Just as we in the East cherish all our history as the first part of the new nation of the United States, our friends in the northwest are passionate about their own history and trace both settlements and basalt rock formations and what they’ve created thousands of years ago. The Dalles is a perfect example of all of that.
A city on the Columbia River, The Dalles’ name means the valley carved out of the basalt rock of the Columbia River; it was the original end of the Oregon Trail, former home of Fort Dalles, the mid-19th century federal stockade manned by volunteer troops, and today a thriving, welcoming city for travelers on rive cruise ships, with no fewer than six museums, another dozen or more historic sites, and volunteers excited to show all and tell all in a friendly, happy-go-lucky kind of way. It’s also not far from Celilo Falls, an historic Native American fishery and gathering place, Multnomah Falls, the second highest waterfall in the nation with its 620 feet of water crashing down Larch Mountain in The Columbia River Gorge, and the Bonneville Lock and Dam.
On this particular cruise with a theme of Lewis & Clark and their drive to find an inland waterway to the Pacific Ocean , there’s so much more to learn about so many other objects and areas of interest as well.
Take the Bonneville Dam; Built and operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, it employs a workforce of more than 150 engineers, powerhouse and lock operators, laborers, biologists, park rangers and office employees and has been providing hydropower to the area for 80 years. Touring the administration building and auditorium, which was built in colonial=revival style and encases a unique engineering design, it’s possible to take flights of steps down far below the 60-foot falls and peer into glassed enclosures to watch the fish navigating their way up or down stream, depending on the season. Biologists keep count of the number of steelheads, chinooks, Coho, sockeye, shad and other fish that migrate up the fish ladders. Occasionally it’s also possible to see the Pacific lamprey…and locals are quick to stress the lamprey, regardless of its looks, is not an eel, but an unrelated fish that is born in freshwater then swims to the ocean until it’s grown, then heads back to freshwater to spawn.
Fort Dalles Museum is in a residential community of the town, and costumed ladies are eager to tell all the stories about the Fort, the former surgeon’s quarters in which the museum is situated, and how Lewis & Clark camped in the area both heading to and returning from the Pacific Ocean. They’ll spin tales of the fur traders and trappers, the boatmen and missionaries who each gave The Dalles a bit of their own mystery and history. Keeping in their light-hearted manner, the Friends group that preserved and maintains all this history are known as the Fort Dalles Floozies and Friends, and it’s their goal to provide the education and entertainment that will help you to always remember the Columbia River Gorge area. They even give all the ladies on the tours an ID card listing them as “potential applicants” to be a Fort Dalles Floozie. The ladies are invited to “inquire at the nearest place of negotiable affection.” They absolutely make their motto come true. “the spirit of history is very much alive in 21st century The Dalles, Oregon.
Not too distant, in Stevenson, Washington...,.the historic cities of Oregon and Washington are only separated by the Columbia River…. is the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center which gives visitors a deep but fascinating look into the geological forces that shaped the area.
Back on the Oregon side of the Columbia is Astoria, the town founded by John Jacob Astor’s Fur Company and where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805. That site is now Fort Clatsop, a national park, and the final stop on the explorer’s trail to the west.
Actually today’s reconstructed fort building isn’t the exact location of the encampment; the building built for that winter of 1805 before the Corps of Discovery began their trip back to St. Louis rotted away due to the severe rains common in the area, and future reconstructions are believed to bed closes, if not precise, of the original spot where Lewis & Clark got their first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean and proof indeed there was a waterway from the Atlantic to the Pacific through what would eventually be the United States of America.
Next: Portland Oregon, the City of Roses