Pacific Coast to Idaho - Part Three
Sunday June 5th.
George Sass Sr. joins us in Portland. George is a professional photo-journalist who has already scouted locations from which he thinks we should be able to get good pictures. We leave the dock on the Willamette River in downtown Portland and reverse our course beneath the numerous bridges to rejoin the Columbia. In the distance we can see the snow-covered, truncated peak of Mount St. Helens. After the massive eruption in May 1980, mud, trees, ice and debris swept down the Cowlitz River and emptied into the Columbia 75 miles from the volcano, reducing its depth from 40 to 14 ft and trapping ocean going ships upstream until the river could be dredged.
We have been invited to tie up at the Columbia River Yacht Club where we enjoy generous hospitality at their docks. All resident boats must be moored inside floating boat houses and the whole facility and club house are immaculate. Some members are about to take their boats north to the San Juan Islands and another member who has extensively cruised the Columbia and Snake Rivers takes time to provide us with much useful information.
We notice that the pilings are extremely tall and there is a plaque showing how high the water reached during a major flood on February 11th 1996 - well after the dams were built.
Monday June 6th
We are underway at 1447 and make our way a few miles up river to Port Camas at Washougal on the Washington side. Mount Hood dominates the skyline ahead of us. We have dinner at the busy, floating Puffin Café moored adjacent to the busy launch ramp which provides good entertainment. After dinner, George and I walked up the ramp while Chris and Christine take Venture upstream so we can take some photos of Venture with Mount Hood behind. We wait until 8 pm for the right light. This is not very successful as boat is too far away and, at the end, an errant cloud covers that part of the sun which is lighting the mountain, turning it a dismal grey!
There is no power at the dock and we never see any staff. There is an honor box on the dock for mooring fees but the lock is broken.
16 nm today.
Tuesday June 7th
Chris calls the marina and tells them about the broken honor box. At his suggestion, we give them a credit card number over the phone to pay for our stay. We are underway at 0844 and proceed up river with more views of Mount Hood clear of cloud. We pass Rooster Rock - previously named Cock Rock because of its similarity to a well-known male appendage. The books tell us that this rock was once attached to the adjacent cliffs but, when these were undercut by the ice age floods described in blog 2. The distinctive rock remained erect as it slid into the river. We are now in the main part of the Columbia River Gorge with famous Crown Point to starboard. We pass through the slightly tricky entrance and tie up to the dock at the base of imposing Beacon Rock on the Washington side. This monolith rises sheer 600ft and is the core, or plug, of an ancient volcano. All the surrounding terrain had been swept away by the same ice-age floods. This is a state park and there is 30 amp power on the dock. Strong currents swirl past Venture turning her Sea Torque free-running shafts at about 50 rpm while we are moored. We stay for just a couple of hours as we want to make the 3pm lock opening through the Bonneville lock but we resolve to spend more time here on the return journey.
Below Bonneville, the Columbia is a reasonably free-running river and the current is as much as seven knots against us in places. We can see actual differences in river level between the main stream and back eddies. It is cool in the strong breeze. We reach Bonneville lock at 3pm. We had called ahead and the lock is open for us so we drive straight in and tie up to a single floating bollard. Water enters slowly with no turbulence as we are raised 72 feet. Once through the lock, we pass beneath the Bridge of the Gods and move upstream to enter the narrow entrance and tie up in the small marina at Port of Cascade Locks at 1607. The marina has no power or water and we only communicate with the staff by phone. 24.54 nm today.
Wednesday June 8th
There is more cloud this morning with lower temperatures. George walks to a park with his cameras while the rest of us take Venture downstream towards the Bridge of the Gods for George to take photos. This takes some time as we have to hang about and wait for the sun to shine though fleeting gaps in the clouds. On the Washington side, there is clear evidence of what had been a massive landslide which, scientists believe, occurred about 1,000 years ago and which stopped the flow of the Columbia River. This natural dam created a huge lake in eastern Oregon. Over time the river eroded the blockage and, according to native American legend, created a natural stone bridge which they named the Bridge of the Gods. Eventually this bridge collapsed and gave rise to the Cascade Rapids now buried beneath the lake created by the Bonneville Dam. The present bridge, completed in the 1920's, inherited the same name. In 1940 the bridge was raised 44' to accommodate the rise in water level caused by the construction of the Bonneville dam.
