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!
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!
The only vegetation we saw was sagebrush, but as we approached the Columbia River, we started to see bits of green.
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.
The Columbia River has nearly a dozen dams, including the Grand Coulee, providing hydroelectric power to serve the Northeast.
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!
Michael remembered the number 1 issue of Life magazine had another New Deal dam project, not this one, but pretty close.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We had a few moments of sunshine before we got rained out.
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!