I think we respond implicitly to the rhythm, the pace, the flow of the final downstream journey of the season – downstream from the lower Snake River and into the Colombia, Great River of the West. Our day began near the confluence of these two great streams as we passed through the Wallula Gap, high basalt cliffs constraining the valley, and thousands of years ago an area acting as a temporary stopgap to the raging torrents of the ice age floods from upstream glacial lakes. Today was a day to grasp the feel of the river, to see the shoreline and hills pass by, to move with the pulse of the ship and the pace of modern navigation.
We are passing through one of the driest climate regions in the Columbia Basin. The evidence is clear on the sere sagebrush steppe ecosystem of surrounding hills, but in contrast we can see the irrigated vineyards and orchards of the Horse Heaven Hills, and down at river level there are islands and wetlands full of waterfowl and wildlife. By the end of the day we have passed through six of the eight dams and locks along our voyage to the sea, and will soon be on the edge of the Columbia River Gorge, where the increase in annual rainfall brings an abrupt transition into the forests and farmland that are familiar symbols of the Pacific Northwest.