Back on the Oregon Trail to Washington October 21 (Day 50)

We followed the Columbia River Valley on our way from Yakima to Portland. This meant heading west across the Cascade Mountains. So we had a big revelation: East of the Cascades = dry. West of the Cascades = wet, very wet!


Leaving the fruited plains just north in Yakima, we saw rolling very brown hills as we headed south.

This area seemed to have even fewer people than the wide open plains of Canada, but the windmill per square mile population was large. Did you know that each of these creates around 2 megawatts (when the wind is blowing) vs. 300 megawatts from a coal or gas generator? You need lots of wind turbines to equal a “traditional” power plant. And we saw lots!


Very big when seen from close view.

The only vegetation we saw was sagebrush, but as we approached the Columbia River, we started to see bits of green.


Our first views of the Columbia River. Note the blue skies.

This had to be a welcome site for early explorers and settlers who had braved mountains and deserts. This part of the “Trail” was often traveled on log raft.


Next to the Columbia River now are vineyards and other crops.

The Columbia River has nearly a dozen dams, including the Grand Coulee, providing hydroelectric power to serve the Northeast.


The Dalles Dam

We crossed from Washington into Oregon and saw the sign for Bonneville Lock and Dam, an Army Corps of Engineering project. That looked interesting.


The name Bonneville comes from Benjamin Bonneville, who charted much of the Oregon Trail in early exploration days. It was also very interesting that we were able to drive right up to the dam. All we had to do was answer the question of whether or not we had any guns. (We didn’t.) The dam was majorly impressive!


A 1938 New Deal project. The dam today can generate over 1,100 MW.

Michael remembered the number 1 issue of Life magazine had another New Deal dam project, not this one, but pretty close.


Building the Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River in Montana, 1936 (Margaret Bourke-White photograph)


A Margaret Bourke-White style photo of the Bonneville Dam today. We’d submit it to Life magazine if it were still around. (photo by Michael O’Connell)

So if the river is dammed, what happens to spawning fish? Little ones go right through the turbines (hopefully without being chopped into ceviche). Larger fish follow a ladder maze that is a bit like a natural river rapids.


The big fish swim upstream on this “ladder” against a very strong current.

At the top of the ladder, the fish are funneled into a narrower opening so that they can go past the fish counters…human fish counters. Specially trained observers sit before a window looking into the backlit funnel area, watching for each and every fish. They identify them from 30+ types and gauge their sizes. While we were there we saw a number of big coho salmon and some itty-bitty sardines who were really struggling.


A big coho. (We think. We’re not well trained.)

You can see them too on the live Fish Cam (highest frequency during spawning season, of course). This year’s fish count is phenomenal, already the highest since counting was started 75 years ago. This was cause for BIG excitement among the guides at the facility!

It really was hard to break away from watching the fish, but we finally did… and we followed the Scenic Byway along the Oregon side of the Columbia River. There are half a dozen waterfalls dropping from great heights. This one, Multnomah, is the second-largest year-round waterfall in the US, according to the US Forest Service. It’s 620 feet in a two-part drop.


Multnomah Falls. The bridge is 100 years old this year.

A pretty place for wedding photos, don’t you think? In 1995, a 400-ton rock fell into the upper pool and made a 70-foot splash, drenching a wedding party on the bridge. No deaths fortunately, but 20 people were injured from the gravel that was thrown up.

As we continued our path along the river, it was becoming clear that we were now on the wet side of the Cascades.

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Can’t apply the Boy Scout rule of moss growing on the north side. It’s so wet here, the moss is EVERYWHERE!

We had a few moments of sunshine before we got rained out.


A soggy view east up the Columbia River. Note the lack of blue skies!

We’re heading to Portland and our forecast is for more rain, not just any rain, but a Pineapple Express, otherwise known as an “atmospheric river.” And it’s forecast to last for a week. It looks like we may not need to go to the coast to see the Oregon coast; it’s heading toward us!


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