Cascade Locks, Bonneville Dam, and Multnomah Falls
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Sunday, June 7, 2015
My first morning aboard Un-Cruise Adventures’ S.S. Legacy got off to a great start. When I crawled into bed around 12:30a.m. after writing last night’s report, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the mattress was soft and yielding. In fact, it’s one of the nicer ones I’ve had aboard any cruise ship, and the dual pillows are fluffy and comfortable.
So if you look at the twin-bedded configuration and think, “I don’t know…” – rest assured you’re going to have a relaxing sleep and wake up feeling refreshed. To top it all off, the shower is bigger than the one I had on my last mainstream cruise, too!
By the time I got up this morning, we’d already arrived at our docking location in Cascade Locks, Oregon. We’d be here for some morning touring before setting out this afternoon for a day and a half of sailing the Columbia River as part of our weeklong Legacy of Discovery river cruise.
Un-Cruise likes to keep things relaxed and informal onboard, and that’s a-okay with me. Early Riser’s Breakfast is served in the Lounge starting at 6:30a.m., with full plated breakfast in the Dining Room at 8:00a.m. The Early Riser option features yogurt, fruit and cereals, while the breakfast in the dining room is a hot one, which today offered up the choice of a ham-and-cheese omelette; or a smoked salmon scramble served with potatoes, bacon, and your choice of toast. A delicious way to start the morning!
A quick aside: if you’re a coffee nut like me, you’ll be happy to know that the coffee served onboard the S.S. Legacy is extremely good. And there’s plenty of it, along with six different kinds of Tazo Tea served in the lounge.
At 9:00a.m., we stepped ashore for our morning of touring. When you disembark the ship, you have to slide your “peg” positioned by your room number from the “Onboard” to the “Ashore” slot. This lets the crew quickly and easily know who is on the vessel at any given time. Simple, effective and perfect for a ship of this size.
Once onboard our coach (with was brand-new and made by European coach company Setra), our first stop on our morning excursion was the imposing hulk of the Bonneville Lock and Dam.
Started in 1933 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” designed to get the American public back to work following the Great Depression, the dam and navigational lock were completed in 1937. As finished, the lock itself was 500 feet in length, 76 feet wide, and could lift vessels up and down a height of 70 feet to match the flow of the Columbia River on the other side.
Capturing the power from the roaring river was left to the 1,027 foot Generator Powerhouse that featured 10 working generators with a combined total generating capacity of 600 megawatts of electricity.
In 1974, a second powerhouse was constructed on the Washington state side of the Columbia River with an additional eight modern generators. Once it was brought online in 1981, both old and new powerplants combined to create a total output of 1,200 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 900,000 homes in the Pacific Northwest region.
By the early 1990’s, it was apparent a new lock would be needed to allow ship traffic through. This new lock would be substantially larger than the original 1938 navigational lock, with a total length of 675 feet and a width of 86 feet – enough to allow several barges and a tug in at a single time.
But engineers were also mindful of the harmful effects of the dam on the local salmon population, which is why they integrated “fish ladders” (stepped terraces) that allow for the passage of salmon returning upstream. If that seems very forward-thinking for the mid-1930’s, consider this: when Lewis & Clark arrived here in 1805, they report “multitudes” of fish and salmon in the waterways.
Local Native American tribes had long relied on these abundant salmon stocks for sustenance, and in many ways, the veritable bounty of seafood right at their doorsteps made them better off, hierarchically-speaking, than the native plains Indians that had to hunt great distances for continued food sources.
Just over a century later, unregulated overfishing and environmental pollution nearly killed off the salmon stocks on the Columbia River entirely. When the US Army Corps of Engineers set about designing the Bonneville Lock and Dam, they made sure to implement features that would allow the local salmon population to thrive. While there are numerous bypasses that fish can take to get around the dam, including one in a tunnel deep underground, should fish be unlucky enough to get sucked in by the turbines, they actually have a greater-than-90-percent survival rate. Not bad for being caught in a massive blade making 70 rotations per minute!
Today, however, the generator blades were stopped: the Shad are running, and the turbines have been mechanically locked off to allow the fish to pass uninterrupted.
From the Bonneville Lock and Dam, we hopped back on the coach for a quick stop at the magnificent Multnomah Falls.
Secreted away in the lush and verdant forest, Multnomah Falls is barely 35 miles to the east of Portland, where we embarked the S.S. Legacy yesterday. But it may as well be a world apart: even with modern conveyances like a paved asphalt trailhead and a spectacular Art Deco-esque concrete bridge, the real draw here is still Mother Nature herself.