With photography complete, Chris and Christine take the big tender ashore to collect George while I hold station in the river. Chris is reluctant to take Venture back through the narrow marina entrance as there is now a stiff breeze and the current is strong.
We continue upstream to the town of Hood River on the Oregon side where the river is busy with windsurfers and kite boarders taking advantage of the strong wind. The wind here is so consistent that enthusiasts from around the US - and even from overseas - have moved here to take advantage of the favorable conditions to indulge their passion. We locate and tie up on the guest dock. The cleats are tiny and, as usual, there is no attendant; also no power or water. However, on this rare occasion, we are able to pay the $20 per night fee in a staffed shore-side office, although there is also an honor box in the dock. The word "length" on the nicely painted sign on the dock is spelt without the 'g'.
We have friends living here who very generously lend us a vehicle. This is fortunate because we find there are only three rental vehicles available in town and they are all rented. 22 miles today.
Thursday June 9th
We awake to a beautiful sunny morning. We drive west along I-84 freeway to the Oregon side of the Bonneville Dam built in 1938. We take a tour of the dam and view the fish ladders for the salmon to bypass the dam and also the salmon-breeding hatchery. Large sturgeon cruise in ponds set in nicely landscaped grounds. In the wild, these fish cannot deal with the fish ladders so they either remain in the river below Bonneville or in the still water lakes above the dams. We learn that we can also take a tour of the newer power station on the Washington side with the next tour being at 1.30 pm. We backtrack along the freeway to Cascades Lock rapids where we take lunch at a small café called the Cascades Locks Brewery where we are greeted by some interesting carved wooden geezers. On the walls are historic photos of the river before the dams were built. After lunch we cross the Bridge of the Gods for which the toll is $1 and drive to the Washington side of the Bonneville dam. We visit their fish ladders and visitor center until it is time for the guided tour. Our guide takes us to the turbine hall and then down to 40 ft below the level of the river to see the rotating shafts connecting the rotors to the turbine. This is a very interesting and worthwhile tour. Originally the dam was built for navigation purposes and the Cascade rapids are now buried beneath the water held back by the dam which extends 46 miles up river to the base of the next dam. Initially only two turbines were installed to generate electricity. This was later expanded to eight and then, in 1993, Bonneville lock was expanded to accommodate larger commercial river traffic and a second power station was added. This construction involved relocating the road and the railway as well as the town of North Bonneville.
We return to the boat along the road that follows the river on the Washington side so that George could pick out the spot from which to photograph the boat - hopefully with Mt Hood prominent in the backgrounds. We cross the bridge over the Columbia to Hood River also for a $1 toll.
Friday June 10th
George arises at dawn to drive across to the Washington side to evaluate the conditions for a planned photoshoot. The weather is sunny with some clouds. He calls Chris and we get underway at 0622. Mount Hood is playing hide and seek with the clouds but George is pleased with his results. We return to the dock at 0737 and George takes us to a very good breakfast at Betty's Café.
After breakfast we drive to the Timberline Lodge located at 6,000 ft on the slopes of Mt. Hood. The lodge, built in traditional style in 1938 using locally sourced stone and timber, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977. It is misty, cold and actually snowing while hardy skiers whizz down the slopes.
From here we descend to warmer altitude and take the "Fruit Loop" visiting farms, orchards and wineries. We are a bit early in the season to take full advantage of this tour but the countryside is beautiful and Mount Hood dominates with occasional glimpses of Mount Adams. 9 boat miles today.
Saturday June 11th.
We are underway at 0630 with a fuzzy rainbow hanging just above the river. The scenery on both sides is wonderful and it is hard to stop taking photos. We arrive at the Dalles at 1132. The name comes from the French word "dalle" meaning slab -referring to the large slabs of rocks which formed another set of rapids now submerged beneath the lake formed by the Bonneville dam. For a fixed price of $5, we take a taxi to visit the Interpretation Center located well out of town to the west. The Center is interesting and I buy another movie about the ice age floods. We eat on board tonight using the electric BBQ for the first time. We pay $10 for slip and $12 for the power. The guest slips are almost empty. 18 miles today.
