Aboard American Empress: Tuesday on the Columbia River

Mount Hood, as seen from the open top deck of the American Empress, Tuesday, April 21.
Mount Hood, as seen from the open top deck of the American Empress, Tuesday, April 21.

ABOARD AMERICAN EMPRESS–Tuesday on the Columbia River – Throughout our third day today, our paddlewheeler was followed by a great white ghost. The snowy pyramid form of Mount Hood seemed to be always hovering in the back yards of all the forests and towns on the Oregon side while we progressed smoothly along the river.

Many cruisers arose at 6 then made their way to the top-deck River Grill for “Locks and Lox,” a special breakfast to celebrate or at least observe our passage through the Bonneville Dam. After that it was a sunny and breezy passage through the Gorge to reach a riverfront town blessed with a definite article named “The Dalles.”  It was from a French word meaning “flagstones,” someone said, as if that explained it all. And The “T” is always capitalized, we learned.

The Dalles is (repeat “is”)  blessed with several historical sites, notably being able to point out with scientific certainty the exact spot where Lewis and Clark made their 1805-1806 encampment on their great western exploration.  Excavations of the site have uncovered the skeletons of “Indian dogs,” which were part of the expedition’s diet, according to our guide.

Later the town was the end of the land portion of the Oregon Trail. After that, many covered wagons were lashed onto log rafts and ferried on the river the rest of the way. This event and many others have been effectively re-created in a diorama in the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, a beautifully designed museum just out of town. It was easily reached for no extra charge on the American Empress’s hop-on, hop-off bus operation. Virtually everyone seemed to take advantage of the opportunity.

Back on board, the evening’s activity included a craft beer tasting (a modest $10) , a meet-and-greet for military veterans, and “a friendly game of Blackjack in the Paddlewheel Lounge.”  As Lewis or Clark might have said, “a good time was had by all.”

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