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River cruise

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Days of wonder, serenity and wine

By Chris Erskine
Los Angeles Times

My seven-night cruise along the Columbia and Snake rivers during the first week of June began and ended in Portland, Ore. Here are snapshots from the trip:

Day 1: Leave Portland at dinnertime, north on the Willamette River, then east on the Columbia. Anchor overnight on the river, near Corbett, Ore., about 30 miles from Portland. Comfortable cabin and gentle roll of the ship make for a good night’s sleep. When we awake, we’re in the first of eight locks we will pass.

Day 2: Tour Columbia River Gorge, the only sea-level passage through the mountain ranges that stretch from Canada to Mexico, and a recreational Shangri-La – hiking, waterfalls, fishing. Stops include a private tour of Bonneville Dam, home to locks and massive turbines that generate hydroelectric power. The highlight: the windows that give an underwater, aquarium-like view of the fish ladders that allow salmon to bypass the dam on their way upriver to spawn. Also tour Multnomah Falls.

Day 3: After cruising overnight, we turn onto the Snake River at about 8 a.m. Scenery, which had been rain-forest lush a day before, is now cardboard brown, thanks to the drier and warmer conditions on the eastern side of the Cascades, which block the moisture from the coast. The shore now looks more like the rugged high deserts of the Southwest. Tie up for the night in Clarkston, Wash., on the southeastern tip of the state.

Day 4: In the morning, in Clarkston, we hear about the Nez Perce tribes, this region’s legendary horsemen. Depart on jet boats to Hells Canyon, a comfortable but splashy trip across modest rapids and past petroglyphs, old mines, deer and big-horned sheep. Four-hour ride is a window on the Old West.

Day 5: Returning west, back down the Snake River, we disembark and visit Fort Walla Walla, built in 1858 to assist pioneers. Today, cabins and displays tell the story of the settlers here in the Walla Walla Valley. Two winery tours follow, neither impressive. Best stop of the day is the Whitman Mission National Historic Site, where in 1847, Cayuse warriors turned against the Methodist missionaries.

Day 6: We arrive at a little town called The Dalles for the day, greeted by women in period costume. “At one time, there were 28 brothels in The Dalles,” a madam-type says. Visit Maryhill Museum of Art in Sam Hill’s old mansion. End with a rollicking talent show by passengers and crew.

Day 7: Astoria, Ore., a lovely little slice of New England plopped on the Pacific coast. We tour two historic sites, including Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark wintered. At one stop, a bald eagle sits atop a tree 100 feet away, preening for our cameras. Later, we explore Astoria and the Maritime Museum, one of the most engaging of the trip.

Day 8: Back in Portland, we eat breakfast and disembark for home. Crew lines dock to bid farewell to passengers, who are pleased with the diverse scenery and range of experiences on the trip. A dud here and a dud there, but mostly a distinct and attractive voyage, primarily for the over-40 crowd.

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