Apparently, the water spilling over the falls can be up to seven years old; the estimated duration that it takes for water to wind its way through the mountain and out through the precipitous drop on its way down to the Columbia River. It sounds almost fantastical in description – though I am discovering that most things in Nature often are.
After that, it was back onboard the coach for our 15-minute journey to the S.S. Legacy, where lunch and some fine local wines and craft beers awaited our arrival. Not to mention, of course, the truly fabulous Un-Cruise crew.
The crew of the S.S. Legacy really goes out of their way to make all guests feel welcome, and I don’t think I’ve laughed this much on a trip in a long time. Many of my fellow guests are repeat Un-Cruise customers who know at least some of the staff, so there’s a lot of good-natured ribbing that goes on throughout the day, particularly at meal times.
The entire onboard atmosphere is one of pure conviviality – and that’s something that no amount of marketing dollars can buy you. It has to be earned, and Un-Cruise most certainly has done that. Guests simply wouldn’t be coming back two, three, five times to sail with the line if that wasn’t the case.
Even better, guests get the entire afternoon and evening to enjoy onboard the S.S. Legacy as we sail further east down the Columbia River.
As I alluded to yesterday, the S.S. Legacy has a Heritage focus rather than an adventure one. So it’s less like an expedition cruise, and more like what you’d get out of a European river cruise. In fact, all the staples that have made European river cruising so popular are right here onboard, from the included excursions to the inclusive wine, beers and spirits that are, wherever possible, locally sourced; to the local crew – most of whom hail from right here in the Pacific Northwest.
So while this may not be as active as other Un-Cruise adventures, it is by no means staid or boring. In fact, I dare you to pry yourself away from the outer decks or the forward-facing observation lounge. Even with the heat pushing a sweat-inducing 93°F today, nearly all my fellow guests retreated to the open decks to watch the scenery around us change from lush, green and forest-y to a more barren, brown landscape that seems to have been gradually drained of its moisture.
To be sure, we’re entering a stretch of the Columbia River that you wouldn’t necessarily think of when you hear the words “Pacific Northwest.” It looks more like North by Northwest – on steroids.
Shortly before our pre-dinner cocktail hour in the Lounge, we transited the Dalles Dam, rising up some 80 feet to rejoin the Columbia River at its higher elevation. If you’ve ever river cruised through Europe, you’ll know the drill here: the ship enters the lock, the lock gates swing shut, and the ship is slowly raised or lowered to meet the new level of the river.
In the case of the S.S. Legacy, our time in the lock took approximately 30 minutes from start to finish. Once we’d been raised up, the lock gates forward of us opened up and our ship nimbly sprang to life at about the time cocktails were being served in the lounge – though let’s be honest: with temperatures getting hotter with each passing nautical mile we sailed to the east, the “adult beverages” had been flowing for some time.
Tonight, three delicious choices were presented for dinner: ribs in a red wine sauce; expertly-cooked scallops; or a rice and corn risotto. I went half-and-half, ordering a half portion of the scallops and a half portion of the risotto – and I was not disappointed. Topped off with another delicious dessert from S.S. Legacy’s diabolical pastry chef, it was the perfect culinary conclusion to the day.
Following dinner, our Historical Leader Kenne provided a lecture in the Lounge on the unique geological formations that we see all around us, and the controversy that surrounded it. In fact, this valley was carved by a massive flood brought on by melting glaciers that had, at some point, dammed up the water behind them. The glaciers failed catastrophically, sending water cascading up to a thousand feet high through this landscape, which carved out the valley we see before us.
By the time I was sampling what I like to call my “Scotch of the Night” in the Pesky Barnacle Saloon, we’d entered and transited yet another lock – the John Day Dam. There’s still five to go on our eastbound journey to Clarkston, where we’ll likely tie up late tomorrow evening.
It may only be our first day onboard, but I’ll say this: the Columbia & Snake Rivers could do for North America what the Danube has done for European river cruising. And there’s no reason why Un-Cruise shouldn’t lead the way.
S.S. Legacy - Columbia & Snake Rivers
|Day 1||Portland, Oregon|
|Day 2||The Columbia River Gorge, Bonnyville Dam, Multnomah Falls|
|Day 3||Cruising the Snake River|
|Day 4||Clarkston & Hell's Canyon|
|Day 5||Walla Walla, Washington|
|Day 6||The Dalles, Oregon|
|Day 7||Astoria, Oregon|
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Un-Cruise Adventures’ S.S. Legacy continues tomorrow we spend an entire day of scenic cruising along the Columbia and Snake Rivers! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.