At 6:00 on this brisk morning as National Geographic Quest makes her way downstream on the Snake River, the constellation Orion stands high in the southern sky as the palest light of dawn glows on the eastern horizon. By 7:00 we are dropping anchor at the Palouse River’s confluence with the Snake. In the growing light we see, rising on either side of the river, dark, layered basalt cliffs trimmed out by the pale, buff-colored grasses of autumn. Here we make preparations for our day of adventures: visiting Palouse Falls where the water of the Palouse River leaps over a precipice of basalt and plunges 198 feet down its tumultuous green plunge pool below; kayaking on still water with Canada geese; taking Zodiac tours upstream into the Palouse River and into the rugged and beautiful Palouse Canyon, carved by Ice Age floods into bold cliffs that rise high above the river.
National Geographic Sea Lion
Our final full day of excursions was based in Astoria. The oldest continuously occupied settlement west of the Rocky Mountains, it has been a key access point for maritime trade for goods and natural resources throughout the Columbia River Basin. We have reached the westernmost limit of our journey, as it was for the Corps of Discovery during the winter of 1805–6. We began with a visit to the Columbia River Maritime Museum, then had a fine day out, visiting the historic site of Fort Clatsop, Fort Stevens, and the beach at the wreck of the Peter Iredale, an iron bark driven ashore during a storm in 1906. With unusually clear skies and a stiff offshore breeze, how fitting to conclude the day and our week of exploration with a sunset cruise out towards the mouth of the "Great River of the West." We safely returned, of course, avoiding any difficulties in an area known for its swirling currents and shifting sands, then started the overnight transit, up river, to our last port-of-call in Portland, Oregon.