The USA is home to many one-of-a-kind treasures – including one of the deepest, most pristine lakes in the world; the world’s largest volcano, and iconic skylines and monuments recognized all over the world.
This great river of the West was not discovered until the 1700s. Many explorers sought to discover the mouth of this great river. James Cook, John Meares, and George Vancouver all searched for and missed it. In 1792, a U.S. fur trader by the name of Robert Gray became the first white seaman to sail a vessel into the river. He named it for his ship—the Columbia Rediviva. Ongoing exploration was accelerated as a result of Gray’s discovery, aided by the 1803 Louisianna Purchase.
Lewis & Clark, Wilson Price Hunt and the Astorians, the Hudson’s Bay Company, missionaries like the Whitmans and the Spaldings, Benjamin Bonneville, and Peter Skeen Odgen all helped discover and open up the Pacific Northwest. What first started out as a small smattering of explorers and traders would eventually become a flood, as thousands of Oregon Trail settlers came west seeking a new start.
Today, you can sail upriver alongside golden coulees, high desert, and steep gorges. A range of vegetation, from Western hemlock in the moist regions to sagebrush in the arid country and stretches of orchards and vineyards, are strewn across the land. Supporting several species of wildlife and migrating fish, the rivers have allowed steamships to link communities and facilitate trade. Today, the dams along the Columbia produce more hydroelectric power than those of any other North American river.
Columbia River Gorge
The entire Pacific Northwest has been influenced by 2 major types of floods. The first were volcanic in origin, as floods of molten lava poured over the land. Originating in volcanoes long since extinct, these flood basalts, as they are called, accumulated layer upon layer, creating the land mass that is now Washington and Oregon. Visible in the sides of the Columbia Gorge, these basalt flows appear as a series of layers heaped one upon the other. Mountains build up and rivers erode or cut down; as a result, the gorge provides a clear cross-sectional view of geologic time.
The Columbia River has been steadily eroding its river channel for millennia. But the river alone was never powerful enough to create the gorge as we see it now. What happened to help the river? The answer is massive cataclysmic Ice Age flooding. From about 15,000 years ago to about 12,000 years ago, a series of massive ice dam failures resulted in enormous floods rushing down the Columbia River pathway. This water was as much as 1,000 feet high and traveled at speeds close to 100 miles per hour. Such massive floods ripped and tore at the sides of the river valley, removing huge quantities of rock, gravel, and debris. Originating northeast of Spokane, Washington, near Missoula, Montana, these floods flushed away thousands of tons of ground up rock and carried this material along until the floodwaters slowed. When these floodwaters slowed, they dropped their ‘bed load’ of gravel. This deposited material, called Loess, can now be found in the Walla Walla and Willamette Valleys. This is the reason these two areas are so rich agriculturally. These two complementary flood phases resulted in the diverse scenery and beauty that can be seen along the Columbia-Snake River route today.
For thousands of years, the coastal First Peoples lived in abundance along the shorelines that now surround Elliott Bay and the city of Seattle. The city is named for Chief Sealth, a respected local elder who befriended the first non-native settlers of the Denny party who landed in 1851.
Logging of the great forests surrounding Elliott Bay commenced almost immediately upon arrival of the first white pioneers, who began to supply the building demands of the city of San Francisco and other developments along the west coast. This was Seattle’s first link to becoming a key import and export arena along the Pacific Rim. By the time gold was discovered in Alaska in the late 1800s, Seattle became the foremost launching pad and supply center for gold and adventure seekers to the “Last Frontier” of the Alaskan wilderness.
Today, Seattle’s multi-cultural population is approximately 609,000. Lumber and other exports are still important to the regional economy, as is the pioneering spirit that fostered the development and success of high-tech companies such as Microsoft and Boeing. Take a stroll along the Emerald City’s bustling waterfront and see a grand mixture of old wooden piers now housing restaurants, the Seattle Aquarium and the like with a view of the modern shipping docks in the background. Soak in the surrounding natural beauty of Mt. Rainier, rising to a height of 14,411 feet, and the Olympic Mountains to the west across Elliott Bay. Green and white Washington State Ferries constantly ply the southern Salish Sea (aka Puget Sound) to and from outlying water-bound areas.
