Hells Canyon/Snake River

Sep 24, 2017 - National Geographic Sea Lion


This morning was mostly overcast with only a few spots of sky breaking through. It was a foreboding sky for our day in the jet boats. Yet just like the rest of this week, the weather smiled on us again. About 10 a.m. the sun came out and drenched us with light and heat for the rest of the day. The trip up Hells Canyon was the culmination of this floating adventure. The steep canyon walls and inhospitable terrain were closer and more immediate than what we had previously been travelling through. Previous vistas looked like perfect postcards, but these rock walls were imposing.

The basalt features of the Columbia River Gorge have been explained to us over this past week, yet the twisting columns and fan-like shapes of these solid terraces were unlike anything we had seen. The columnar basalts alone were striking, but to drive up to an isolated place to find petroglyphs, signs of ancient habitation, was unbelievable. How this winding Snake River fed generations of people is lost to us, but here was the evidence written in stone.

Our buffet lunch at Garden Creek included the company of wild turkeys. Careful not to get too close to us, these giant birds were well accustomed to the presence of people. Many cameras clicked away anytime they came near.

After lunch, it was back to the jet boats for an exciting ride back to our ship. The jet boat captains seemed to be driving water serpents. These boats maneuver with a grace and agility not expected by their bulky shapes.

After a short visit back to the National Geographic Sea Lion, we headed out to the Nez Perce National Historic Park. There we were greeted by a Nez Perce park ranger named Maurice. A shaman of his tribe, Maurice described placing his hands on petroglyphs and being moved to sing a healing song that he had been “given” permission to sing. He recalled how his voice echoed off the hills around him. Someone asked if he would sing it for us, and the rich tones of is voice, so unlike his speaking voice, instantly filled the room. The sound seemed to move right through me.

Finally, we headed back for our farewell dinner, and to say goodbye to the new friends we have made while rolling on the Columbia.

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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.

About the Videographer

James Napoli

Video Chronicler

Jim was born in rural New England where he quickly developed an appreciation for the outdoors and a love of exploration.  Four years with the U.S. Navy further enhanced his appetite for travel. Always interested in the visual arts, he studied Television at Boston University and Northeast College of Communications, landing his first job in the industry working as an editor at a Boston television station. His wanderlust drew him to a job with two major cruise lines; installing and managing broadcast centers onboard a total of over a dozen ships. He has since moved on to specialize in expedition travel and wildlife productions.  

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