Columbia River Cruise

Week of August 17, 2008

by Lucille Heitz


On Sunday, August 17th, Jeanne, Ruth, Reinette and I drove to Portland to join the other passengers on the large paddle wheel boat, The Queen of the West.

Our staterooms were adjoining on the main deck so we were close to all the public rooms. Jeanne and I shared a very comfortable, well-appointed room. We met the captain and crew before having the first of many delicious meals in the dining room. After dinner we strolled the decks (there were four) and then enjoyed a live band in the showroom. Portland is not only on the Columbia River, but also on the Willamette, and the captain said she wanted everyone to see the beautiful downtown Portland skyline, so we had a short trip down the Willamette before getting on the Columbia.

Monday morning we woke on the Columbia and saw the first of the many outstanding scenic attractions. This one was the Multinomah Falls, I think they are the tallest falls in North America. The boat actually turned around so those on the opposite side could see the falls. That is the sort of attention the captain showed the whole trip. We also entered the first of the many locks on the Columbia; for example see Cascade Locks. Before we docked we were treated to an hour's lecture by an on-board historian. We were going to be spending most of the week following the route of Lewis and Clark and he was explaining what we were seeing. Our lazy cruise was to be a traveling classroom with daily excursions to the historical land places along the way.

Let me say here that there were three luxurious buses following the boat and at each stop they would take us to the various museums and places of interest. Each bus driver was an experienced tour guide so we were kept informed of the history along the way. All of the side trips were interesting, and we didn't want to miss any, but we missed our afternoon naps and were tired when we boarded the boat late in the afternoon. Wednesday night we were invited to the captain's table for dinner. The captain was very friendly.

We went through several locks, the biggest having a 90 ft. vertical lift, the most lift in the U.S. The Columbia River has to be seen by boat to appreciate how big it is and we went from its beginning, the Snake River, to its end, the Pacific Ocean. We went from the lush forests on the west side of the Cascades to the high desert of eastern Oregon. We saw different forms of agriculture from the rolling yellow fields of grain to the lush green of the vineyards and orchards.

We were supposed to cruise some of the Snake River, but the locks were being worked on and the river was closed to us. So the boat docked in Pasco, Washington and those waiting buses took us on a three-hour ride to Lewiston, Idaho. There we boarded three jet boats for a ride up Hell's Canyon. We made a lunch stop at a ranch along the way. The boats had their side windows in so we did not get wet as we flew over the many rapids, but we were still able to see the amazing rock formations and a few birds and animals. We barely made it back to our big boat in time for dinner that night and it was the gala captain's reception and dinner.

I haven't tried to tell you all the interesting museums and land sights we saw. There were just too many. We did learn that Pendleton was a very rough town with its underground laundry, ice cream store, butcher shop, and illegal activities. The local Indians put on a very interesting show in full dress, including a baby in its cradle-board , to a grandmother, all in elaborate costumes. We were taken to Mt. St. Helens and the devastation is still very evident.

It was a very full week, one we all enjoyed, but we had to come home to rest! I will say that having such good traveling companions mad the trip much more enjoyable.