The Dalles, Columbia River Gorge

Oct 02, 2018 - National Geographic Quest


Today was our fourth day in an extraordinary expedition from west to east on the Columbia River. Our ship, National Geographic Quest, threw lines and tied up just after sunrise allowing plenty of time to enjoy a full day in this historic place. We had arrived in a small town called The Dalles, located on the Oregon side along the Columbia River. It was dry with few clouds in the sky, making for perfect conditions to wander, hike or bicycle along the river in the morning. We were excited to see and learn about another area that had been on Lewis and Clark’s route. The scenery changes dramatically every day of this journey, and today was no exception. Our surroundings were very dry, spotted with a few white oaks and ponderosa pine trees.

We stopped at the Columbia River Discovery Center to learn more about The Dalles and its prominent place in Oregon Trail history. We were able to spend time exploring the area, looking from past to present through lenses of native history, American settlement, and modern technology.

After spending time listening and learning in the Discovery Center, many of us chose to enjoy different optional activities that highlighted this special place including a botany walk with a naturalist, a photography walk with a National Geographic photo instructor, a 5-mile hike with a wellness specialist, or a scenic bike ride along the Columbia River back to the ship. No matter which adventure was chosen, you couldn’t help but notice these bright yellow flowered bushes dotting the trail along the way. The dense stands of rubber rabbitbrush (chrysothamnus nauseosus) have pungently-scented flower heads that include small clusters of tubular yellow flowers. These colorful and fragrant additions are extremely resilient and have adapted to living in a shrub-steppe desert environment quite nicely.

Rubber rabbitbrush has been utilized for over 8,000 years in this region by native people for a variety of uses including a chewing gum, cough syrup, yellow dye, and tea. Because the shrub waits to flower until very late in the season when there are few remaining wildflowers blooming, it is very attractive to insects seeking nectar like bees and butterflies, as well as insects predating on bees.

After a day of exploration, we returned to the ship looking for refreshment. Our afternoon surprise was a wine tasting event of local flavors from the region, then an exquisite meal with new friends. An excellent end to another great day on the Columbia River.

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About the Author

Christine West

Naturalist

Christine is a naturalist who was fortunate to grow up in the Pacific Northwest on the shores of the Puget Sound. After obtaining her B.A. from the University of Washington, she decided to pursue her love of the ocean and exploration by beginning a career working on expedition boats worldwide. Christine is now a USCG-certified 100 ton captain and has traveled internationally full-time as an expedition guide, educator, writer, PADI scuba diving instructor, and certified international tour director for over a decade. 

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