Hell’s Canyon, Idaho

Sep 26, 2017 - National Geographic Sea Lion

Around 8:30am, we boarded our jet boats, with Captain Butch and Captain Eric, and zoomed up-river past Lewiston, Idaho, and the confluence with the Clearwater River. The undulating golden grassy hillsides mesmerized us in the warm sunny morning, as our jet boat captains told us some local lore stories about the small settlements along the ever narrowing Snake River.

We marveled at occasional raptors, beautifully soaring, such as bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, American kestrels, golden eagles, and others. We stopped briefly at the Visitor Center of the Hell’s Canyon National Scenic Area, administered by volunteers with the U.S. Forest Service, where we enjoyed a lovely small orchard and good views of the river. Further downstream, we saw many mule deer and big-horn ram sheep close to the river’s edge and admired their agility and grace. The red sumac bushes on the canyon walls and the dark green mulberry and hackberry trees made the golden colors of the canyon and the dark basalt rocks even more picturesque.

The many layers of flood basalts fascinated us, as we imagined how they were emplaced about 15 millions years ago, oozing from inside the Earth, lava flowing like honey out of cracks in eastern Washington and northeastern Oregon and making tremendously thick layers to create the Columbia Basalt Province and the Columbia Plateau. Further up the Snake River, at the confluence with the wild, never-dammed Salmon River, we got to see some even more ancient volcanic rocks, older than 250 million years.

Amidst this ancient landscape, which took the Snake River about 6 million years to erode and form the one of the deepest canyons in North America, we enjoyed a lovely lunch at Garden Creek Preserve and marveled at the river, as well as the many wild turkeys on the property. In late afternoon, many of us visited the Nez Perce National Historic Park, where we learned more about the history and culture of this specific Native American tribe, who Lewis and Clark encountered on their expedition to the Pacific in 1805-1806. Tomorrow, we explore the spectacular Palouse River and Falls. 

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About the Author

Lida Teneva


Dr. Lida Teneva grew up in Sofia, Bulgaria, in Eastern Europe, and wanted to be an explorer from an early age. Today, she is a coral reef scientist, marine conservationist, and educator, with 13 years of experience accumulated in Barbados, Dominican Republic, Australia (Great Barrier Reef), French Polynesia, Palau, the Northern Line Islands (Palmyra Atoll), Hawaii, and Fiji. She has worked on ancient and modern coral reefs, reconstructing past climate change and predicting future changes to reefs. 

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