The Dalles, Oregon

Oct 04, 2017 - National Geographic Sea Lion

In the early light of dawn the National Geographic Sea Lion was sailing upstream toward The Dalles. On the north side of the Columbia, the Great River of the west, a freight train rumbled eastward along the tracks below steep cliffs. Buff-colored grasses of autumn glowed in the early light where they trimmed out the dark rocks forming the cliffs. Soon the eastern sky burned orange before the rising sun emerged from behind rugged outcrops of basalt. Thirty miles southward the snow-clad cone of the great stratovolcano, Mount Hood, bathed in pink alpenglow rose majestically skyward. White pelicans soared overhead; these beautiful fliers are one of our largest birds and it is a special treat to see them.

Soon we docked at The Dalles where we were met by colorful “floozies” and a sheriff in period costumes representing The Dalles of old as they welcomed us to their town. We were soon on our coaches driving the scenic Historic Columbia River highway toward the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and its excellent displays of the history of Lewis & Clark, the Oregon Trail, geology, natural history, and more. Our group separated as the more energetic among us hiked and biked over five miles back to our ship, while others explored the grounds at the museum with our National Geographic photographer, Jeff, and our geologist/naturalist, Grace.


In the afternoon we crossed the Columbia River and visited the Maryhill Museum with a range of displays that give new meaning to eclectic. Here we found everything from Rodin works, to Indian basketry, to ancient Greek ceramics, and much, much more. From the museum we looked across the river to see the parallel wagon wheel ruts left by the many thousands of wagons from pioneers on the Oregon Trail. The ruts are still visible more than 150 years since the travelers on their way to Oregon’s Willamette Valley made them.

Still high above the Columbia River, our next stop was at the Cascade Cliffs Winery where we enjoyed both wine tasting and the scenery. Then we were off again by bus, down to the river where we boarded our expedition landing crafts for the short ride to the Sea Lion, which had sailed upstream from The Dalles to meet us.

On this fine evening we enjoyed our social hour on the sun deck with local fruits, meats, cheeses, and wines. As the sun went down, we sailed into the lock of the John Day Dam. The John Day lock has the highest lift (110 ft) of any U.S. lock. We were lifted 105-feet this evening. As we came out of the lock onto Lake Umatilla, a full moon rose in a valley between two buttes—an incredibly beautiful ending to a wonderful day.

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About the Author

Grace Winer


Geologist and naturalist, Grace is a Montanan now living in Seattle. Grace received her degrees in geology (BS and MSc) from Montana State University. Funded by a grant from the National Geographic Society, she pursued her master’s degree in Alaska’s remote Pribilof Islands. Here she investigated the volcanic evolution of St. Paul Island, creating a geologic map, and predicting volcanic hazards in the event of a future eruption. Her knowledge of the Pribilof Islands and the Bering Sea region led to her work as a consulting geologist on St. George Island for NOAA’s Pribilof Restoration Project.

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