Cruising The Columbia River With CruiseWest

Cruising The Columbia River With CruiseWest

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he standard means of transportation for world travelers to Portland, Oregon is by air, land and sea — but that's not how the first white men came to the great Northwest Territory. CruiseWest offers a stylistic version of exploration of the waters that the Louisiana Purchase surveyors Lewis and Clark plied almost 200 years ago.

Portland is a primary port facility for west coast shipping, but sits inland from the Pacific Ocean, along the Columbia River. The local economy isn't based just on the shipping trade - you'll find thriving communities dealing in everything from ship repair and fishing canneries to agricultural, and of course the ever present tourist market.
Along the Lewis and Clark CruiseWest journey, you'll hear naturalists relate stories about the first settlers, the Indians who inhabited the territory, and the developers arriving later into this great countryside.

My travel arrangements were made through CruiseWest. I flew into Portland via Alaska Air and even Sacajawea didn't have to pathfind the way to the baggage carousel. Shuttles whisk from gate to gate, and are for all passengers, not just the disabled. I found out about this a little too late, as I entered into my own self-appointed walking marathon. CruiseWest has it's own baggage handlers and shuttle from the airport to the Marriott Portland Downtown Hotel, the jumping-off point for the adventure on the Columbia.

I met my first fellow explorers — a couple from Seattle, who had sailed previously on this very vessel, Spirit of Discovery — up in Alaska, now joining the CruiseWest flotilla after tendered through the Inside Passage; I learned the ship was capable of the voyage up the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

It started to rain and it continued in its Pacific Northwest infamy throughout the afternoon. This was no damper on my plans — after all, I just came from the dry climate of Las Vegas, and a little rain was enjoyable.

At the Marriott our bags were immediately banded and prepared for boarding. Passengers gathered in the hospitality room awaiting an introductory presentation from the crew. With a couple of hours to kill I joined a lively crowd in the sports pub, featuring racks of TVs blasting out golf to football to the baseball playoffs. My arrival coincided with the annual Portland marathon, scheduled the next day. The bartender told me that this was the first rainy day in months and that it never rains on the marathon. After a light lunch, I found my way back to the hospitality suite in time for the crew's Coast Guard safety instructions.

I decided to walk the famous Portland park-like river walk to dockside, rather than the shuttle. Even though it was drizzling, it is a short distance, with the trail meandering onward for miles. I discovered hundreds of Canadian geese resting like decoys in the park. Once aboard ship, the crew guided me to my respective cabin. My bags had already arrived. Dinner was served shortly thereafter and the camaraderie began.

I found my cabin to be clean and comfortable with plenty of room, with dresser drawers both beneath the beds and within the dresser nightstand. The closet and vanity had more that enough room to hang a wardrobe and personal items and each stateroom had hot running showers. The lighting was perfect, a bay window for viewing and even a pair of binoculars in each stateroom provided for wildlife viewing.

Once I had a chance to freshen up, I went to the below deck dining room to meet the other passengers. Jeremy, the master chef for our cruise, had outlined entrιe choices at the hospitality meeting before boarding. In no time, we were delighting in a wonderfully basted and broiled salmon. At each and every meal there was a choice of surf or turf or you could order a special diet selection. Menus were well balanced and planned and diners were informed at the end of each sitting what would be in store for us from Jeremy's galley upon our next visit. I was not disappointed in the kitchen staff professionalism.

Then it was time for a long deserved rest as our skipper, Captain Kitt, no not Kidd, took the Spirit of Discovery out for the journey north up the Willamette River. We passed along Portland's waterfront and beautiful homes nestled amongst the shoreline. Sometime during the night we connected up with the mighty Columbia River and cruised eastward, back along the same route that Capt. Robert Gray, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacajawea explored in the early 1800's at the request of President Thomas Jefferson. Their adventure was called "The Corps of Discovery."

The Columbia River is the boundary separating the states of Washington and Oregon. This massive body of water serves both states equally and provides a thriving livelihood on both sides of the river. Throughout the night, we passed beneath several spans of bridges and passed through the first locks along the Columbia. I awoke rested the next morning to find we were moored alongside the Bonneville Dam, deep within the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, before starting the ascent through the Cascade Mountains.

After a hearty breakfast of "Jeremy's Best" — traditional eggs, potatoes, a meat side, juice and coffee — we debarked awaiting motorcoaches for a tour of the Army Corps of Engineers Bonneville Dam. We drove a mere 3 minutes from the dam island they'd built, across the dam bridge, with a dam escort, and onto the other shore where we were met by the dam guides who would give us a dam tour. Now you really want to pay attention during this guided tour because this isn't like just any dam tour. This dam also has another responsibility other than creating hydroelectric power.

Bonneville is the first of many unnatural obstacles for the various migrating chinookand coho salmon. The salmon die after their journey, but the steelhead trout, shad, lamprey, and sturgeon migrate annually from the sea to their spawning grounds as well. At various times of the year, different types of fish attempt an old pattern of returning to their hatcheries, but the man-made spillways and dams hinder their progress. (For more information on this situation tune into the controversy brewing in Washington D.C. over the removal of all dams in the Snake River, a main tributary to the Columbia.)

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Hooter, Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent – Read Jetsetters Magazine at To book travel visit at and for Beach Resorts visit Beach Booker at

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Hooter, Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent. Join the Travel Writers Network in the logo at Leave your email next to the logo for FREE e travel newsletter.