The 1962 World’s Fair icon, the Space Needle, touches the skies at 600 feet. Have a meal in the Needle’s revolving restaurant and gain a spectacular 360-degree view in an hour. In its early days, the restaurant revolved faster—but that didn’t work so well for the diner’s digestion! Sip a latte in the heart of coffee culture at Pike Place Market and watch the “flying fish” while inhaling the colorful array of fresh-cut flowers, fruits, and vegetables and browsing local artisan stalls. Visit Seattle’s first neighborhood, Pioneer Square, with historical brick buildings brimming with art galleries, boutiques, and diverse restaurants.
Seattleites are distinguished as the number one readers in the U.S. Although some may attribute that statistic to Seattle’s rainy reputation, this city actually receives only about 35 inches of rain annually—less than all the major cities on the Eastern seaboard! That is because the Olympic Mountains on the Olympic Peninsula absorb much of the moisture from the Pacific before it reaches Seattle. The marine air does moderate the temperature in Seattle and is cause for days of overcast skies—thus its reputation for rain. Seattle enjoys about 16 hours of daylight in the summer and 16 hours of darkness in the winter.
Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America and a wonderful and unique region to explore by jet boat. This stretch of the Snake River is designated as a national recreation area and is one of the last remaining free-flowing sections of the river. Once the traditional lands of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce, this area is full of history, geology, wildlife, and breathtaking scenery. Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, bald eagles, great blue herons, elk, and mule deer can all be found n Hells Canyon.
View basalt rock formed as the result of ancient volcanic eruptions. See weird 5- to 7-sided columnar basalt formations caused by unique cooling conditions. Massive mountain areas that were once part of the ocean floor have been uplifted as jagged peaks abundant with limestone deposits. At the famous Nez Perce crossing, Chief Joseph and his Wallowa Nez Perce band were forced to swim themselves, their children, and their livestock across the swollen Snake River.
Hood River, Oregon
Located on the Columbia River, the city of Hood River lies approximately 60 miles east of Portland and 21 miles west of The Dalles. It was incorporated in 1895. The city was named for the nearby, Hood River, which was discovered by Lewis & Clark in 1805 and originally named Labeasche River, a French-Canadian name used to mean elk.
Traditionally known for growing delicious apples, pears, cherries, peaches and other fruits, since the late 1990s, high-tech industries, such as aerospace engineering have become its largest employer. Hood River is also a world-class windsurfing site and the kite boarding capital of the world. The winds from the Columbia River Gorge create the ideal conditions for riding the waves. It offers some of the best kayaking, mountain biking, skiing, and hiking areas in the U.S.
Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Officially regarded as the tallest falls in Oregon, Multnomah Falls begins as Multnomah Creek in Larch Mountain. It drops in 3 major steps, one drop is 9 feet, one 542 feet and one 69 feet, totaling a complete drop of 620 feet. A number of sources also claim that Multnomah is also the second highest year-round waterfall in the United States. During unusually cold weather the waterfalls have been known to freeze turning the plummeting water into a majestic icicle.
Portland, Oregon straddles the Willamette River in northwestern Oregon, near the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. Once a First Peoples campground and traditional hunting and fishing site, Portland was first settled by non-natives in 1829 and incorporated in 1851. And as an early terminus for Oregon Trail pioneers and the flow of gold rush immigrants, today it has become an important west coast port and Oregon’s largest city with a population of approximately 584,000. Portland is the second largest exporter of grain in North America (Vancouver, B.C. is first) shipping one-third of all U.S. wheat. Other exports include lumber and aluminum, and Portland is one of the largest auto ports on the west coast due to being one and one-half days closer to Japan than San Francisco.
A city of many nicknames—today Portland is best known as the “City of Roses” (a nod to its popular Rose Festival held every June) and “City of Bridges” for its 14 unique auto bridges (some built by world-famous engineers and 8 listed on the National Historic Register.) Then there’s “Stumptown” (from the days when early builders left tree stumps in the middle of the city) and “Puddletown” (referring to an 1852 Oregonian editorial stating it was not appropriate for women to raise their skirts to avoid all the puddles and they should stay home when it rained!) Those days have certainly changed.