Sunday June 12th
We arise at 0530 under a cloudless sky. We enter the Dalles lock at 0645 and exit at 0726 after an 88 ft lift. The western end of the lock has conventional hinged gates while the eastern (upstream) end has a guillotine gate which sinks below the water when it is time to leave.
The scenery changes abruptly over a relatively short distance. We leave the forested slopes behind and the landscape becomes more tawny and desert-like. There is always something to look at and George and I take photos nonstop. Large numbers of modern windmills line the hills, initially on the Washington side, but Oregon soon catches up.
We enter John Day lock at 1005 and exit at 1040 after a lift of 105ft - the highest of all the locks. This lock has guillotine doors at both ends with the downstream end lifting above our heads and dripping water as we enter and the upstream end sinking below the surface. Once above the lock, Mount Hood - which we thought we had left far behind - dominates the horizon.
Hills on either side become progressively lower and drier more with patches of vivid green marking the location of orchards fruit trees. We continue on to Umatilla where we tie up at the fuel dock free of charge. We are able to plug in and take on water. The town is some distance away so we barbeque pork chops for dinner.
Monday June 13th
Initially a sunny morning which soon becomes overcast. We request an earlier lockage but encounter a lock keeper who plays it by the book and will not operate the lock until 0900 - the official opening time for recreational vessels. Even then, she does not start to empty the lock at that time so the lock gates do not open until 0915. For us this is a minor inconvenience and we can't complain because 0900 is the published opening time for leisure craft. But, by sticking rigidly to the timetable, she keeps a commercial barge tow waiting to come downstream - which must be difficult for them. She does not start to fill the chamber until Chris is able to demonstrate that everyone on board is wearing a life jacket. If she had let us come through when we arrived, the lock would have been ready and open for the downstream tow. However, the lock does fill faster than previous locks and we exit the chamber at 0935 after a 75' lift.
We see and photograph Hat Rock which is one of the very few landmarks mentioned by Lewis and Clark that is still visible today. However, it is now surrounded by houses so is no longer a distinctive landmark.
Hillsides become higher as we pass through the Wallula Gap which, according to all accounts, acted as a significant obstruction to the ancient catastrophic floods of 18,000 years ago. On the starboard side, a distinctive pair of rocks called the Twin Sisters are further evidence of the same floods. It is surprising that such prominent landmarks were not mentioned by Lewis and Clark when they passed this way. The wind is strong as we pass through Wallula Gap where we meet a flight of White Pelicans with black wingtips as they coast through against the wind.
Once through the gap, the land flattens in the area of the Tri-Cities of Pasco, Kennewick and Richland. Here, at 1237, we leave the Columbia river and turn into the Snake River. We enter the first lock on the Snake River at 1330. This is the Ice Harbor lock which has guillotine lock gates and a 100 ft lift. Again the downstream gate hangs over our heads while the upstream gate sinks when it comes time to leave. The wind is blowing a robust 30 kts and there are white caps within the lock until the downstream gate closes. We find there is no floating bollard on the forward slot so we had to reverse back against the wind to the previous one. It would have been helpful to have been advised of this in advance. We exit the lock at 1400 and find the river much narrower than the Columbia. A railway runs along the southern shore and white pelicans are much in evidence.
As we continue on, the river becomes quite narrow with interesting rock formations on either side. These are beautifully lit by the lowering sun with occasional green patches from fruit orchards.
At 1645 we enter Lower Monumental Lock. The lock keeper does not fully open the guillotine gate. We scramble to lower the antennas and the light on top of the mast barely clears the gate. We exit the lock at 1714 after another 100ft lift. We look for a possible anchorage or place to tie up below or above this lock but find nothing. One consideration when anchoring is the lack of knowledge of what lies on the bottom. These are lakes created by the dams and there can be drowned trees below the surface which are sometimes marked on the charts.
We arrive at Lyons Ferry Marina at 1900 not knowing what to expect. Having had no cell phone service since leaving the last lock we are relieved to find that Christine had 2 bars of Verizon, She calls the marina not expecting a reply but to our surprise the phone is answered and we were told they can accommodate us. It is still quite windy but fortunately the wind drops once we are moored. The cleats on the dock are miniscule so we tie up to cleats the pilings. The marina is located at mile 60 on the Snake and is in between a very long, high rail bridge and a road bridge where the 261 crosses the Snake River. The railway runs close by on a high embankment. If an oil train derailed here it would take out the marina.
