Clarkston, WA (July 14, 2022)

Most of our fellow travelers headed home this morning. We four, however, planned all along to stay on a day to explore Hells Canyon. I was surprised to learn that it is North America’s deepest river gorge. Yep, deeper even than Arizona’s Grand Canyon.

Midmorning, we disembarked the ship, walked to the end of the dock and boarded our 42 feet long, flat bottomed, aluminum jet boat along with the others who had extended their stay. Our fun-loving captain, former owner of the company, revved up the engine and away we went. The scenery was beautiful although very similar to what we had seen. A few things were remarkable, however: two petroglyphs, both 6,000-7,000 years old; 30 or so bighorn sheep and lambs grazing at the water’s edge; numerous small beaches tucked into the landscape; fledgling osprey practicing their aeronautics; and a few flotillas comprised of a momma duck and an obedient string of offspring. Green for July, the rolling hills in this arid environment looked like green and gold moss.

The captain shared a few fun stories as we zipped along. He told us that lamprey eels migrated here in great numbers 100 or so years ago which made it a good camping spot for the Nez Perce. We passed the site where Lewis and Clark camped, presumably with the Nez Perce, near a longhouse that was 80 feet long and had three firepits. I’m guessing that is huge in the realm of longhouses. We slowed down so the captain could show us the site of a turn-of-the-20th-century ranch that was across the river from the road. Solution: build a garage by the road. Boat over, jump in your car, and get on with your business. As time went by the school bus even stopped to pick up the kids. Since the early 1900s a mailboat has served the canyon. Today there are a whopping seven stops and the mail is delivered once a week. One last tidbit involves the rut and a beautiful home with large windows built at the water’s edge. Much to the homeowners surprise, during the rut, rams roaming down by the river occasionally noticed what looked like a rival male, lowered their heads, and charged…right into their own reflection in the (expensive) windows. Lesson learned: board up the windows during the rut.

Hells Canyon is a popular place. We saw folks out for a day of rafting as well as groups returning from week-long trips. Some rafts were coasting along tied together, some had dogs at the helm. Small neighborhoods of off-the-grid homes are sprinkled along the river as well as lone cabins of a more rustic nature. We shared the river with other motorized boats our size and smaller. The homes and other river craft combined with the noise of our boat were a total contrast to the serenity of the rest of our time on the water.

Chinese gardeners used to grew and sell produce at the location where we had lunch. By the 1920s it was a private ranch, and now the Nature Conservancy owns it and is working on protecting native plants on the approximate 14,000 acres. A fruit orchard was planted, grass irrigated, buildings constructed, shade trees planted and now it is a little oasis on the river. We had a bit of excitement at lunch, sad to say. A fellow traveler who had just come out of a five-day COVID quarantine on the boat fell backward and split her head on a cast iron stove. (She carried on with the trip but went to urgent care when we were back on shore.)

After lunch we retraced our trip back to the dock in Clarkston, walked the short distance to the Holiday Inn where our luggage was already in our room, decided against doing anything that involved getting back out in the heat, and just relaxed until dinner. Our delicious meal in the hotel lobby was the perfect ending to a wonderful trip. Our waitress was a hoot to boot.

Tomorrow we’ll transfer to Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport and begin our trip home. 


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