Walla Walla, Washington, 4/25/2023, National Geographic Sea Lion
National Geographic Sea Lion
Tall dry grasses and flower stalks rustle in a cool breeze with an electric chatter that, combined with an ice blue sky, suggest winter. Everything else at the Whitman Mission, however, screams, “Spring!”
At ground level, dandelions smile yellow and bright. In the bushes, song sparrows buzz and babble melodically. Beneath the trees, white-crowned sparrows chatter as they forage. Low over a stubbled field, a harrier tilts left, right, left, right, scanning for rodents busy with their own gleaning. Around the flowering cherry trees, warblers and tiny woodpeckers race haphazardly from insect to insect.
An autodidact, Jim has spent a lifetime studying and exploring what he refers to as “the intersection of human progress and wildness.” Stumbling on the writings of Aldo Leopold in his early twenties—namely Leopold’s essay Thinking Like a Mountain —la...
In the morning, passengers aboard National Geographic Sea Bird visited the beautiful Multnomah Falls and the Bonneville Fish Hatchery. The falls, located on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, provided a stunning backdrop for the excursion. Guests were thrilled to see the waterfall in person. It is considered one of the most beautiful and popular natural attractions in the region. The falls were particularly breathtaking due to recent rainfall in the area, which created a misty, ethereal atmosphere around the waterfall. Perhaps the most unbelievable part of the morning was the weather; many of us wore shorts as we admired the snowcapped peaks beneath warm, bluebird skies. After the falls, we navigated downhill toward the Bonneville Fish Hatchery. Named for the adventurous Benjamin Bonneville, the hatchery’s most famous inhabitant is a guy of adventure himself. Herman the Sturgeon is over 80 years old, and he has survived the construction of a dam, pollution, a kidnapping attempt, a stabbing, and even an explosion. Despite his age and hardships, Herman remains a beloved icon of the region, and efforts continue to protect and conserve his species. After a delicious lunch, we hiked the Mosier tunnels, where guests were excited to go birdwatching and learn about the rich history of the tunnels. Much like Herman the Sturgeon, those trapped in the tunnels during the blizzard of 1921 endured great hardships, but they, too, have become regional symbols. Soon after, the ship cruised toward Portland for disembarkation. As we made our way along the river, passengers were treated to stunning views of the surrounding landscape, including the iconic Portland skyline. Naturalists Jesse Humbert and Larry Prussin provided commentary on the history and culture of the region, pointing out landmarks and answering questions from the passengers. As the ship drew closer to Portland and our expedition draws closer to its finale, the memories made on this final day are sure to stick with us for years to come.
We departed Hood River under brilliant blue skies which provided stunning views of Mount Hood, a thick blanket of spring snow extending to its base. We passed the historic 1904 Columbia Gorge Hotel, and noted Mitchell Point where the Tunnel of Many Vistas is being resurrected as a walking path. Our vantage point on the Oregon side of the Columbia River provided us with great view of the bare cliffs of Hamilton Mountain, Table Mountain, and Greenleaf Peak. These cliffs are a noted part of the Bonneville Landslide Complex, a result of the January 12, 1700, earthquake of the De Fuca Plate. The venerable Bridge of the Gods, built in 1926, was unofficially christened by Charles Lindberg while he was piloting the Spirit of St. Louis as it flew under the bridge in September 1927. Bonneville Dam came into view next, with its iconic powerhouse that was critical to the industrialization of the Pacific Northwest. We toured the Bonneville Fish Hatchery and the salmon gathering pens, plus ponds of rainbow trout and sturgeon including the star attraction, Herman the Sturgeon, an 11 foot long specimen that is over 80 years old. Having a great view of 848-foot Beacon Rock enhanced our trip as we headed west. Multnomah Falls was spectacular, and we were in awe of the 611-foot drop and heavy spring water flow, which made for an impressive and mesmerizing experience. From Multnomah Falls we went to the Columbia Gorge Interpretative Center in Stevenson, Washington. We were provided with a demonstration of the Corliss steam engine, and also the large fishwheel replica. The varied displays also provided a well-rounded experience. After our return to Hood River, we cruised the Columbia River Gorge, transited the lock at Bonneville Lock and Dam, and departed the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. We then continued down the Columbia and Willamette Rivers to downtown Portland where we will disembark, a fitting end to a week full of superlatives and memories.
“Les Dalles de la Columbia” was named by nineteenth-century French fur traders to describe the rocky substrate that helped create the rapids on this section of the Columbia River. Long before the French, The Dalles was an important salmon fishing area and a vibrant trading center for native people from far and wide. Lewis and Clark stopped here to trade and to consider the best strategy to make their way through the rapids. The rapids are long gone now, silenced by The Dalles dam, which was completed in 1957. Today, a Google data center is on the outskirts of the city, taking advantage of the abundant water and cheap electricity provided by the turbines at The Dalles dam. The long local history continues to evolve. Our explorations began with a ride along the Historic Columbia River Highway to Rowena Crest, where we enjoyed an expansive scenic overlook of the Columbia, “The Great River of the West.” Bright yellow arrowleaf balsamroot stood out among the variety of wildflowers. A short ride took us to the exceptional Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum. In addition to museum exhibits, the native plant trail and the raptor presentation were highlights. After lunch, we departed for Draper Girls’ Farm and WAAAM (Western Antique, Aeroplane, & Automobile Museum). Teresa Draper is the third generation of her family to run the farm. Set in the shadow of Mount Hood, this family farm is a pleasure to visit. Among the draws are the goats and a cider tasting. WAAAM is another unexpected treasure. The museum has one of the largest collections of still-flying antique airplanes and still-driving antique automobiles in the country. The collection is housed in buildings covering more than two acres. At the end of the afternoon, we returned to our floating home, National Geographic Sea Bird . After scores of visits to this area, I can say that today’s scenery was the most spectacular. Huge, scenic swaths of apple and pear trees in bloom covered the hillsides. Snowclad Mounts Adams and Hood were in full view, standing tall over the landscape.