Lyons Ferry is an interesting spot and Jim, who has been very helpful in every way, gives us a sheet outlining its history. This was the site of a ferry across the Snake River for more than 100 years starting in 1860. It was a vital link in the military trade route linking Fort Walla Walla and Fort Benton in Montana. The days of the ferry service were numbered after the construction of the Monumental Dam in 1961. A road bridge, originally located at Vantage, Washington, was disassembled and rebuilt here. The ferry service came to an end on December 24th 1968 - the same day that the bridge was opened.
The nearby town of Starbuck was a rail center until the construction of a rail bridge just south of the marina. When opened in 1914, it was the highest and longest rail bridge in the world - shaving 52 miles off the distance between Portland and Spokane. I take a photo of a train completely spanning this bridge. 79 miles today.
We are underway at 0800 and head towards the Little Goose Dam which we enter at 0900. This is a 98 ft lift but the water is allowed to enter fast and we exit at 0922.
It is a lovely sunny morning but quite chilly with the wind up to 33 knots. We continue up to Boyer Park just below the Lower Granite dam. We are advised that we are too large to go into the marina but we can tie up at the cruise ship dock. We tie up at the dock at 1255 but it is not very satisfactory and the wind is still blowing. Chris and Christine go ashore and reckon there is room for us in the marina but they need first to check the depth at the dock with a string and a weight. In the meantime I meet the guys who operate the marina who say they are concerned about the depth in the narrow entrance. We decide to risk it and move the boat into the marina. Which Chris does successfully and we tie up inside at 1410 @ $45 per night. The small restaurant is closed so we eat on board. A small cruise ship called "Legacy" from Un-Cruise went past the marina traveling downstream and blows her horn as she passed. We notice that locomotives sometimes do the same.
We awake to a mirror calm, cool sunny morning. On the way out through the narrow entrance we touch bottom with a light bump. However, everything seems to be working ok so we keep going. What other choice do we have?! (Later inspection reveals that it was only the keel that touched - without damage. Another example of why, on a serious cruising boat, it is essential to have a protective keel which extends below the running gear.) We pass through the Lower Granite dam quickly with a pleasant and helpful lock keeper. This is our last upstream lock and is another 100ft lift. We are now 738 ft above sea level. There are frequent side canyons on both sides of the river, each with a trail of green vegetation indented into the steep hillsides. We spot a crop-spraying helicopter working fields out of our view beyond the tops of the hills.
We arrive at Lewiston at 1224 and pass under a bridge into the Clearwater River so we can say we have actually entered Idaho. Lewis and Clark came down the Clearwater and joined the Snake at this location in October 1805. There are zero facilities for recreational vessels in Lewiston. In Clarkston on the Oregon side there is a marina but they tell us we are too large for them to accommodate us. We are relegated to tying up on the landward side of the cruise ship dock. We enter the space between dock and shore stern first so as to keep our bow facing the current but Venture touches the bottom so we come out and go in facing downstream. There is another, better, dock in front of Roosters restaurant but it is run by the Port of Clarkston and no overnight parking allowed. George leaves us here to return home. We book an excursion tomorrow to travel further up the Snake River.