This clean and friendly riverside city is often awarded the “Greenest City in America” and ranks among the world’s top 10 greenest cities. Home to an array of artists and arts organizations, in 2006 it was named as the 10th best Big City Arts Destination in the U.S. There is much to enjoy with its wonderful blend of historic and eclectic sites. The Portland Saturday Market provides a bazaar-like environment reflecting the many cultures of the area and the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, is popular for scenic riverside strolls or jogs. The city offers myriad attractions from visiting museums to perusing Powell’s Bookstore, at one city block long and three stories high it is the largest independent bookstore in the U.S. and requires a map to guide you through!
For Lewis & Clark, the Snake River was an area of almost continual rapids and waterfalls. Today, the area is starkly beautiful, with a mixture of irrigated farmland and open rangeland where beef cattle and an occasional deer graze. The construction of dams with their installed navigation locks has afforded safer and faster travel on the river for all types of vessels. Barge traffic is quite common as varied products are moved both up and down stream via the river.
Many small scenic parks dot the shoreline. Several areas have also been set aside as wildlife refuges by the Corps of Engineers to mitigate natural habitat areas lost when water backed up behind the dams. Certain stretches of the Snake River now offer excellent wildlife viewing. Look for the rare white pelican near Ice Harbor Dam. Learn about the significance of Monument Rock. See some of the largest family-owned apple orchards in the U.S. Look for osprey, golden eagles, and numerous species of hawk along the cliffs, bluffs, and shorelines.
Walla Walla, Washington
Sunny and fertile, this area is often called Washington’s breadbasket. Soils deposited by ice-age floods, combined with irrigation from the Columbia, Snake, and Walla Walla Rivers, contribute to the area’s high production of wheat, alfalfa, corn, asparagus, potatoes, the famous Walla Walla sweet onion, and wine grapes. History in the area pre-dates the Oregon Trail migration.
The first white settlers were religious missionaries sent to bring Christianity to the Cayuse and Walla Walla natives indigenous to the valley. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman established their Presbyterian mission at Waiilatpu amongst the Cayuse living in the area. This mission became an early stopping place for trail pioneers, and that became a point of contention for the Cayuse. Travelers brought diseases with them and passed them on to the local natives.
The resulting deaths coupled with misunderstanding lead to a tragic uprising, attack, and massacre. This resulted in the Cayuse wars, and at the conclusion of hostilities, treaty negotiations ended with the establishment of the reservation system and the natives lost their land. This opened the area for homesteading, and the final result is the extremely important agricultural richness enjoyed in this beautiful valley today.
During June – August enjoy lovely warm days across the country, with generally high temperatures. It’s the busiest season though, so expect big crowds and high prices. Ski resorts are popular during January to March. For beautiful spring flowers, fiery autumn colours visit during October & April–May). Milder temps and fewer crowds. For crisp, wintery days, with snowfall in the north, and possibly rain in some regions visit during November – March.
Currency US dollar
Why we love it Travel is so rewarding in this country that combines natural beauty with fascinating cities to explore.
Weather During June – August enjoy lovely warm days across the country, with generally high temperatures. It’s the busiest season though, so expect big crowds and high prices. Ski resorts are popular during January to March. For beautiful spring flowers, fiery autumn colours visit during October & April–May). Milder temps and fewer crowds. For crisp, wintery days, with snowfall in the north, and possibly rain in some regions visit during November – March.
Social customs and quirks The modern US is shaped by its multiculturalism thanks to the Irish and European migrants who flocked to the country in the thousands in the 1800s. Society is respectful of a number of cuisines, languages, festivals and faiths that visitors can experience when traveling across the United States. It’s so diverse in fact, that you will see a significantly different way of life from gaudy Southern California to preppy New England and the conservative Mississippi basin.
Festivals and events There’s plenty of festivals and events across the states to keep you busy. To name a few:
• Independence Day which celebrates the separation of the US from British colonial power.
• Thanksgiving is another traditional holiday, commemorating the European arrival at Plymouth Rock with family feasts.
• New Year’s Eve – celebrations happen quite dramatically.
• Super Bowl Sunday – the world’s most watched sporting event. Held the first Sunday in February
•St Patrick’s Day – March 17. Many cities around the country boast boisterous parades and Irish-themed parties, especially New York and Chicago, where the river is dyed green.
•Memorial Day to commemorate wartime heroes.
•Independence Day also known as the Fourth of July celebrates the US’s break from the British during the 18th century.
•Halloween – all generations to dress up in costumes and relive their youth.
•Thanksgiving – held in almost every home in the US, consisting of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.