Choose Your Own Adventure on the Columbia River
By Pawnee Simons
Care to take part in one of the oldest struggles on earth in a place brimming with history? Feeling lucky enough to battle a beast? Pull it out of the deep and into your boat? Tame the wild and come off victorious?
Yes, you say, that sounds like my kind of adventure. But where in the world am I going to find such a unique experience, and what kind of monster would I be fighting?
The beast would be a massive white sturgeon, and the location of the Columbia River. Don’t think this is a battle of historic proportions? Or a particularly exciting destination? Hold tight.
What’s the Big Deal with the Columbia River?
The Columbia, like all major waterways, has always been important. For centuries it has been a means of food and livelihood. Once the European exploration was complete, the Columbia became an important “highway” connecting the interior to the Pacific Ocean.
Not only was the Columbia brimming with animals to eat and wear, but it was also the best way to get from one place to another. Of course, travel on the Columbia was not and still isn’t a straight shot. And it was never easy. It does, after all, cover about 1,243 miles. It starts in Canada. Then winds its way south, then west. On its last leg to the ocean, it becomes a state border between Oregon and Washington. After draining an area the size of France, it empties into the Pacific Ocean. It also drops over 2000 feet in elevation from an illustrious start to a glorious finish.
It is not “just” a river. It is never just a river. It is the lifeblood of all the land it runs through. Both in the past and now.
What is a Sturgeon Anyway?
And sturgeon isn’t just a fish. It is a HUGE fish that hangs out along the bottom of the Columbia River. But it isn’t new, no not by a long shot. This fish, which looks something like a Picasso shark has been here since before the dinosaurs.
The biggest one on record was caught in 1898 and weighed over 1,500 pounds. The term “monster” fits based solely on its massive size.
Not all sturgeon get this big but they can live up to 100 years and there is documentation of 15-foot long sturgeon.
Fishing Not Your Thing? We Have Something for You as Well.
Not really a fight with nature type of person? That’s cool, there are still many, many reasons to come to the Columbia River. If your idea of adventure includes water but not a fight with a dinosaur fish, this is still the river for you.
Why? To start with the length of the river guarantees that it has something for everyone at some point. But you don’t need to take a thousand-mile road trip to find your happy place.
One great place to start would be the Columbia River Gorge. It is a National Scenic Area with mile after mile of beautiful landscapes to explore.
Where Is the Columbia River Gorge?
The Columbia River Gorge starts just 30 miles west of downtown Portland and is a National Scenic Area for very good reason. It has countless things to do on and off the water. In and a bit out of nature as well.
There are countless ways and places to get out and connect with nature. To find yourself lost in the beauty of the world. To get a break from the craziness of city life. Spend some time away and feel better.
Why Connect With Nature?
There are huge benefits to spending time outdoors. Studies show positive impacts on both your mental and physical health. Time spent in natural light and in fresh air can have positive impacts on our health. Especially now when social distancing keeps us apart and away from our usual outlets.
There are many reasons beyond a change of scenery or an adventure to get outside. A few positive things according to Harvard Health include:
● Increasing Vitamin D levels
● Getting more exercise
● Feelings of happiness
● Improved concentration
● Faster healing
And if any of those things aren’t enough to give you a reason to venture out… An overall positive impact on mental health may be the motivation you are looking for. Who doesn’t need a little pick me up now and then? I know I do.
Reasons to Visit the Columbia River Gorge
The Gorge is a great place to strike a balance between being out in nature and discovering the modern conveniences it has to offer as well. There are great places to eat, stay, and get a hot shower after a day of outdoor fun. After all, we said GET OUT in nature not STAY OUT in nature. Though, if you are a camper, there are plenty of places to do that as well.
An Adventure for All Adventurers
If you are a hiker, there are many trails to choose from. And they range from easy to hard. So, if you would like to be a hiker but need a starter trail, they have plenty of those as well. There are many easy/beginner trails. They include ADA accessible visitor centers, restaurants, and restroom facilities.
Love waterfalls? There are 77 waterfalls in and around the Columbia River Gorge. Some just off the road. Others that require short hikes, but come with amazing rewards. Spend some time exploring these awesome waterfalls. But be sure to keep an eye on official websites as there have been some closures due to recent events. Check with the forest service for closures as well as safety tips.
Love water sports? The Gorge has more than its share of these. Whether you are a sit on the beach and watch type of person ─ No judgment ─ or prefer active sports, you’ll find it in the Gorge. There are great sandy beaches to hang out on. There are also opportunities to windsurf in the windsurfing capital of the world. You can find it all in the Gorge!
To Fight or Not to Fight With the Dinosaur Fish?
Are you wanting to fight with the dinosaur fish, but not comfortable on the tricky river waters? It’s all good. There are awesome guides that will take you out ─ no worries.
But, if you just want to see the dinosaur fish and not fight with it, there is an option for that as well. The Bonneville Hatchery has viewing ponds to see white sturgeon as well as trout and salmon. There is a 10 foot 500-pound sturgeon you can see. His name is Herman and he is 45 years old. You can even watch fish use the fish ladder on the dams if you come at the right time of year.
But I Have Kids, Is the Columbia River Still for Me?
We all know that kids change everything. In the best way possible. The Columbia is a perfect place for a family getaway as well. All of the get out in nature possibilities are family-friendly. And while you may need to skip the breweries or wine tastings, you can still explore the fruit loop and all its farms and vineyards.
Distance Learning Ideas
These past months have been a struggle for kids and parents with many schools happening ─ or not ─ at home. A trip to the Columbia River Gorge can double as a vacation and an educational field trip for those still in school.
The Columbia River has a long and varied history and both Washington and Oregon have prepared a great deal to help you learn about it. There are markers all along the area as well as museums and visitor centers to help educate. Stop at one or all of them. Get a break from the car and learn something along the way.
But history isn’t the only thing to learn in the area. If you need another reason to justify a family trip, beyond physical ed, mental health rejuvenation, and history, call it an immersive science day or week. And spend some time teaching your kids about the water systems.
Visit the dams and see how humans have harnessed the power of water. Use that as a great example to show just how powerful water and its movement can be. Also, use the visit as a way to start a discussion about how we need to care for our waterways.
Help your kids understand that all rivers end somewhere and that what they do upstream affects life downstream as well. If you are on the bank of the river have your child throw in a leaf or stick they find and watch it float away. Explain how that stick is going to end up in the ocean and that anything else put in the river may end up there as well.
Spend a little time making boats out of leaves and sticks. Again we don’t want to put anything in the river that could cause harm. Then maybe have a boat race to see who made the best/fastest boat out of naturally biodegradable materials. Take time to explain that we should always leave the river better than we found it. Take a moment to make sure you are leaving nothing behind. And even picking up things you didn’t bring in.
Come Get to Know the River
Come spend time getting to know the river and just what it has to offer. Then once you have fallen in love ─ And it doesn’t take much to fall in love with such a beautiful place ─ consider joining in a river cleanup. It could be your next field trip when you all need a break from learning from home. Or if you don’t have time, donate to Ocean Blue Project. And follow our efforts to clean rivers and oceans alike.
Regardless of what adventure suits your style, the Columbia River has something for you. Come by yourself, come with friends, come with your kids. But just come and find an awesome adventure.
And whether you decide to fight the sturgeon or just look at it. Give the river a chance. You will be surprised at what you find. Come choose your own adventure!
Author Bio: Pawnee Simons is a freelance copywriter, living in Utah, who wants to save the world so she can see it all.