Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Down the Columbia River Gorge

The drive along the Columbia River is spectacular especially westward from The Dalles. We stopped for one night in a remote campground near Trout Lake. Our campsite backed up to a beautiful meadow. The leaves are turning and the temperatures cooling and everywhere the campgrounds are thinning of people. The only person I encountered at the park was a man hunting mushrooms. I asked him how he identified the poisonous from the edible and though he gave good tips I would never venture to risk it. Next morning I encountered him again, this time he carried a shotgun to his side. "So now you plan to shoot the mushrooms?" No, he was down the road to shoot a grouse we'd both heard clucking in the woods.

To get to Trout Lake you must pass through the towns of Bingen and White Salmon that sit along the Washington bluffs of the Columbia River. This are towns that seem lost in time. I find myself thinking a lot about early settlers, those brave Oregon Trail pioneers. The land along the Columbia Gorge must have looked promising enough for them to drop their bags and call it home, but then, maybe they were just too weary to continue passage down the cascades and the narrow gorge. The climate is wet, the land subject to mudslides, and the winds harsh so maybe that helps explain why the area is so underpopulated today.

We made stops at the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center as well as the Bonneville Dam. The salmon were long gone from the fish ladders and there was not a soul in sight except for the government employee that inspected our vehicle at the gate. We felt like the last people on earth in such a strange place. Inside, we could look through the enormous glass wall to the hydro-power generators. The rumble of the turbines vibrating beneath us contrasted eerily to the absolute stillness in the powerhouse.

Downstairs we wandered around opening doors and exploring staircases to discover an underwater fish observatory. There we found a few straggler fish trying to hold steady against the turbulent water of the fish runs. We'd come too late in the season to see the multitudes of salmon and other fish maneuver through the run upstream to spawn.

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