kind at 846 feet. It's still quite cool and a bit "dreary" but MUCH better weather than yesterday. Things are looking MUCH better in the forecast now.

This morning, the ship passes through the locks of Bonneville Dam at the entrance to the Columbia River Gorge. Watch for shrieking gulls, cormorants and ospreys that plunge into the water for breakfast. As the ship lines up for the navigational locks, we can watch the deck staff as they prepare the ship for the lock. The concrete back door of the lock closes and water lifts the ship perhaps 60 feet. After that we can head for the dock at Bonneville. In a visit to the dam's visitor center we see the giant turbines, and learn more about the Dam and the river. Also we can (NOT) see different kinds of salmon in the fish ladder system (at this time of year?). The salmon count so far is only about 10% of what was expected. We don't see a single salmon - just one small fish all the time we are here. (Note: the day we leave - 20th - it is announced that the salmon fishing season is closed early - no more sport or commercial fishing allowed.)

After we tour Bonneville, we then take a half-hour drive by motor-coach to Multnomah Falls, the largest and most beautiful waterfall (it IS pretty!) in Oregon. It would look great in good, clear weather, but as noted, it's still sorta gloomy. Continue along the hiking trail and at the bridge, marvel at the sheer drop of the waterfall: 620 feet. Return to the ship, passing through the Columbia River National Scenic Area, for lunch. Our first lunch on board is really good - as expected from Cruise West.

We continue cruising upriver, with a daylight passage through the Gorge. We cruise through the only low-level crossing of the Cascade Mountain Range until just past the Hood River, the terrain almost instantly changes from the coastal temperate rain forest to the high plains and sagebrush country (true!). Exposed in the Gorge's canyon walls are basalt rock formations representing 40 million years of geologic history.

During this portion of the cruise, we hear stories of the early pioneers, and see small communities on either side of the river where one can imagine how Lewis and Clark must have felt as they made their way up and down the river. By late afternoon we transit our second lock of the voyage, The Dalles, close by the city with the same name. This lock was completed in 1957 and lifts vessels 88 feet in one chamber which equals the total lift in three chambers on the Panama Canal. After dinner we will transit the third lock, John Day, which was completed in 1968 and has one of the highest vertical lifts in the world of a single chamber of 113 feet.

Some bad news this evening - we are to lose our senior Expedition Leader, Meriwether Gill. She's being sent to do the British Columbia trip replacing another EL who is ill.

Day 3, Thursday, April 14 Cruising the Snake River
This morning we wake up to find ourselves anchored by a local scrap yard. Meriwether is put ashore ("scrapped at the scrap yard"). It's actually a 'public' dock area but it's right next to the scrap yard. Sad to see her go.

Over the course of the day (very nice weather now, but still quite cool) we cruise from the Columbia River into the Snake River, itself one of the larger rivers in the U.S., with four lock passages. The Snake River twists and scours 1,100 miles from the west of the Continental Divide. Today is a leisurely day exploring the rivers and the long lakes formed by the great dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Late this afternoon we stop at a park area just below our last lock to explore along the shore and take a nature walk along a trail to see the rugged cliffs and buttes. The Snake River is rich in geological and cultural history. After dinner there was a presentation on the fascinating adventure story of Lewis and Clark. By late tonight we are moored in Clarkston, Washington at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers, approximately 726 feet above sea level. The twin cities of Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington are 470 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

Day 4, Friday, April 15 Hells Canyon
Today we have to wake up early for a day in the Wild West's Hells Canyon. After breakfast, join in the lounge for a moment in history with our guest lecturer, a Nez Perce who will recount the Nez Perce interaction with Lewis and Clark and with tales of his people, including the saga of Chief Joseph. He's absolutely fantastic! As a 'joke' to see who is actually listening to him sing one of the Nez Perce songs, he inserts a few repeats of "I love Oreo Cookies" … still in the same chanting voice. After the presentation, we board jet boats ("jet" propulsion technique driven by 3 400hp diesel engines, but not at all like the "jet boats" in New Zealand!) and head into Hells Canyon. The boats have an enclosed sitting area - which is nice since it's cold (37 this morning) but the flexible plastic which makes up the windows is NOT truly clear and between that and the constant flexing, there's no way to get good pictures, so I don't even try. This free-flowing stretch of the Snake River boasts lovely whitewater rapids that pour beneath steep cliffs rising thousands of feet on both sides of the gorge. The Hells Canyon jet boat tour takes us through the deepest river gorge on earth with a maximum depth of 7,900 feet. This trip, taking us 80 miles (each way) through the canyon, is not a wild, scary jet boat thrill ride. The jet boats are large, and covered overhead (darn!). We may see mule deer and bighorn sheep grazing on the precipitous basalt slopes (only if we are sitting in an 'outside' seat) but mostly it's just "river elk." Splashes (small) of colorful wildflowers dot the landscape. Stops are made in the morning and afternoon for refreshment and restroom breaks. A home-style lunch is provided at Kirby Creek by friendly local folk (excellent!!!!). Throughout the passage up and back, informative and fun narration is provided.

