If you are ready for a road trip along Columbia River, then Columbia River Gorge is the destination you are looking for. The 130-km gorge, the boundary between states of Washington and Oregon, offers wonderful places and stops along the way.
The Columbia River, the largest river in the Pacific Northwest, is about 2,000 km long, starting its journey from Columbia Lake, in the Rocky Mountains in BC, Canada, and ending in Astoria, between the states of Oregon and Washington in the U.S.
Passing Snake River few times on our way from Idaho (where we visited Craters of the Moon), I84 directed us straight to Columbia River, which goes along the Hwy up to the Portland suburbs, giving us a chance to see the canyon in the whole splendor. We learned later that Snake River is actually the Columbia River’s largest tributary.
Where I84 meets Columbia River, the vegetation is still scarce, the desolated hills with their random wind turbines look like a fantasy picture. Approaching Blalock Canyon makes the scenery more colourful. Or maybe not.
A short stop to stretch our legs at Celilo Park let us enjoy more scenery.
A huge surprise followed after leaving Celilo Park, when, suddenly, Mt Hood stared right in front of us. A totally unexpected view on an overcast day, the dashing cloud covered peak was contemplating the surroundings, beckoning to us with its enigmatic presence.
After passing one of the most imposing dams, The Dalles, the colourful and impressive American Empress cast a glance on our way.
Located in the Columbia River Gorge, about 65 km east of Portland, Bonneville Dam has a very important role in power production. The Lock and the Dam are operated by U.S Army Corps of Engineers, and all visitors entering the Dam are asked if they carry guns, since no guns are permitted once you enter the gates. The car in front of us turned around instead of entering, and only after we were passing the gates we realized why they weren’t let to go in.
To cope with fish migration concerns, the Dam features fish ladders to help the fish in the river go upstream to spawn. There are a couple of large windows inside the visitor centre, where people can see the fish going upstream, and occasionally downstream, when the current is too strong.
Volunteers at the visitor centre were very eager to answer all questions, so we learned that there are 2 people every day counting the fish going upstream: a morning shift and an afternoon one. They count all fish and species going upstream, decreasing the ones that go downstream occasionally because of the current. Wow, I didn’t know there is such a job! Then, I found that if there is not a certain amount of fish moving upstream for spawning, then the government would close the Dam.
Visiting outside of the migration season, we could see an occasional big fish, but certainly lots of Pacific lampreys, who were attaching strongly to the window in their survival instinct to keep hold of their own fate. Their teeth looked more than scary, but luckily the window glass was thick enough to keep us safe!
The Fish Hatchery in Bonneville is found at the same stop for the dam, and is the largest hatchery facility in Oregon. It is used to enrich the fish production, and has huge ponds to grow fish as well as rooms for egg incubation.
The reason we actually stopped here was to see Herman. Beside some smaller sturgeons, trout and other fish, we could see swimming calmly and proudly in a huge pond the oldest and the largest captive sturgeon: at ten feet long and about 500 pounds, Herman, almost 80 years old, remains the most famous fish in Oregon.
As one of the most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest, Multnomah Falls is a must see along the Columbia River Gorge. With a total height of 189m, this is the tallest waterfall in the state of Oregon. Benson Bridge somehow separates the lower falls from the upper falls, and visitors can actually hike to the top of the upper falls.
Accordingly with the Wasco legend, the daughter of Chief Multnomah sacrificed herself to the Great Spirit, as a token to her prayers to take the sickness away from their village. After her death, the Chief prayed to the Great Spirit for a sign that her spirit is well received. Then suddenly the water began pouring from the cliff, becoming what we see today at Multnomah Falls.