The Columbia River is calm and placid at this particular spot, backed up behind the Wanapum Dam at Vantage, Washington. The Columbia is one of our great rivers, by volume the fourth largest in the country. That volume, and its relatively steep grade on its journey from the Canadian Rockies to the Pacific, make it ripe for power generation. Fourteen main-stem dams, and over 400 more on its tributaries produce more hydroelectric power than any other North American river. Before its taming the Columbia was one of the largest salmon hatcheries in the world, which provided food for native tribes from as far away as the Montana plains. This dam's name comes from the Wanapum Indians, a name that means River People. The Wanapum were unique in that they believed the white man would simply go away if the Wanapum adhered to their traditions and beliefs. Thus, they refused to fight with the whites, prayed, and signed no treaties, which ultimately granted them no federal land rights. The Wanapum are now extinct, largely because their food source was decimated when the river was developed. But they do, at least, have a dam named after them.
I crest the ridge above the river and am gifted with an unobstructed view of Mount Rainier, snowcapped and massive in the west. I've come a long way now, well over 3,000 miles. Quietly. Slowly. Accepting the moment. Acclimating to the dryness and the clarity of the sky. Fewer answers than questions.
I'll be in Seattle before sunset for a few days with my nephew. I've only had a layover in the city so I'm anxious to see some of it. And I'm ready for a break from the road, a break from the rural, a break from the human emptiness of the Plains. I'm also ready for a break from myself - ready to have a longish conversation with someone besides my alter ego.