We take a taxi us to the location of the Snake River Adventures office a short way up the Snake River from Clarkston. The boat has jet drives driven by a competent and informative captain who takes us 56 miles up river. It is a very worthwhile trip which starts at 0900 with a good packed lunch provided. This river is free running although there are three dams further upstream. There were almost two other major dams constructed. One, named the High Mountain Sheep Dam, was to be 670 ft high and situated just upstream of the where the Salmon River joins the Snake and the other, named the Nez Perce Dam, was to be 700 ft high and situated just below the junction with the Salmon River. This dam would have wiped out all the salmon runs into the Salmon River and its tributaries. The license for the High mountain Sheep Dam had already been granted and had been upheld by an appeals court but was overturned by the Supreme court in a historic decision written by Justice William Douglas making the controversial judgment that more hydropower was not sufficient grounds to build more dams on this hitherto free running stretch of the river and that other issues such as the survival of salmon and recreational use of the river should be given equal weight. We briefly enter the fast flowing Salmon River which drops more than 7,000 vertical feet over its 425 mile length. It is the longest free-flowing river - ie not encumbered by dams - remaining in the US. We pass through various rapids and run into a short, sharp hail and rain storm just as we are passing some open boat rafters cowering from the onslaught. This area only has about 6"of precipitation per year so this is a very rare event. The gorges are steep and narrow and there are weird basalt rocks and even some ancient petro glyphs. We stop once on the way upstream and once downstream to visit Garden Creek Ranch. We turn around at Dug Bar. To go further, to the base of the first dam, is a full day excursion. We learn that this is the spot where the Nez Perce Indians crossed the river when, in 1877, they were forced to abandon their traditional lands. It is also the site of a massacre of 34 Chinese miners in 1887 for which no one was held accountable.
It is time for us to start our return, downstream, journey. We are underway at 0635 to reach the Lower Granite Dam at its scheduled opening time for downstream traffic at 0930. There is a high overcast and actually quite chilly. This direction seems more natural as we are following the flow of the water but being carried by the current is especially noticeable on curves. The hills on either hand are tawny with the faintest hint of green with dark green trees and bushes. We enter Lower Granite lock at 0920 and exit at 0942 after 100 ft drop. Going down is quicker and there is less turbulence as the water just drains out of the lock rather than swirling into it. Another 36 miles downstream we enter Little Goose lock at 1240 and exit at 1300 after a 98 ft drop. We tie up back at Lyons Ferry Marina at 1405.
Here we have a stroke of luck due to the generosity of Mike who hands us the key to his truck so we can drive the 8 miles to visit the Pelouse Falls on the Pelouse River.
Despite all our reading of about the Ice Age floods, this excursion provides us with the first - and totally unexpected - example of that cataclysmic event. The existing waterfall is clearly not large enough to have caused the dramatic plunge pool and surrounding canyon where the falls had cut back to its current location. In fact this is the location that caused one of geologist's severest critics, James Gilluly, to exclaim about himself "how could anybody have been so wrong". This piece of serendipity is one of the highlights of our entire trip. This is a State park for which there is a charge of $10.
We have dinner at the restaurant on the dock where the waitress takes down our order by writing on the back of her hand. 67 miles today.
We are underway at 0630. There is high overcast and it looks like rain. We pass beneath the Joso rail bridge described earlier. It is 2,500 ft long and 180 ft above the water. It cost many lives to build with divers having to descend 65 ft to reach bedrock.
We enter Lower Monumental lock at 0800 and exit at 0820. The lock keeper is very helpful and has the gate open for us with green light when we arrive. The rain arrives and the wind is from ahead which is much easier than when it comes from astern. Down locking takes about half the time of up locking. Another 100ft drop.
There are two sets of rail lines on northern side of river - one upper and one lower. The upper has a number of long, high trestles which are closed off with gates. The building of this line - with its numerous cuttings, embankments and trestles clearly involved a huge amount of work. I believe it to be the abandoned Spokane, Portland and Seattle railway - parts of which now constitute the Columbia River Trail. The trestles are fenced off because they have no handrails. To bypass each trestle require a huge amount of effort as they bridge deep canyons.
We find that at mile 29, the river suddenly shoals to 10' which is not shown on the chart - although it does say shoaling to 17ft in 1976.
We enter Ice Harbor lock at 1050 and exit at 1112. Again we have a very helpful lock keeper for this 100ft drop. Once below this last lock on the lower Snake, our AT&T coverage returns. We exit the Snake River and are back in the Columbia at 1150. The wind is very strong - reaching 40 kts right on the nose. We turn downwind to remove the bimini.
We enter McNary lock at 1445 and exit at 1500 with a 75' drop. This time we have a helpful lock keeper. The wind continues extremely strong, creating steep waves and much spray. We decide to bypass Umatilla and carry on to Arlington which we bypassed on the way up.
We meet one tug pushing juvenile fish barge upstream and then a 65' pleasure boat "Endless Summer" which Chris knows from Newport Beach. Chris talks to them on the radio. They are en route to Lewiston and plan to stop at Umatilla tonight. Good think we had decided not to stop there or there would not be room. This is the only cruising boat we see above the Bonneville dam.
