We began our five-week tour of Oregon with a trip into the Columbia River Gorge from Portland. The Columbia River is the state line between Oregon and Washington and was the destination of Lewis and Clark back in 1805 when they were searching for a water passage from the United States (east of the Appalachian Mountains at that time) to the Pacific Coast. They knew of the Columbia River–the mouth had been discovered by Europeans in the 18th century. They were searching for a way to get to the Columbia from the Mississippi River.
This is my first time exploring the Gorge since reading about Lewis and Clark’s expedition in Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, and I am excited. The river is a lot calmer now than when the expedition navigated it. Gone are the multiple rapids and waterfalls they had to contend with. The many dams built during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration make the river appear more like a lake.
The topography is exceptional. The melting glaciers in Idaho and Montana (Missoula Floods) during the last ice age have carved out an incredible gorge in the layers of basalt left by erupting volcanoes prior to the glacial period. Interesting that the Oregon side is so much greener than the Washington side. Turns out the southwest orientation of the layers of rock cause the Washington side to erode into the river. They lose valuable layers of topsoil, while the Oregon side stays pretty much intact. Beautiful country!