Bill & Jim's Alaska Trip

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July 30
South from Vancouver

Columbia Gorge

Fish Ladder

Multnomah Falls

Vista House

Bridge of the Gods

We drove south from Vancouver in quite a hurry to get home. Skipped past Seattle and Portland and headed east into the Columbia Gorge. We stopped at the Bonneville Dam to see the fish ladders. This is the first dam built on the Columbia River (finished in 1937), complete with fish ladders and navigation locks. The head of the dam (difference in height between the lake behind the dam and the river in front) is only about 60 feet. There are a total of 4 fish ladders to allow the salmon to travel upstream past the dam to their spawning grounds. In the newest fish ladder there is an area where you can go and look through thick glass at the fish swimming upstream. In addition to salmon, lamprey also swim upstream to spawn. They use their sucker mouth to grab onto rocks and things in order to rest. They also like to suck onto the glass, allowing people to look directly at their hideous mouths with nasty teeth.

Heading east again, we crossed the river on the Bridge of the Gods. An iron cantilever bridge built in the 1920's, it was raised about 45 feet when the Bonneville Dam was built, in order to provide sufficient clearance for navigation. At this point, we traveled west on a section of the old Columbia Gorge Highway. Built starting in 1915 or so, the highway is very narrow, steep and twisty. It is also quite beautiful - spectacular views and dense vegetation. The concrete and masonry work is rather intricate: each bridge was designed to complement the surrounding terrain in design and visual 'weight.' The road and the stonework are totally overgrown with overhanging trees and shrubs, making it all seem quite primordial.

There are many waterfalls in the area. In eons past, there have been several ice dams that have backed the Columbia River up into vast inland seas extending as far east as Montana. One of these seas is thought to have been over 700 feet deep at Missoula! Eventually, the ice dams melt to the point that they break, allowing an unbelievable flood of water to course down the River, carving the Gorge in great sudden gashes. The Grand Coulee in eastern Washington State is the result of just such an event. This sudden carving of the Gorge cut off many streams that drained into the Columbia River, creating these magnificent waterfalls. The most well-known of these is Multnomah Falls, with two falls, one of which is over 500 feet - one of the highest in North America.

We also stopped at the Crown Point Vista House. This was built in 1917 to afford travellers a place to get an even better view of the river gorge. The house id built of stone, with a copper roof, stained glass windows and marble floors. In need of a couple of million dollars for refurbishment, it is still a wonderful piece of architecture. Both the Vista House and the old Columbia Gorge Highway are National Historic Landmarks.

From there, Interstate 84 follows the bank of the river east through the Gorge for many miles. We drive this way until we get to Boise, ID. Note for ST1100 riders out there: at a gas station in Baker City, I heard the distictive whine of an ST1100 pulling up. Actually there were two: Jim Swift and Darryl Snow (I hope I got those correct) on their way to WeSTOC in Missoula, MT. You just never know who you are going to run into on the open road!

This is probably the last installment of our trip. From here we will blaze back to Fort Collins via Pocatello, Rock Springs, and Cheyenne. Thanks for coming along with us. If you have enjoyed these pages, plese send us some e-mail. I do not know how long I will be able to keep these pages up on the Web (I shudder to think how much disk space I've used - I'll probably be asked to give it up :-( ).
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