Cruise Report: Great Western River Cruise

Aboard the Queen of the West, Sept 25 – Oct 2, 2010

If you want a cruise steeped in history, this is for you. We had watched the Ken Burns video prior to going, and it was immensely helpful in understanding the magnitude of the Lewis & Clark 4000 mile exploration in 1804-1806. Traveling up the Columbia River while hearing an on-board narration by a local historian gave us a vivid sense of the trials they experienced, and of the historic discoveries they made (over 200 species of animals and plants never before seen). To hear about their survival while undergoing extreme weather conditions, lack of food from time to time, successful travel through unknown territory controlled by many different Indian nations (some hostile), and terrain most difficult and inhospitable gave us an appreciation of modern luxuries. These Indian nations lived, hunted, and traded for more than 10,000 years in The Dalles area near the Bonneville Dam (erected 135 years later).

Side trips to the Columbia River Discovery Center, Bonneville Lock and Dam, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, and the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center all provided a scope of their accomplishments that I wished we could have spent 60 minutes longer at each location. And traveling through the Columbia River National Scenic Area while negotiating the locks was an experience in itself (90 feet change in the water level while in the locks). The landscape changed from lush forests to bare rocks and desert in the first 80 miles traveling upstream. While at the Bonneville Dam, we saw the fish ladders which were built at the same time as the dam so that the salmon could continue migrating upstream each year to spawn.

Railroad tracks are along each side of the river, and 90 some trains travel on them each day delivering timber and grain to the ocean going ships downstream. An optional side trip to Mt. St. Helens provided an opportunity to view first-hand the destructive power of the volcanic blast in 1980. Another optional side trip took us to 630 foot Multnomah Falls and then to the Fish Hatchery where “Herman the Sturgeon” (450 pounds/70 years old) reigned supreme.

The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center near Astoria contained a comprehensive overview complete with detailed paintings and explanations of their entire expedition showing the significant stops and discoveries during the journey. Also near Astoria there is a replica of the quarters of Ft. Clatsop where they spent their second winter in 1805-06 before returning to St. Louis later in the spring.

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