AMERICAN EMPRESS: PORTS ON THE SNAKE AND COLUMBIA RIVERS, PART 2

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Multnomah Falls measures 620 feet from top to bottom.  On September 4, 1995, a 400-ton rock slid from the face of the upper falls and dropped 225 feet into the upper falls pool.  It sent a 70-foot splash over the bridge and drenched a wedding party having their photographs taken!

The American Empress stayed overnight in Stevenson, so the following day, we took a tour to see the breathtaking Multnomah Falls and the panoramic views from Vista House.  Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day and not the best for photography; however, we couldn’t complain.  The weather was fabulous otherwise!

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During the afternoon, we took the hop on-hop off bus to the Bonneville Dam where we were fortunate to have an opportunity to tour the facility.  We arrived at the dam’s visitor center just in time for one of only three tours scheduled for the day.  It was fascinating to see how the dam and power plant operates.  Just as was done at McNary Dam, a fish ladder system was built for fish migration, and we were able to get a close look at it from above and below.  Viewing windows allowed us to see the fish pass through.

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When we returned to Stevenson, there wasn’t much to see in town, because it is very small.  We were quite entertained, though, just hanging out along the shoreline and back on the boat, where we watched wind surfers and kite surfers having a blast!  The dependable high winds on the riverfront is a huge draw for them, and they come from all around.  We had a perfect vantage point from our veranda—great for photography!

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Our final port was Astoria, Oregon where we had a gorgeous day to cap off our cruise.  Situated near the mouth of the Columbia River, the deep-water port city of only 10,000 residents has a growing art scene, and a cool vibe.  The Riverwalk thrives with cafes, a brewery/restaurant, and shops served by an old-time trolley that stops alongside them.

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The highlight of the hop on-hop off route was enjoying the breathtaking views of the river from the Astoria Column.  When we disembarked the bus, we were given a souvenir balsa wood glider kit.  After hiking up the 164-step spiral staircase, we flew our gliders from the viewing platform and watched the long flight to the ground below.  If you were lucky, it didn’t end up in the trees!  I was lucky– twice.  I had written our names and date on the bottom of the wing, so I would know if I had found my own glider down below.  Somebody else found it and placed the glider on a bench in front of the gift shop.  Trying my luck again, I gave it to another American Empress passenger getting ready to climb up to the top.  Sure enough, I later found my glider on the ground, and it now sits atop my computer printer as a souvenir—at least for now.

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Meanwhile, the exterior of the 125-foot Astoria Column has a beautiful wrap-around mural depicting the history of the region from 1792 to the 1880’s.  If the mural was unwound, it would be over 500 feet in length!

Our next stop in Astoria was back downtown to see the Sunday street market, an excellent market considering the small size of the town.  In addition to the usual produce and foods, there were several high-quality artists and crafters.

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Next, we toured the Flavel House.  Built for Captain George Flavel in 1885, the 11,600 square-foot Queen Anne style house was full of beautiful woodwork and antiques.

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The backyard of the Flavel House

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The woodwork was beautiful throughout the house.

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Rather than take the bus back to the boat, we walked down to the riverfront and enjoyed the views of the river along the Riverwalk.  As we passed by the brewery, restaurants, and shops, we could hear the seals barking just below.

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 The American Empress was tied up at the same dock as the Coast Guard cutters and in front of the Columbia River Maritime Museum, so there was plenty to see around the boat as we made our way back on board for our final night aboard the beautiful paddlewheeler.

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AMERICAN EMPRESS: PORTS ON THE SNAKE AND COLUMBIA RIVERS, PART 1

Since high water levels made it impossible for us to visit The Dalles in Oregon, the revised itinerary had the American Empress visiting just Richland, Stevenson, and Astoria, before ending up in Vancouver, Washington.  The following (in two parts) are the highlights of those cities as well as our river cruising in between.

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 At the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima rivers, the American Empress stopped in Richland, one of the tri-cities in the southeastern part of Washington.  Richland is home of the Hanford nuclear site, the once-secret plant that was part of the Manhattan Project.  During World War II, the U.S. Army had bought up 640 miles of land along the river, evicted Richland’s 300 residents as well as residents from nearby White Bluffs and Hanford, and then built a community for the workers they had hired to build and run this top-secret plant.  It was so secret that the workers there didn’t even know what they were building.  The town swelled from 300 to over 25,000 between 1943 and the end of the war in 1945, when the workers finally learned they had built the nation’s first nuclear reactor.

In Richland, the highlight on the hop on-hop off bus route was The Reach Museum, where we saw a fascinating exhibit about the Manhattan Project and what life was like for the workers and families in this government-built town where it was forbidden to speculate with others about the nature of their work.

