The Dalles, Oregon

Oct 16, 2017 - National Geographic Sea Lion

In the early morning the National Geographic Sea Lion was sailing upstream on the Columbia River toward The Dalles. Just before dawn a waning crescent moon stood above bright Venus in a clear sky. The moon was in the fourth quarter but the whole moon was visible as the sun lighted only a slim crescent and earthshine gave a pale and ghostly light to the rest of moon. In the growing light Orion was just visible above our starboard side. Buff-colored grasses of autumn that trim the dark basalt rocks forming the cliffs of basalt on either side of the river glowed in the early light. A line of Canada geese flew over, only silhouettes above the moon.

We docked at historic The Dalles where pioneers on the Oregon Trail put their wagons on rafts and braved the dangerous rapids in the Columbia Gorge on their way to their promised land in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. At the dock we were met by the colorful “floozies” and a sheriff in period costumes; representing The Dalles of old, they welcomed us to their town. We were soon away on our coaches and driving on the scenic Historic Columbia River Highway toward Rowena Crest where we enjoyed a cool, clean breeze, sunshine, and magnificent vistas up and down the River. Here we had views of both Mount Adams and Mount Hood, great stratovolcanoes of the Cascade Range. Their ice- and snow-covered summits rise high above the lower mountains around them.

Next we visited the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center with its excellent displays of the history of Lewis & Clark, the Oregon Trail, geology, natural history, and more. Here our group separated as the more energetic among us hiked or biked over five miles back to our ship, while others explored the grounds at the museum with our geologist/naturalist, Grace, or took a brisk walk down the bike path.

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 of pioneers on the Oregon Trail. The ruts are still visible more than 150 years since travellers on their way to Oregon’s Willamette Valley made them.

Our next stop was at the Cascade Cliffs Winery where we enjoyed both wine tasting and the scenery—great cliffs of basalt rising high above the winery and Mount Hood in the distance. Then we were off again by bus to the river where we boarded our expedition landing crafts for the short ride to the National Geographic Sea Lion, which had sailed upstream from The Dalles to meet us.

On this fine evening we enjoyed being out on the decks as 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 shared the lock with the Island Spirit, a small tour ship, and then sailed out of the lock onto Lake Umatilla. After dinner our historian, Bob, gave a thought provoking presentation on Salmon and Dams

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About the Author

Grace Winer


Geologist and naturalist Grace grew up among woods, rivers, and mountains, loving the outdoors, nature and rocks. After high school she became a Registered Nurse and was soon studying midwifery at Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital in London, England. Back in the United States she served as an officer in the USAF Nurse Corps during the Vietnam War. In a major career change, Grace turned to the Earth Sciences and received degrees in geology (BS and MSc) from Montana State University. Funded by a grant from the National Geographic Society, Grace pursued her master’s degree in Alaska’s remote Pribilof Islands. In her study of basaltic volcanism in the Bering Sea region, 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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