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Roll On Columbia and Slither On Snake

The Columbia River is a waterway that I’ve driven over many times when I lived in Washington State. Yet, I knew little about it until recently when I took a cruise with 58 other passengers on the Uncruise Wilderness Legacy (image from Advertised as “Rivers of Adventure and Wine,” the itinerary included daily wine tastings hosted by Julie, our on-board sommelier, hiking, river rafting, and visits to a museum, a nature center, and a winery. (Map from

The river empties into the ocean at Astoria, the oldest city in Oregon, founded in 1811. Sandbars and swift moving water at the mouth of the river make navigation treacherous. So far, 700 people have lost their lives in what’s called the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” Even though jetties and dredging have improved navigation, today’s captains must use piloting services to make it safely into the river. We were already in the river, so we did not need to come to grips with the sandbar. We were given an opportunity to walk from the ocean to Fort Clatsop, a 6.5 mile trail that Lewis and Clark used when they overwintered in the area.

As we traveled up the Columbia we encountered many locks. These days, the Columbia doesn’t “roll on” nor does it have dangerous rapids or waterfalls. Dams have turned the river into a series of lakes. While the dams are a great source of electrical power, they also prevent the salmon migration. For generations, Native Americans relied on the Columbia salmon as an important food source. So too did the First Nations people of Canada, at the source of the Columbia. Once in awhile we saw a fishing “stand” used by Native Americans.

The river is a center of commerce and recreation. We saw many barges and tugs as well as industrial buildings, but there are many parks and areas of scenic beauty, especially the Columbia gorge. Cascade Locks Marine Park is very close to the Pacific Crest Trail so it holds an annual get together for those who have hiked the PCT. (Image: Sunrise on the Columbia)

Part of the Columbia is famous for wind surfing. Our boat successfully weaved its way through the surfers, but it was obvious that many were getting close to our ship just to show off their level of skill.

We took a turn onto the Snake River and traversed part of that before turning around to head back towards Portland. On the way we visited Maryhill Museum. Built by Sam Hill, he intended the building to be a home for his family. But his wife didn’t want to live in the wilds of Washington, so he used it to house his extensive collection of works by his friend Rodin. He also built up a collection of Romanian furniture, books, and textiles due to his friendship with the Queen of Romania. Not too far from the museum is a full size replica of Stonehenge, which Sam built as a war memorial for those who died in the First World War.

The cruise ended up being an interesting mix of outdoor activities, wine drinking, culture, and history. It was a pleasant change from most of my trips that have a singular focus, such as wildlife viewing or hiking. And it was certainly one of the most relaxing.

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