We tie up in Arlington at 1910. The strong wind makes it tricky to enter and tie up in the tight marina. Chris turns Venture into the wind to provide respite and time to deploy the fenders before turning around to approach the dock. Two local guys take our lines and lend a hand. This has been a very long day today in rough and uncomfortable conditions.
The marina is right next to the railway with trains moving during the night blowing their sirens - and the freeway is right next to the railway! 120 miles today.
This morning is calm and sunny - a complete contrast to yesterday. I go ashore to take photos and am met by a friendly dog who wants me to throw - and keep throwing - his ball. I meet the owner who tells me he has been living here to service the many windmills which dominate the hills. He says they can replace a gearbox is just eight hours and that an additional 300 windmills are scheduled for installation over the next few months.
We depart Arlington at 0845 and, at 1120, enter John Day lock and exit at 1142. The lock keeper is again very cooperative. This is a 105' drop and we drop fast. We have a fine view of Mt Hood.
We enter the Dalles Lock at 1415 and exit at 1435. The lock keeper is helpful but we have to wait 40 mins for the uplift of a log barge. This is an 88' drop. At 1635, we tie up at the same Port Hood River dock where we moored eight days ago. 63 miles today.
Another lovely morning. At 0845, the cruise ship American Pride (phony sternwheeler) comes alongside the bund separating the marina from the river and lowers a bow ramp onto bund where three coaches await the passengers.
On this visit to Hood River, we are able to rent a truck from Enterprise.
We meet up with some friends of Chris and Christine who have moved here from Southern California. They visit Venture and we visit their very nice house not far from Hood River.
We watch another cruise ship, Queen of the West, dock on the inside of the bund. At one point it looks as though the strong wind is going to sweep the cumbersome boat ashore. Christine and myself drive out to the Fruit Loop again. It is not long since our last drive out here but more fruit is available and we have wonderful views of Mt Hood and Mt Adams. The country inland from Hood River is very lush with orchards and pastures. We visit an Alpaca farm and drive to the beach where windsurfers and kite boarders take off and land. It is a vibrant and colorful scene.
We are underway at 1028 under VERY windy conditions. The wind is from the west against the current creating very rough conditions as we battle into the wind. The steep waves and tons of spray would be tough conditions for a small boat but the wind surfers and kite boarders are out in force.
We enter Bonneville lock at around 1235 and exit at 1255 a very slow descent for 72'. This is our last lock of the trip. We tie up at Beacon Rock dock at 1320.
Chris and Christine climb the trail to the summit of the rock which would have been just 150' above the ice-age flood waters We spend the night tied up at the dock where, as before, strong currents keep our shafts slowly turning. It is a lovely spot but the frequent BNSF trains, which run past the base of the rock, disturb the peace with their powerful sirens. It is a beautiful evening with mackerel sky. A bi-plane and several aircraft from the WW2 era fly overhead. 25 miles today.
We actually have rain this morning. It is interesting to note that the annual rainfall at Cascades is 34" but only 14" at the Dalles - just 32 miles away as the crow flies.
We arrive at the Columbia River Yacht Club at 1328. We have been invited to a club dinner this evening and have to stand up and introduce ourselves to club members. We meet a number of interesting people, three of whom come down to Venture after dinner. 30 miles today.
We continue to be moored at the Columbia River Yacht Club and walk to the nearby Island Café to meet some friends who live in Portland. After lunch we all go back to Venture. During the day we are visited by several yacht club members. There are many marinas with large cruising boats in this same general area on Hayden Island but it is a very noisy location as it is right under the flight path to Portland airport with planes taking off every few minutes. There is also the noise of trains plus traffic crossing the bridge over the Columbia on I-5. Truly a case of planes, trains and automobiles!
We arise at 0600 and head to the club fuel dock at 0700. There is no attendant and, as previously arranged with the club, we take on 1200 USG @ $1.81 per gal - the cheapest in a very long time! We are underway down river at 0845 on a stunning morning. Once we pass the bridge downstream of the I-5 we start seeing ocean going freighters from all around the world. Several are tied up at grain silos. A ship from Bergen carries a deck cargo of windmill blades.