We return to the ship in time for festivities in the lounge. After dinner join the crew for a fun program ("meet the crew") in the lounge. Once aboard the ship, we head back down the Snake River through the night. At least that was the plan. We were supposed to be under way by 4:30 … but they can't get one of the engines started. The "starter" has gone bad. Fortunately they have a spare on board, but it takes a while to get it replaced. Finally under way about 8:30 in time to race through the night and into the early morning hours to dock in "beautiful downtown Burbank" - the same place where we "scrapped" Meriwether on the way up.

Day 5, Saturday, April 16 Walla Walla
By the time breakfast is served, we will be moored at Burbank, close to Washington's Tri-Cities of Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland - the third most populated region of Washington State. This morning we board motor-coaches to head to Walla Walla, Washington. Our first stop is a visit to the Fort Walla Walla Museum, a pioneer museum housing thousands of pioneer artifacts, and a pioneer-type village. Expert volunteers dressed in period costume provide an introduction to the site. We also see the nearby historic site of the Whitman Mission, where a Conestoga wagon stands in the ruts of the original Oregon Trail (we see it from a distance, not up close).

From Fort Walla Walla, we head to the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla for a very poor buffet lunch. Local Walla Walla wines will be served (ho hum!). After lunch, we will have time to explore the town (never mind - I sit in the hotel lobby). The town also has a new large shopping mall jokingly called the Walla Walla Malla Malla by locals. It would have been a much better place to have lunch and probably more interesting than the walk around town in a light mist. This afternoon return to the ship to continue cruising down the Columbia River. Out on deck we can get a river-view perspective of Wallula Gap and the formations of the "Two Sisters" and "Hat Rock", a campsite noted in Lewis and Clark's journal. After dinner there is another history presentation in the lounge.

Day 6, Sunday, April 17 The Dalles and Maryhill Museum.
After breakfast we will board the motor-coaches for our morning tours. We will cross the river to Washington and head east to Maryhill Museum. Along the way we pass some historically significant sites including Celilo Falls Memorial Site.

As we turn into Maryhill Museum, we can see peacocks on the grounds of what Time Magazine called the "World's Loneliest Art Museum." There is even a beautiful white one who comes out and struts around for us. The Museum volunteers tell us that apparently he has gotten into the habit of doing this whenever he hears a bus pull into the parking lot area. This was once the home of Sam Hill, which has been turned into a museum with such unique collections as chess pieces form around the world, the personal effects of the Queen of Romania, Rodin statues and sketches and a very comprehensive collection of native artifacts. Outside the view from this site is very nice as we can look across the Columbia River to the Oregon plateau rising several hundred feet above the river. Keep our eyes on the Oregon side to find the still visible ruts created by the wagon wheels that descended onto this crossroads region almost 200 years ago - just barely visible. Look to the west and Mount Hood - only brief partial glimpses due to clouds - Oregon's tallest volcanic mountain: 11,240 feet. The railroad bridge below is the site of the Celilo Falls.

From the museum, we head down a narrow road that takes us through the community of Maryhill, and cross the Biggs Junction Bridge. We travel west past the Deschutes River and through the city of The Dalles to the Columbia River Gorge Discovery Center and Wasco County Historical Museum. The Museum celebrates its heritage of once being the largest county in the nation stretching from The Dalles to the Continental Divide.

We start with a quick intro to the Discovery Center, then proceed to lunch in the Center. It's very good but not fantastic - ham sandwiches, cream of celery soup, cookies, drinks, etc. After lunch we have a more time in the Center with several areas to enjoy including a 'nature walk' with a local 'ranger' to see much of the native plants. (They are in the process of re-landscaping the area to have only native vegetation and with only minimal planning so that it looks 'natural.' We even have a chance to pick up some clippings (from bush trimmings) to take with us if we wish. From the Discovery Center, we follow the scenic Rowena Loop (nice overlook area) of the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway to Hood River where the ship is docked waiting out arrival.

One interesting item to view: lots of sailboarding along the river here. We get to see some of them close up. The brochure says "Clouds permitting, be sure to photograph Mt. Hood at some point during the day" …but they don't permit. In fact, shortly after we get aboard, the weather turns bad and it's a fairly heavy rain for the rest of the evening. At least it's only our second time for bad weather and doesn't really affect anything. We've really 'lucked out' on the weather for the trip.

Day 7, Monday, April 18 Astoria and Fort Clatsop
Overnight cruise down river to the historic port of Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River. As our last full day together, we will maximize our time in this westernmost location of our journey. Astoria is named for John Jacob Astor who built Fort Astoria to support his fur trading company. With its position situated just within the Columbia River entrance, other industries settles here and Astoria remains a home base for a US Coast Guard unit.

This morning we pass Fort Stevens at the mouth of the Columbia River. Founded during the Civil War, the base saw no action until it was shelled by a Japanese submarine early in World War II - the first time the mainland U.S. had been fired upon by external enemies since the War of 1812. When we leave the ship, we travel to Fort Clatsop National Historic Park, a reconstructed log fort on the site where Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery wintered in 1805-06. We start the tour of the fort with a slide show and presentational overview. From there we can take a walk along a short trail of about 100 yards to the replica of the fort. We look around inside the rooms and all through the compound to see what it might have been like for the. The Corps of Discovery spent four months here under near-constant rainfall, regrouping for their return home. They survived mainly on elk meat and roots.

