Snake and Palouse Rivers

Sep 23, 2017 - National Geographic Sea Lion


As the six am hour approached this morning, the National Geographic Sea Lion awoke to the sounds of the bow thrusters, and the maneuvering propellers. These were the sounds of the National Geographic Sea Lion entering the first lock on the Snake River, Ice Harbor Dam! As the waters rushed in to the lock lifting our sturdy ship up to the level of Lake Sacajawea, the ship showed signs of life, opening and closings of doors, coffee being poured into mugs, and guests visiting the bow to enjoy our transit through Ice Harbor lock.

As we made our way out into Lake Sacajawea, heading northeast up the mighty Snake, it was a cool, but hopeful looking morning. The winds were calm, and the skies seemed to be clearing ahead of us as we navigated deeper into the state of Washington!

So, shortly after breakfast we approached Lower Monumental Dam and lock, which would be the site of our first big adventure of the day, a zodiac ride through the lock alongside the National Geographic Sea Lion. Although we had a short delay waiting on a barge that was already in the lock, and heading down stream, we soon got word that it was clear, and the zodiacs and National Geographic Sea Lion could enter and tie-off! So, about fifteen minutes later, and roughly a hundred and three feet higher, the inflatable boats were cleared to leave the lock, and enter Lake Herbert G. West above the dam.

After having a wonderful lunch out on the sun deck, and taking in magnificent scenery, we slowly approached the mouth of the Palouse River, which was our destination for the afternoon activities! We made the turn into this shallow waterway, dropped anchor, launched the landing craft, and started shuttling guests to shore for a chance to take a short twenty minute bus ride to Palouse Falls, a spectacular wall of water plummeting to the river below! Other guests had the opportunity to go for a beautiful zodiac ride from the ship, up the river through an area we know as the “Scab Lands”, which were scoured by a series of massive floods coming from ancient Lake Missoula breaking loose from its enclosing ice sheet. After about an hour and a half guests had the opportunity to either switch to the other activity, or try their hand a kayaking on the placid waters of the Palouse!

Once everyone was back on board we soon got underway, and headed farther up the Snake toward our final destination, Clarkston, Washington. Along the way however, we had two more hurtles to negotiate, Little Goose Dam, and Lower Granite Dam! So, right after dinner the National Geographic Sea Lion entered Little Goose for a night-time traverse through another massive feat of construction! What a perfect day!

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About the Author

Rich Kirchner

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Rich Kirchner has worked as a naturalist in Antarctica, Alaska, the Bering Sea, Baja and the High Arctic, including Greenland, the Canadian Arctic and Iceland. His 25 years as a professional wildlife photographer has granted him international publication credits included in magazines such as Geo Germany, Geo France, Natural History, Audubon, National Wildlife and Ranger Rick, as well as more than a hundred books.

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