We continued our trip down river, this time following the Columbia. The land is very dry and arid except the river banks and where it is irrigated. The river is very big and wide so there is plenty of water for irrigation. Interstate 84 is a very scenic road, especially for an interstate highway. We had a good view of the river most of the way, often seeing it flow through deep canyons and gorges. Away from the river the land is still very dry and arid, and the tops of the gorges must be 1,000ft above the river.
Ten miles east of The Dalles, Oregon, we caught sight of Mt Hood. Lewis and Clark saw it also, and were quite excited because it had to be the same stratovolcano mapped by British Captain George Vancouver in 1792. Mt Hood is visible for many miles and was used as a landmark in their maps.
"Dalles" is a French word meaning 'sluice.' French trappers and voyageurs used the word to mean 'rapids.' This part of the river was the worst rapids of the Columbia, and believe it or not L&C shot the rapids in their canoes without incident, a source of wonder for many years. Today the dalles are submerged by a nearby dam and a town has grown here called The Dalles. At the height of westward expansion and the Oregon Trail there was a small railway here along the shore for 14 miles just to ferry pioneers around the dalles and westward.
There is a good interpretive center in The Dalles and it covers a lot more than just Lewis and Clark. It also has good sections for the Ice Ages, the Fur Trapping Era, Oregon Trail and Pioneer Settlement, Indian River Culture, Oregon History, and Hydroelectric Development of the River. The Ice Age section is especially complete here because many complete skeletons of extinct animals have been found nearby and because of the geologic formation of the river gorges due to the cataclysmic draining of Lake Missoula at the end of the last ice age. It has skeletons and life-sized models of extinct ice age animals found in digs nearby, such as the short-faced bear, saber-toothed tiger, mastodon, American lion, plains jackal, dire wolf, and giant beaver. These extinct animals were all several times bigger (or more) than their modern relatives, an adaptation that allowed them to survive better in the ice age but also caused them to go extinct when the weather warmed.
As they went downriver, Lewis and Clark began to notice the Indians possessed trade goods such as beads, kettles, blankets, muskets, and sailors coats. The Indians traded extensively with each other and therefore the goods could have come a long way, but this was evidence that they were nearing the ocean. European and American ships had been exploring and trading for furs along the coast for a few decades. They also saw seals that made the swim upriver searching for fish.