A longer trail of a half-mile leads to the canoe landing for views out to the Pacific - well, towards it since it is still several miles out to the ocean itself, providing a leisurely walk through a high and thick canopy of temperate rainforest - mostly fragrant western hemlock, Sitka spruce and dogwood. Close to the canoe landing are old, weatherworn and heavy dugout canoes which emphasize how hardy and tenacious one had to be to endure such a trek by this type of canoe. Late morning, back at the ship, an Astoria Trolley Tour visits Victorian monuments and the waterfront or we can visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum - which is much more interesting and enjoy a guided visit to the Museum, considered to be one of the best of its kind on the west coast.

On return to the vessel in Astoria, we hear tales of the notoriously turbulent passage between the open Pacific and the peaceful Columbia River. After lunch aboard, we were originally scheduled to have the opportunity to sample Oregon's Tillamook Cheese and Washington wines. This was cancelled in favor of an excellent lecture (back in the Museum) about the history of salmon fishing and salmon canning along this part of the river. Very interesting - excellent lecturer.

This afternoon we will cross the Astoria-Megler Bridge near the mouth of the Columbia River. This bridge, started in 1962 and completed in 1966, connects the shores of Oregon and Washington and is just over 4 miles long. We are headed to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, perched on cliffs 200 feet above the Pacific Ocean near the site of Lewis and Clark's Station Camp, their first camp on the West Coast. In my opinion, this is definitely the best of the Lewis and Clark Centers to visit.

The Captain's Dinner is served this evening with toasts and cheers to the crew as we make our way back to Portland - arrival early tomorrow.

Day 8, Tuesday, April 19 Portland - Mt St. Helens
Join us on deck as we cruise south on the Willamette River early this morning to return to the Tom McCall Seawall on Portland's central riverfront, where our week-long voyage into history ends at about 9AM. Normally that is the end of the tour, but this spring, Cruise West has added a 'complimentary' extension to go to see Mount Saint Helens (which I would have signed up for, but it's nice that it's "Free".)

Board the tour very cramped transportation (only 15 of us going so instead of a bus, it's a small van/bus) for the Mt. St. Helens tour at 10 AM at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel in Portland. Journey along the Washington coast for an hour learning about the geological forces that formed the Cascade Mountains and Mt. St. Helens.

We really lucked out on this one. The weather is fantastic - blue skies with only a few clouds. Also the tour is by EcoTours and the driver/guide (Jeff) has brought along sets of photos of the mountain(s) and also has tapes of the police radio from the day of the eruption. He also has tapes of interviews with survivors. Highly recommended!

Visit the Silver Lake National Monument Visitor Center, then head into the mountains. Initially, we are traveling along the North Fork of the Toutle River, which witnessed the largest avalanche ever recorded in the mudflow from the May, 1980, explosion.

As the road rises high above the valley, spectacular views abound. We break for lunch at the Coldwater Ridge Visitors Center (very good, but takes a LONG time since the main cook called in with a broken wrist and an assistant has been 'drafted' to fill in), then head to the ultimate - Johnston Ridge Observatory, with its awesome views straight into the heart of Mt. St. Helens' crater. Unfortunately, due to federal budget cutbacks it is closed on Tuesday and Wednesdays, and the road is blocked at the Coldwater Center. That center is also closed, but we can walk a short way into the parking/overlook area for some good views. Only a few clouds and we can see into the blow-out area to see the new dome - which is still venting steam. It's good we get the trip today - as it turns out, tomorrow is cool, very overcast, etc. It would NOT have been a good day to see the mountain. On the way down from the mountains, we see remains of devastated forests as well as resurgent life. Roosevelt elk have returned to the area as well. Return to Portland (actually Vancouver, WA) at 6: PM. Hotel is the Heathman Lodge in Vancouver (Washington, not Canada).

Day 9, Wednesday April 20. Return home.
After an expensive breakfast at the hotel (the breakfast voucher is just for $3 towards anything on the (expensive) menu) it's a 10AM transfer (15 minutes) to the Airport.

Continental CO 1623Portland - Houston12:15 PM - 6:304:15

Due to restrictions on the flight, I "had" to choose this to be a "first class" seat. Seat is 2E.

Problems with the belts on the luggage carousel mean about a 45 minute delay in getting our luggage; otherwise a nice trip home about 8:05 PM. The LOW temperature tonight is 70, many degrees warmer than the warmest temperature on the trip.

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge



This has definitely been an excellent trip. Highlights:
1) scenery in Hells Canyon (despite no photos)
2) Mount St. Helens excursion
3) Fort Clatsop and the Lewis and Clark Discovery Center
4) as expected, the crew on the Spirit of Discovery

Disappointments:
1) no photos in Hells Canyon
2) not many flowers yet - very late spring

AIRLINES:
1Continental CO 1629Houston - Portland9:15 - 11:234:08
2Continental CO 1623Portland - Houston12:15 Noon - 6:304:15