History is not always a tangible element in our lives. Today, however, we had it available right at our fingertips. Our visit to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Wasco County Museum helped make the past a more substantial, realistic visualization. If we entered the museum with any idealistic notions of the Corps of Discovery, we left more educated in the concrete aspects involved in such a gigantic undertaking. Exhibits on the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center side detailed the amount of gunpowder, blankets, and other assorted provisions necessary for a journey across a continent, providing us with a better perspective of the expedition’s enormity. Wandering through the Wasco County portion of the museum, we realized the Corps of Discovery’s cultural impact on the Gorge’s original inhabitants. For generations prior to the white man’s populating the area, the Columbia Gorge region was a central meeting point for various native peoples. Through the various displays we were able to grasp the cultural and historical changes the region has endured, from population changes to technological modifications.
Continuing on from the museum, we motored up the steep twists and turns of a portion of the historic Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway, stopping off at Rowena Crest, awed by the view before us. At once we were able to see past and present – the landmarks revealed scars remaining from the Bretz floods, illustrating the power of the floods as they roared across the area, scouring and carving the river valley we saw today. With evidence of thousands of years before us, activity continued busily below – barges carrying grain motored down the river, while trucks, cars, and trains hummed along the highway.
Following excursions along the walking trails of the Mosier Tunnels or into the town of Hood River, we re-boarded the Sea Lion at Bradford Island, the location of Bonneville Lock and Dam. As the ship was lowered through the final lock of this portion of the expedition, historian Tom McAllister on harmonica, accompanied by Steve Engel on guitar, lead us in a few verses of Woody Guthrie’s “Roll On, Columbia.” Music echoing off the lock chamber, the gates opened and we continued on our journey cruising through the historic Columbia Gorge.