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Columbia and Snake River Cruise of the Pacific Northwest

Following the Path of Lewis and Clark

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At the Confluence of the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Washington

Bridge Over the Snake River in Washington
Bridge Over the Snake River in Washington (c) Linda Garrison

We were awake about 6:15 am, and the sky was just starting to lighten in the east. What a change in the landscape from the day before. The land was flatter, and we were near the Tri-Cities area of Washington, at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers. I always thought the Snake River was named because it winds its way through Idaho and Washington, but it was actually named for the Snake Indians.

We would be sailing all day on the Snake River, so it was a good chance to rest and relax. While sailing, exploration leader Teresa gave a presentation on how the locks work.

Morning on the Snake River in Washington

The Ship Rock on the Snake River was a landmark for the Lewis & Clark expedition
Ship Rock on the Snake River (c) Linda Garrison
Interestingly, the locks of the Snake and Columbia Rivers are of a standard size--86 feet wide and 675 feet long. Not as large as the Panama Canal locks, but much deeper. These 8 locks must raise ships a total of 730 feet, compared to the 85 feet of the 3 Panama Canal locks.

We cruised all day, and the land seemed to become more desolate. The railroad tracks still ran along the river, but we didn't see the numerous trains of the day before. It was a relaxing day on the river, and the Spirit of Discovery passengers used the time to get to know each other better, read a book, sit in the sun, or nap.

Afternoon and Evening on the Snake River in Washington

Lower Snake River in the Late Afternoon
Lower Snake River in the Late Afternoon (c) Linda Garrison

We had a delicious barbecue onboard for lunch, featuring salmon, hotdogs, and ribs, along with corn on the cob, baked beans, potato slaw and cole slaw. The delicious, finger-licking good meal was topped off with a warm berry cobbler or blond brownie.

Time passed by slowly as the ship made her way upstream. Each sharp bend in the river delivered a new geological lesson, since the rock formations were so diverse. The ship also passed through more locks.

Dinner was another treat with red snapper or pork loin on the menu. After the big lunch and dinner, the hot chocolate lava cake was almost TOO much.

After dinner, Roger delivered part 2 of his story of George Drouiliard. This time he dressed in buckskin, topped with a coonskin cap.

Lewis & Clark and the Nez Perce Nation

Angel Sobotta, Member of the Nez Perce Nation, Speaks to Cruise West Spirit of Discovery Passengers
Angel Sobotta of the Nez Perce Nation on the Cruise West Spirit of Discovery (c) Linda Garrison

Wednesday morning the small ship was in Clarkston, Washington. This day was the one I had most looked forward to--a jet boat ride 90 miles up the Snake River through famous Hells Canyon.

Before boarding the two jet boats, we were treated to an educational presentation on the Nez Perce Nation by Angel Sobatta. She discussed her ancestors and used old photos of her extended family to make the story come to life. It was fascinating to learn about her family history, cultural traditions, and how the Nez Perce Indians first greeted the white men to their area, but then eventually fought with them, due to cultural misunderstandings.

Jet Boat Ride in Hells Canyon of the Snake River - Clarkston to Cache Creek

Hells Canyon on the Snake River
Hells Canyon on the Snake River (c) Linda Garrison
We boarded the two Snake River Adventures' jet boats at about 9 am and started the trip upstream to Kirby Lodge in Hells Canyon. Cruise West included the jet boat fare, all museum fees, and meals ashore in the cruise fare, so everyone participates. The boats zip along at about 35-40 mph and can run in water as shallow as two feet.

Mom and I made a wise choice of seats--the right (starboard) side of the boat, which was in the shade for both the morning and afternoon.

The two jet boats stopped for a short break about 10:30 am at Cache Creek Ranch, where they served banana bread and coffee. Cache Creek was a wonderful small oasis on the river, with lush grass and fruit trees on a point overlooking the river.

