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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Up the Columbia River Gorge to a Spokane Family Interlude

So here we are in Spokane, Washington, hanging out with Layne’s son Jess and his family -- wife April and children Sierra, a stunning seventeen-year-old beauty, and their adorable son Orion, now nine. Our six-hour drive here from Portland yesterday was unremarkable except for the trip through the Columbia River Gorge. Traveling through that geological marvel is a phantasmagorical jaunt back through eons of time. The 80-mile canyon forms the border between Oregon and Washington State and has provided a navigable sea-level route through the Cascade Mountains for thousands of years. In more modern times, hydroelectric power has been generated through a series of dams along the huge river, which spans a mile wide in some places. But the real thrill of traveling along Highway 84 as it winds its way alongside the majestic Columbia River is the awesome scenery, the dramatic waterfalls and the layers and layers of geologic history embedded in the sheer walls of the gorge, rising in places to 4000 feet. (Thanks to Bonneville Power Administration website for photo.)
         Human history as well is carved into those walls. Archeological evidence shows that humans have traversed this waterway for at least 13,000 years, including the Folsom and Marmes people who crossed the Bering land bridge from Asia. In 1805 explorers Lewis and Clark traveled down the Columbia from its main tributary, the Snake River, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Native Americans have fished these waters for salmon for at least 10,000 years. One of the favorite fishing sites was Celilo Falls, a tribal fishing area just east of the Cascade Mountains where a series of cascades and waterfalls offered native fishermen a perfect site for dipnet fishing. Sadly, in 1957 with the completion of The Dalles Dam, Celilo Falls was completely submerged and native fishing there ended with the tribes accepting financial compensation for the loss.
         As we left the Columbia River Gorge behind and entered Washington, the terrain shifted dramatically. Instead of rugged basalt cliffs and lush green Douglas fir forests, we drove through miles of windswept but luxuriant agricultural land, filled with rows of corn and alfalfa and vineyards but with hardly a tree in sight. The rolling hills and dry ravines are part of the Columbia Basin, one of the highest lava plateaus in the world and which provides the drainage area for the Columbia River. Formed by repeated volcanic lava flows millions of years ago, the Basin now is home to numerous small lakes in which fossils, petrified wood and animal bones have been found. Nearing Spokane, which is situated at an elevation of about 2000 feet, the terrain changed once again, with pine and fir trees appearing as if by magic at this altitude.
         Still, the lava rock is never far below the surface as we found today in Lincoln Park, a lovely tree-filled urban retreat with a long asphalt walkway leading uphill to a small pond, filled with lily pads and cattails. Gigantic lava rocks and basalt boulders lined the steep trail and covered the ground at the top. The park is obviously a popular spot for dog owners. Just as we approached the water, behind us came the sound of doggie paws thundering on the roadway. We turned to see an exuberant yellow lab barreling for the pond, his eyes fixed on a few ducks paddling around. Undaunted by the failure to nab his prey, he soon leaped from the lake and ran off to shower his owner with water.
         Last night after our arrival, we all enjoyed a yummy barbeque of steak and chicken kabobs plus the requisite bottles of wine. Layne stayed up late with Jess and April, laughing and talking into the wee hours. Today's activities involved a little golf practice, a trip to the park for Orion and tonight will be another evening filled with good food, good wine and much laughter. It’s truly a joy to spend time with our family but Costa Rica is never far from our hearts and minds. As we search for shoes or glasses or some item of clothing in our luggage, we look forward to leaving this vagabond life and settling in again to La Pura Vida.

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