My seven-night cruise along the Columbia and Snake rivers during the first week of June began and ended in Portland, Ore. Here are snapshots from the trip:
Leave Portland at dinnertime, north on the Willamette River, then east on the Columbia. Anchor overnight on the river, near Corbett, Ore., about 30 miles from Portland. Comfortable cabin and gentle roll of the ship make for a good night’s sleep. When we awake, we’re in the first of eight locks we will pass.
Tour Columbia River Gorge, the only sea-level passage through the mountain ranges that stretch from Canada to Mexico, and a recreational Shangri-La – hiking, waterfalls, fishing. Stops include a private tour of Bonneville Dam, home to locks and massive turbines that generate hydroelectric power. The highlight: the windows that give an underwater, aquarium-like view of the fish ladders that allow salmon to bypass the dam on their way upriver to spawn. Also tour Multnomah Falls, 620 feet of splashy splendor that draws nearly 2 million visitors a year.
After cruising overnight, we turn onto the Snake River at about 8 a.m. Scenery, which had been rain-forest lush a day before, is now cardboard brown thanks to the drier and warmer conditions on the eastern side of the Cascades, which block the moisture from the coast. The shore now looks more like the rugged high deserts of the Southwest. Shipboard activities: knot tying, yoga, galley tours. The galley tour is a bust, but the long day of cruising gives us a chance to read, relax and get acquainted with other passengers. Tie up for the night in Clarkston, Wash., on the southeastern tip of the state.
In the morning, still docked in Clarkston, we hear about the Nez Perce tribes, this region’s legendary horsemen who took infants along on rides to teach them the rhythms of a gallop. Depart on jet boats to Hells Canyon, a comfortable but splashy trip across modest rapids and past petroglyphs, old mines, deer and big-horned sheep. Four-hour ride is a window on the Old West and reaches areas inaccessible almost any other way. Back on the Legacy for dinner: leg of lamb cooked just right and a too-dry baklava.
Returning west, back down the Snake River, we disembark and visit Fort Walla Walla, built in 1858 to assist pioneers. Today, cabins and displays tell the story of the settlers here in the Walla Walla Valley. Two winery tours follow, neither impressive. Best stop of the day is the Whitman Mission National Historic Site where in 1847, Cayuse warriors turned against the Methodist missionaries. Story of the deadly attack gives a deep sense of the tensions caused by disease and the tribe’s disappearing way of life.
The ship’s chef has quit. Oddly, the food, which had been merely satisfactory, seems to improve. We arrive at a little town called The Dalles for the day, greeted by women in period costume. “At one time, there were 28 brothels in The Dalles,” a madam-type says. Visit Maryhill Museum of Art in Sam Hill’s old mansion. End with a rollicking talent show by passengers and crew: jokes, stories, sea songs, some led by Capt. Dano Quinn.
Astoria, Ore., a lovely little slice of New England plopped on the Pacific coast. We tour two historic sites, including Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark wintered. At one stop, a bald eagle sits atop a tree 100 feet away, preening for our cameras. Later, we explore Astoria and the Maritime Museum, one of the most engaging of the trip because of its life-size displays and harrowing tales of sea life.
Back in Portland, we eat breakfast and disembark for home. Crew lines dock to bid farewell to passengers, who are pleased with the diverse scenery and range of experiences on the trip. A dud here and a dud there, but mostly a distinct and attractive voyage, primarily for the over-40 crowd. If Un-Cruise’s Alaska adventures are this well-organized and friendly, sign me up.