Snake River and Hells Canyon
  • Daily Expedition Reports
  • 09 Apr 2022

Snake River and Hells Canyon, 4/9/2022, National Geographic Sea Bird

  • Aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird
  • Pacific Northwest

We departed our anchorage downstream from Clarkston at 6:30 AM, leaving behind the 300-foot high basalt cliffs. After breakfast, we boarded jet boats operated by Snake River Adventures to head up the Snake River. We passed by Swallow Rock and Hells Gate State Park on the outskirts of town.

After passing the town of Asotin, leaving the pool of Lower Granite Lock and Dam, and entering the free-flowing Snake River, we slowed to view fan-shaped columnar basalt. We continued to scan this rugged area for its myriad of flora and fauna. Over the course of the day, we were rewarded with views of eagles, white pelicans, and bighorn sheep. We heard the story of a ranch whose owner still rows across Snake River to reach their car. A band of dogs waits on the bank for the owner’s return. Our forty-eight passenger, custom-made jet boat named Canyon Quest handled the rapids with ease. The boat’s powerful jet drives provided a comfortable and secure ride. We also heard about the 1905 wreck of a steamboat carrying valuable mining equipment, and we viewed Cougar Bar, a location connected to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.   

Soon we passed the Grande Ronde River and the settlement of Heller Bar, a common takeout area for the many rafters who drift downriver. The rapids here have colorful names like Wild Goose Rapids, Shovel Creek Rapids, and many others. We stopped for a break at Cache Creek Ranch, the gateway to Hells Canyon Recreation Area. Boaters stop here to get their permits. We then went to the mouth of the Salmon River, or the ‘River of no Return.’ The river was named by merchants who departed upriver with supplies and trade goods for various mining camps and ranches along the way, a one-way trip.

Our turnaround point was the mouth of the Imnaha River, fifty-three miles from National Geographic Sea Bird. We left this spectacular and historic area behind as we headed downstream, helped along by the significant current. We arrived at the junction of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. We stopped at Garden Creek Ranch, a nature conservancy facility where we were treated to a wonderful lunch in a spectacular setting. After a brief stop to view Native American rock art at Buffalo Eddy, we proceeded downriver to the waiting National Geographic Sea Bird.

Back on the ship in the late afternoon, James Spencer (White Bull), a local Nez Perce storyteller, shared a presentation on the history and culture of the Nez Perce or Niimiipuu. A presentation and wine tasting with Coco Uniker of Clearwater Canyon Cellars completed our day as we prepared for tomorrow’s departure.

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