 After leaving Richland, we went through the locks of McNary Dam, which is 1.4 miles long and spans the Columbia River.  It was interesting to see the fish ladders that were built on each side of the dam for salmon and steelhead passage, allowing the fish to follow their natural migration as babies to the Pacific Ocean and back as adults.  The flow of water is regulated, so that the velocity flowing over the steps is fast enough to attract the fish to the ladder, but not too fast to exhaust the fish and wash them back downstream.

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Osprey

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 As we headed west during our scheduled day of cruising the Columbia River Gorge, the topography became much more lush and green.  The gorge stretches for over 80 miles and is up to 4,000 feet deep with a wide range of elevation and precipitation.  In the westernmost region of the gorge, temperate rainforests get up to 100 inches of rainfall each year!  Compare that to the 6-7 inches of rain in the desert of Richland, and it’s understandable why it is so much prettier on the western parts of the Columbia River.

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 Upon our arrival to Stevenson, the hop on-hop off buses drove American Empress’s passengers out to the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum.  Originally, it was scheduled to be a premium tour out of The Dalles; however, the cancellation of that port meant having to get bused there an hour each way from Stevenson.  As a nice concession by American Queen Steamboat Company, they refunded the tour fee to the passengers booked for that tour and made it available to everybody for free.

Along the way, we could see evidence of the horrible Eagle Creek fire from last fall.  Taking three months to extinguish, the fire scorched 76 square miles of forest and destroyed eight buildings. The area was still beautiful, though, thanks to the tremendous amount of rain and regrowth since the fire.

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A view of Mt. Adams from the museum, which was behind me.

When we arrived at the museum, which has the largest collection (325) of still-flying antique planes, cars, motorcycles, and tractors in the country; we were treated to a beautiful view of Mt. Hood behind the exhibits.  There, visitors had the opportunity to catch a ride in a vintage auto,

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Inside the huge hangars, there were rows of beautiful antiques, everything from a 1909 Franklin Model D to a WWII glider.  Check out their website for details, and you will be amazed at what they have displayed in their huge museum!

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The first car is a 1917 Willy’s Overland

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1931 Chrysler Imperial

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In the afternoon, for a belated birthday celebration, we treated Adam (the bartender/cocktail waiter we had met on the American Duchess) to a beer at Walking Man Brewing, a nice place to hang out and relax.

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 Next up:  AMERICAN EMPRESS:  PORTS ON THE SNAKE AND COLUMBIA RIVERS, PART 2

 

 

LEWISTON (IDAHO) AND CLARKSTON (WASHINGTON): CAN YOU GUESS WHO THEY ARE NAMED AFTER?

After being bused from the Historic Davenport Hotel in Spokane, we boarded the American Empress in Clarkston, Washington on the afternoon of May 21.  Since the boat wasn’t scheduled to depart until the next afternoon, we had time the following morning to explore Clarkston and Lewiston via the hop-on, hop-off bus.  We had never been to Idaho before (one of eleven states we hadn’t visited), so I was excited to see at least a fraction of the state!

Clarkston was named after William Clark, of Lewis and Clark.  Across the river, Lewiston, Idaho was named after Meriwether Lewis.  Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson after the Louisiana Purchase, the two men joined up for the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States, from May, 1804 to September, 1806.  They were tasked with exploring and mapping the newly acquired territory, to find a practical route to the Pacific Ocean.  Along the way, they studied the area’s plants, animal life, and geography, in addition to establishing trade with the Native American tribes.  The “Corps of Discovery Expedition” began near St. Louis and passed through Lewiston, across the river from where the American Empress was set to begin our cruise west on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

Both Clarkston and Lewiston are small cities with a combined population of about 55,000.  Surprisingly, though, there was a Costco just down the road from the dock!  Once the reason was explained by the local guide on our hop on-hop off bus, it made good sense.

Located at the confluence of the Snake River and Clearwater River and thirty miles southeast of Lower Granite Dam, Lewiston is reachable by some ocean-going vessels because of the lock system on the Snake and Columbia River.  The Port of Lewiston is Idaho’s only seaport and has the distinction of being the farthest inland port east of the West Coast of the United States.

According to our guide, farmers and their families drive to Costco from hundreds of miles around to do their shopping.  (There are a lot of farmers in Idaho.  In addition to lentils, peas, garbanzo beans, and barley grown in the state, 49% of all wheat grown in the U.S.A. gets barged out of Lewiston.)   They will come in and spend a night, see a movie, and stock up before heading home.  One of the founders of Costco (based in Kirkland, Washington) was from Lewiston, so he convinced his partner to build a location in Clarkston.  Evidently, they do a very good business!

