This fall's trip to the Northwest is going to be one of a long series. My elder daughter, son-in-law and fifteen month old granddaughter are going to be settled in Salem, Oregon for a long time. He's moving toward tenure at Willamette University and she has established herself in the fiber community as a dyer of yarn, skilled knitter and, as of this winter, she'll be a spinner of wool. They've recently moved into, and done some renovation to a sweet little house.
Having the family divided by 3000 miles of the North American continent isn't ideal, but we have friends in Portland, just north of Salem, and are meeting more there all the time. Plus, there's a lot to do in the general area, our latest find being an American equivalent to the riverboats we've enjoyed in Europe. USA River Cruises has a boat owned and operated by a skilled captain that works the Columbia and Snake Rivers (the trip we took this year), the Juan de Fuca Islands and Olympic Peninsula of Washington State and, our choice for next year, the southern Alaskan Archipelago.
We flew into Spokane, Washington and settled happily into the Davenport Hotel (main lobby, above), a classic grand hotel that had been abandoned for a couple of decades and could have been demolished but for an adventurous and perhaps foolhardy couple with money who bought it and began major restoration. A documentary video available in the rooms gave a detailed history of the years of work, the engineering marvels required (one entire ballroom was cut out of the structure and lifted on a crane to the other side of the building, for example), and the toll it took on the Davenport's rescuers who ended up financially drained. But the results are dazzling.
Once we were unpacked, we walked through the general area a bit. Spokane has some interesting architecture, including this newspaper building faced with a row of busts of historically prominent Washingtonians.
The view from out window over the roof garden that tops the restaurants and function rooms. A viaduct with a freight runs through the middle distance, one of the many freight trains we encountered all through the the trip.
Next morning, we were taken on a two hour ride to the boat through the eastern Washing desert and through the miles and miles of wheat fields that grow a strain of the grain that requires very little water. I thought it very beautiful -- hundreds and hundreds of miles of wheat rolling off to the horizon with a small farm building or farmhouse nestled into hollow with a few trees as a windbreak.
By late morning we were on board the boat, the Island Spirit, docked in Lewiston, WA. Our cabin was just to the left inside the door into the passenger cabin deck, with the kayaks secured to the wall next to my bed. We were a total of 29 passengers.
Before long, a jetboat pulled alongside and we boarded for a five hour exploration of the Snake River at exhilarating speed. We began to get used to the rugged, barren countryside that would be a feature of our first three days on the river. In spite of such a major supply of water as the Snake, very little grows on the banks.
The jetboat captain gave good commentary on the history and wildlife of he area. It was big Lewis and Clark country. We got back to the Island Spirit in time for a 7pm dinner and found our fellow passengers to be very easy to get along with.
The night was spent in Lewiston. We sailed the next morning and soon encountered our first lock. Most of the locks on these rivers are about one hundred feet high.
There were some fantastic formations on the cliffs that rose almost sheer out of the water. The formation here is basalt, the same kind of basalt columns that form The Giant's Causeway on the west coast of Ireland -- only here, titanic forces in prehistory bent the columns gradually into these sweeping curves. We encountered this formation just before the Snake empties into the Columbia, which is where I'll resume next time.