Columbia River Canoe Trek 2003
Grand Coulee Dam to Chief Joseph Dam
DAY 1–10 scouts and 7 adults plus 4 “River Angels” (our shuttle drivers) met at the gravel lot at 8 AM. We stopped for water, snacks and a stretch at North Bend, and then continued on over Snoqualmie Pass into eastern Washington. We had lunch at the Gingko Petrified Forest at the little town of Vantage where the highway crossed the Columbia River. During the Miocene (about 15.5 million years ago), there were over fifty different species of trees and woody plants in this area. These were buried by volcanic ash, mineralized over many years by ground water, and then buried by flows of lava. Near the end of the last ice age (about 17,000 years ago) the catastrophic series of Missoula floods scoured and eroded much of the basaltic lava flow layer, exposing the petrified wood. There were many large “stone” logs and chunks of mineralized wood edging the parking area and on display at the visitor center.
We took a second break at the Dry Falls overlook, where the enormous quantities of water released from Lake Missoula during the last ice age had poured over a canyon rim wider and taller than Niagara Falls. It was hard to stand in the desert sun and imagine this spot being under three hundred feet of water that moved at 65 miles per hour, full of trees, huge chunks of ice and other debris. All you could see now was a semi-circular canyon, 400 feet deep and 3 miles wide–and no water at all.
Finally, we pulled in to Spring Canyon campground at three in the afternoon. Our campsite had very little shade, and the waters of Lake Roosevelt looked very inviting, so we all went down for an afternoon swim. Supper was an experiment and the inauguration of a Troop 101 tradition….each of us had brought a can of our favorite soup, and they all got opened up and mixed together in one pot. River Rat Skardu turned out to be a delicious mingling of garden vegetable, beef burger vegetable, tomato parmesan rotini, clam chowder, beef barley and other varieties, topped off with soda crackers and good enough for several requests for a second helping. At dusk, we carpooled to the grassy park in Coulee City and watched the laser light show on the face of the dam itself–probably the largest slide show “screen” in North America!
At last–bedding down under the stars, almost too keyed up to sleep. A rubber rattlesnake that had found its way into Tom’s sleeping bag provided a little extra spice.
DAY 2–The sun rose early and got us up at 0600. We gassed up all of the vehicles and drove to Seton’s Grove, a boat launch area several miles below Grand Coulee dam. Got the gear and the canoes offloaded, and waved goodbye to our shuttle drivers as they headed away with the trailer and two of the cars to Bridgeport.
The Columbia had a fairly brisk current, carrying us at about 5 miles per hour. We saw some incredibly eroded spire-like structures on one of the side cliffs–hardened volcanic ash called loess. The edges of the river were alive with great blue herons, kingfishers, gulls, eagles, hawks and smaller songbirds.
We found a campsite on a sandy beach and set up shade tarps to wait out the heat of the day. The scouts spent much of the afternoon in the water, or sliding down a sand fan onto the shore, inadvertently burying (and losing) Kitt’s river sandals. At around 7 PM, the Old Goats fired up the gas BBQ and Carol grilled steak and chicken shish kebabs, served with hummus, tabbouleh salad and pita bread. The scouts were split into two cooking groups of five, and each member planned and prepared a dinner for his group on the river.
DAY 3–Our second day on the river took us around several sweeping bends past Jackass Butte to a little cove on the Colville side which sported an awesome rock for jumping into the water. Rick cooked up a marvelous “Cowboy” bean-pepper-chili concoction in the Dutch Oven and served it over Minute Rice for the Old Goat patrol supper. The evening stars were incredibly numerous and bright. Scorpio rose in the SE, satellites traced the heavens and meteors streaked across the Milky Way.
DAY 4–In the morning, as we were packing and loading the canoes, the Army Corps of Engineers patrol boat arrived. On board was the river biologist and his assistant, plus 40 gallons of fresh water for us. The biologist confirmed the presence of river otters and beavers, which some of us had suspected when we’d heard tail slaps amongst the river weeds. The river otters had left a set of tracks at our previous campsite, and had cruised past us looking for fish.
The biologist urged us to check out a new campground called Rocky Flats that had just been opened for use this summer. After looking at the map, we thought we could afford to spend two nights there without compromising our schedule, and the paddlers heaved to with a will. Although the current had diminished, we sill made good time, arriving at the campground during the hottest part of the day. Rick’s wristwatch said 104 degrees. We opted for a grassy area at the edge of the river that had plenty of room for shade tarps, although many of us did enjoy a visit to the composting toilet later in the day. Scott fixed macaroni and cheese for the Old Goats, and Brad and Carol cobbled together a salad with some rather marginal romaine and leftover lettuce. Carol also set the Dutch Oven out in the full sun on a large rock and was able to prepare a batch of Bannock bread for a snack.
After sunset we stayed up to watch the stars. There was no moon; it was following the sun too closely to be seen. Later a large red planet rose in the east. At first, this seemed too big to be Mars, but we later found out that Mars was approaching Earth closer that it had ever been for the last 60,000 years. Then some very odd light areas appeared in the NW sky at late twilight that almost looked as if they could be the Aurora Borealis–they looked more like footlights shining on a darkened stage curtain.
DAY 5–A day of swimming, mock water rescues and a second night at Rocky Flats. Kitt was walking barefoot on the trail back from the outhouse when he spotted a small rattlesnake coiled around a tuft of sagebrush. Of course we all had to go see–and a magnificent 4″ long praying mantis chose Casey’s shoulder for a bit of a breather…and those stars again. Seven of the scouts finished work on the Geology MB with Carol.
DAY 6–Started to see power boaters and signs of habitation, irrigation and even roads as we drew near to our take-out near Chief Joseph Dam. We unloaded the canoes at the State Park and then ferried them empty across the river to the boat (see here for boat supplies) landing where our cars and the trailer were parked. We loaded the trailer and drove slowly through Bridgeport, looking for a grocery store to buy ice cream. The only store in town was a Carniceria (that’s “Meat Shop” in Espanol, gringos!) but they did have a dairy freezer and two flavors of ice cream. The soft grass, big shade trees and the hot showers at the State Park were a bonus, and Bruce’s shrimp alfredo for the Old Goats was a fitting final feast. The rubber snake put in a final appearance as well.
DAY 7–Checked out by 0900 and drove to Wenatchee for gas, tamales and Mexican bakery goods; then home via US 97 and I-90 to Olympia.
Scout Canoe Pairs: Casey P and Dakota S OGP Canoe Pairs: Carol D. and Brad P.
Kitt M and Max D. Bruce L. and Tony K.
Sam D. and Mike K. Scott H. and Rick L.
Chris H, and Scott L. Squarestern Canoe Crew: Ted D. and Katie D.
Tom K. and Miles L.
River Angels/Shuttle Crew: Janice K., Marie D., Dave and Lynn S.