Clarkston is also the gateway to North America’s deepest gorge, Hells Canyon (8,000 feet!), a year-round recreation resort, thanks to its mild desert climate and only ten inches of average annual rainfall.  In addition, the area has a rich history of the Nez Perce Native American tribe who assisted Lewis and Clark with their expedition and still reside in the area today.

We were able to get a good look at the area on our way to the Nez Perce National Historical Park as well as the drive out to the First Territorial Capitol Interpretive Center where we hopped off for a visit.

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The next stop was the Bridablik/Schroeder House where we were hosted by the Schroeders for an exclusive tour (for American Empress passengers only) of their fully restored 1906 home full of gorgeous antiques, and then homemade refreshments on their back patio.  The panoramic view of the river below was spectacular!

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Finally, we hopped off to visit the Nez Perce County Historical Society Museum before heading back to the riverboat for our departure.  (There were other stops on the route; however, we didn’t have time to see them all.)

 

Fortunately, it was a beautiful and warm day, so the afternoon cruise towards Richland, our next stop, was delightful!

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Entering a lock

 

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Coming up next:  AMERICAN EMPRESS:  PORTS ON THE SNAKE AND COLUMBIA RIVERS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AMERICAN EMPRESS PRE-CRUISE: SPECTACULAR SPOKANE

One year ago, before taking the American Queen on the three-week “Mighty Mississippi” cruise and American Queen Steamboat Company’s newest paddle wheeler, American Duchess (again, on the Mississippi), we had booked a cruise on the American Empress.  After having such great experiences last summer and in January on the other two paddlewheelers, we were looking forward with great anticipation to cruising the Snake and Columbia rivers aboard the company’s second boat in their three-boat fleet.

We chose an east to west itinerary rather than the reverse, which was a good call.  The eastern part of Washington is barren desert with an annual rainfall averaging about ten inches.  As you travel west, the scenery becomes much more lush and green, thanks to the 70+ inches of rain falling closer to the coast.  During our cruise, it got prettier each day as we made our way from Clarkston to Richland, and then to Stevenson and Astoria, before disembarkation.  (The Dalles, Oregon, was also on the itinerary; however, the water level was too high to stop there.)

Prior to boarding the river boat, we spent one night on our own in Spokane at the Ruby 2 and then stayed another night with the other American Empress passengers at the Historic Davenport Hotel, just a short walk away.

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The Ruby 2 was in a great location and quite a bit more budget-friendly than the Davenport.  We figured being totally spoiled for one night would be more than enough for us, since we were perfectly happy in our clean, comfortable, and quiet room at the Ruby 2.

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The view from our room at night.  The old steam plant across the street has been renovated and now has a restaurant, shops, and offices.

As luck would have it, we arrived in town on the morning of Spokane’s annual Lilac Festival, and the evening parade was routed just a block away from our hotel.  This was such a big deal in this city of 208,000 residents that people started staking out their viewing spot the night before by leaving lawn chairs on the curb.  By the time we arrived, there were colorful rows of canvas-backed chairs covering the entire parade route in the downtown city center!

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Lilac Festival Parade

It was a gorgeous day, so we took advantage of the beautiful weather by seeing the downtown area on foot.  Spokane Falls is the main attraction, and it borders one edge of the city center.  Pictures don’t do it justice, because it’s not just about seeing the falls; you need to hear and feel the power created by the tremendous rush of water.  According to www.visitspokane.com, “Flows can reach upwards of 31,000 cubic feet per second—that’s the equivalent of nearly 232,000 thousand gallons of water racing through a single square foot of the Spokane River in the blink of an eye.”

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Between Spokane Falls and the downtown city center is Riverside Park, a nice place to walk through while checking out the various views of the falls.  Along the way, we saw plenty of geese enjoying the pond (and bread being tossed to them), and children enjoying the gigantic red Radio Flyer and beautiful carousel.

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 The following day, we checked in to the Davenport, left our bags, and took the bus to Manito Park, because it was too hilly and non-pedestrian friendly to get to on foot.  What a beautiful place!  I was envious of the homeowners that bordered that wonderful park—until I remembered how cold it gets there in Winter!

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After returning to the hotel, we took the hotel’s interesting self-guided tour.  What a beauty!  As for our room, we lucked out with a corner room, which was huge—and, the nicest hotel room we had ever stayed in.

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The following day, American Queen Steamboat Company bused us to Clarkston, Washington to board the American Empress.  For a tour of the boat, check out my next blog post coming soon!

Coming up next:  AMERICAN QUEEN STEAMBOAT COMPANY’S AMERICAN EMPRESS