Further Along the Columbia River: Columbia Hills State Park, Columbia Gorge Discovery Centre and The Dalles

Mileage Today: 44 miles Total: 3,727 miles

We made our own breakfast, packed up and set off west towards our first stop. Celilo Falls State Park. Celilo Falls was the most massive waterfall on the Columbia River. It gave Lewis and Clark no end of trouble when they came through. They had to portage quite a big section of it. The Falls involved three sections, a cascade, a drop and the main channel. They were fearsome and caused by the Columbia River flowing massively towards the sea and being forced from a width of over a mile into a gap of about 140 feet. The Falls were the centre of the Native American North Western fishing industry. Along the banks for 15,000 years different tribes came together, built platforms out over the river and the falls, caught salmon using dipnets or long poles. It has been estimated that somewhere in the area of 15 to 20 million salmon passed upstream to spawn every year. Lewis and Clark describe Celilo Falls as ” a great emporium…where all the neighboring nations assemble”.

As more settlers arrived in the Pacific Northwest in the 1930s and 1940s, civic leaders advocated a system of hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River. They argued that the dams would improve navigation for barge traffic from interior regions to the ocean; provide a reliable source of irrigation for agricultural production; provide electricity for the World War II defense industry; and alleviate the flooding of downriver cities, as occurred in the 1948 destruction of Vanport City, Oregon.

Throughout this period, native people continued to fish at Celilo, under the provisions of the 1855 Treaties signed with the Yakama Nation. In 1947, the federal government convened Congressional hearings and concluded that the proposed dam at The Dalles would not violate tribal fishing rights under the treaties. The Army Corps of Engineers commenced work on The Dalles Dam in 1952 and completed it five years later. On March 10, 1957, hundreds of observers looked on as a rising Lake Celilo rapidly silenced the falls, submerged fishing platforms, and consumed the village of Celilo, ending an age-old existence for those who lived there. A small Native American community exists today at nearby Celilo Village, on a bluff overlooking the former location of the falls. It has been shown by sonar they exist today under the water just as before. I suppose maybe it had to be done but one does feel it could have been done in a way that did not eradicate the Falls and the culture surrounding them. As it was the Park was a bit of a sad and dismal place.

We travelled on, crossing a bridge to the Washington side again to visit Columbia Hills State Park. Great views of a distant peak. Mt. Adams I think. Two reasons to visit the park: there are some petroglyphs there we wanted to see and also there is a lake there which we fancied a swim in. It was hot today again, well up in the 90Fs. It’s a nice little park, some campers there under the trees and with lawns running down to the lake. Plenty of picnic tables and some bbqs for use. First we parked up near the trail of the petroglyphs. They were rescued from the walls of Miller Island when the dams flooded the area around Celilo Falls. There were a lot displayed against a low stone cliff with a barrier in front to try and prevent them being touched or defaced. It was amazing to see them although the explanations could have been clearer. However it is clear that they represented an important spiritual symbolism to the Native American artists that made them. There is a very important one not on display and only accessible by pre booked ranger tour on a weekend. So we couldn’t see that.

We spent an hour or so then by the lake, had a couple of dips. It was a sandy bottomed lake, quite small and ok for a dip, no good for actual swimming. We had lunch on one of the picnic tables right at the water’s edge. It was a good restful stop.

On we went west, having crossed over to the Oregon side again. We found the Columbia Gorge Scenic Byway just past The Dalles, (Rte. 30) and got on that for the few miles to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Centre. https://gorgediscovery.org/ What a fantastic site this is! A modern very interactive museum that explains the origins and development of the Gorge over the millenia in a series of very engaging rooms that are fun for any age group. Kids would love it. Very interesting and enjoyable. There were rooms containing items from the Lewis and Clark expedition, from Tribal cultural items and history and also the geological developments. On the other side of the museum were rooms devoted to Wasco county history – the sternwheelers, the fishing especially the Native American fishing culture, the industries that built up along the banks of the river, the canneries…… There was also a live display and talk about the red tailed hawk, the most common raptor seen in the area. We spent a very, very enjoyable couple of hours there. Outside there are numerous trails for both walking and biking all giving superb views of the river and the surrounding hills and bluffs and the canyon walls. It was a wonderful place to spend the afternoon and I recommend it.

We turned back to The Dalles and our hotel for the night. The Dalles Inn. One of the historic hotels in the town and frankly a bit tired, but the room is quite large, clean, has a/c, fridge, coffee machine, microwave, good wifi and tv, so for one night it will do fine. We enjoyed a family size lasagne from Safeways and settled in to watch tv.