Jet Boat Ride in Hells Canyon of the Snake River - Kirby Lodge for Lunch

Kirby Lodge in Hells Canyon of the Snake River
Kirby Lodge in Hells Canyon of the Snake River (c) Linda Garrison
Before we knew it, it was time to board the boats for the remainder of the exciting trip upstream. The ride was not bumpy, but it was very windy in the boats, and those siting on the edge got a little sun. Bottom line is wear sunscreen. The driver kept us entertained with Hells Canyon stories and tall tales.

We arrived at Kirby Lodge about 12:45 and stayed until about 2 pm, enjoying a delicious fried chicken buffet lunch. A few brave souls who wore their swimsuits went swimming in the 68 degree river. Too cold for me!

Soon it was time to leave quiet Kirby Lodge and we started back downstream, retracing our route back to the ship. The driver warned those sitting in the back of the boat that they would get wet, and they (and we) did.

Jet Boat Ride in Hells Canyon of the Snake River - Downstream to Clarkston

Hells Canyon of the Snake River
Hells Canyon of the Snake River (c( Linda Garrison
On the afternoon return downstream, the boat stopped at a small waterfall, and 8 passengers took turns sitting in the tiny pool at the base of the waterfall, dunking themselves in the very cold water. Shadows often covered the entire canyon, a stark contrast to the brilliant hot sun. The wind alternated between very hot and cool, and we saw a big horn sheep, two mule deer, some wild turkeys, and several fishermen and boaters. We got back to the ship about 4:45 after a long day on the river. Although some on the ship complained about the long ride - almost 90 miles each way - we all loved seeing the spectacular Hells Canyon scenery.

The Cruise West ship left Clarkston soon after we boarded, and we began the return trip to Portland.

Snake River Hair and "Crab Night" on the Spirit of Discovery

Cruise West Spirit of Discovery at the dock in Clarkston, Washington
Cruise West Spirit of Discovery at the dock in Clarkston, Washington (c) Linda Garrison

After being wind blown for hours, we returned to the ship with "Snake River hair". We were ravenous from being out of doors all day, and the chef treated us to some of the best Dungeness crab legs I've ever had. The other selection was steak, but most of us chowed down on the legs, cracking and picking the legs and making a huge mess. They were so good that many of us got a second batch of legs. Dessert was a Bailey's marble cheesecake that received rave reviews.

After dinner, most of us went to bed early, but several stayed up to watch a documentary movie on the "Sagebrush Sailors", which was about the early shipping and river traffic on the Columbia and Snake Rivers before the dams and locks were built.

If It's Thursday, It Must Be Walla Walla

Snake River Bridge near Burbank, Washington
Snake River Bridge near Burbank, Washington (c) Linda Garrison
Thursday we awoke to quite a sight in Burbank, Washington. We were docked next to a junkyard! The exploration leaders joked about "beautiful, downtown Burbank", and we all had a good laugh. Burbank is located at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers and serves as the port for Walla Walla, and we took the buses from there for the hour's ride into Walla Walla. After not seeing much of civilization for three days, even this small town seemed crowded.

Our first stop was at one of the places the Lewis and Clark expedition camped along the Touche River. Today this river has shrunk to creek-sized, but in the early 1800's, it was navigable. We only stopped long enough for Roger, our onboard Lewis and Clark expert, to explain the site.

Fort Walla Walla Museum

Replica of 33-mule wagon at Fort Walla Walla Museum
Replica of 33-mule wagon at Fort Walla Walla Museum (c) Linda Garrison
Our next stop was the Fort Walla Walla Museum, which is particularly interesting to those who love antique farm equipment and are curious about pioneer life. The site has 17 buildings devoted to pioneer and Native American life in the Northwest. One of the most fascinating pieces of equipment was a 33-mule-drawn wooden combine, complete with life-sized mule "mannequins".

Next door to the museum complex is an old cemetery, with many graves from the 1st Cavalry soldiers who were stationed at Fort Walla Walla. The setting for the cemetery is lovely, with huge trees and well-tended grass. After all the browns and reds of the rocks along the river for the past few days, the shady green cemetery was tranquil and cool.

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