Cruising the Columbia
River Aboard American Safari Cruises
Story and photos by Greg Aragon
t took 15 grueling months for explorers Lewis
and Clark to reach the Pacific Ocean on their epic Corps of Discovery
expedition. The journey, which began in
St. Louis in 1804, took them up the Missouri River, over the Rocky
Mountains, and down the Snake and Columbia Rivers, to the sea.
It was here, near Astoria, Oregon, that the team celebrated
the first American overland expedition to the Pacific Coast. It was
also here that my own journey down the Columbia River began.
Led by American Safari Cruises, the eight-day sojourn
down the river covered much of the same Pacific Northwest territory
that Lewis and Clark investigated 150 years earlier. The only major
difference between my trip and that of the historic explorers was that
I traveled safely aboard a 105-ft luxurious motor yacht while they traversed
unknown dangers, slept on the ground, and relied on canoes with paddles
The Safari Spirit prepares for a journey down the
My journey began at an old wooden dock in Astoria, where
a friend and I first saw our yacht. I say our yacht for
good reason. With a total of only 8 passengers, the 105-ft. vessel is
a private, floating paradise.
And thats the beauty of American Safari Cruises.
The company separates itself from competition by providing an upscale,
private approach to cruising aboard actual yachts. Their boats carry
between 12 and 36 passengers in plush comfort, with homey lounges, hot
tubs, and spacious cabins.
The cozy dining room on the Safari Spirit
seats 8 people
Once aboard the Safari Spirit, we enjoyed a cocktail
reception and met the captain, his four crew members, and our six fellow
passengers. We were then shown our stateroom, located on the first deck,
about mid-boat. Quaint and efficient, the cabin boasted a large comfy
bed, DVD player, big windows, desk area, tub and shower, and best of
all, a heated bathroom floor.
That night, as the Spirit cruised along the canyons
of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, we joined the others in the dining
room for three-cheese tortellini with Dungeness crab, roast beef, mashed
potatoes, fresh-baked bread, veggies, and Washington wines.
After dinner we dropped anchor in a secluded cove and
were joined by a local historian who told fascinating stories about
Lewis and Clark, and the Columbia River, which has become one the countrys
most important waterways.
In the morning we visited the Columbia River Maritime
Museum. One of the best museums of the sea on the West Coast,
the facility is highlighted by interactive exhibits on tug boats, lighthouses,
the Coast Guard, and the dangers vessels face when crossing between
the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean, a deadly confluence known
as the graveyard of the pacific.
After the museum, the captain docked in Cathlamet Bay
in the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge. We then took a skiff
ride down river, during which we saw a bald eagle and cruised past tiny
islands and a forest of brown yellow, orange and green trees lining
American Safari boats are equipped with kayaks and
skiffs to explore secluded coves
Back onboard I explored our motor-yacht, which was completely
rebuilt in 2005. The boat features six staterooms. Four are like my
aforementioned cabin and two are upscale Admiral Staterooms on the Library
Deck. These feature sliding glass doors, a small balcony, spacious bathrooms
with Jacuzzi tubs and showers, office areas, and living rooms.
Aside from the cabins, the salon on the Main Deck is
the place to relax, entertain and mingle while aboard the Safari Spirit.
This is where guests watch movies, read, mingle and view wildlife and
traffic along the river. Next to the salon is an outdoor aft-lounge
area with seating and a sports deck to enter the water. This deck also
features the captains bridge, which is open at anytime to guests
who want to drop by and look at the scenery, study sea charts, or chat
with crew members on duty.
The next day we cruised into the Bonneville Dam. To
reach the dam our vessel entered a massive steel lock, which filled
with water, floating us up 74 ft to the higher part of the Columbia
River. We docked here and drove to the Bonneville Dam.
The massive Bonneville Dam lock on the Columbia
River lifts boats 74 feet
At the dam we toured the eight-story hydro-electric
powerhouse the runs everything, and also got an underwater view of a
salmon ladder. We then drove to a nearby hatchery to meet Herman, a
68 yr-old, 10-ft-long sturgeon, then to the Columbia Gorge National
Tours of Bonneville Dam are a unique highlight on
the Columbia River
Back on board, we enjoyed crusted rockfish and Washington
wine for dinner and then cruised into the Dalles Dam and entered a lock
with a beautiful big paddle boat beside us.The next morning I sat in
the Jacuzzi on the top deck and waved to passing barges and boats. I
then walked around charming Walla Walla, Washington. For dinner, we
docked in beautiful Richland, Washington and met author Roy Gephardt
in the salon, who spoke about Hanford Dam and its nuclear past.
Sitting in a Jacuzzi on deck is a great way to relax
on the river
In the morning, we rode a jet boat beneath the towering
cliffs of Hells Canyon, where we zoomed over rapids, had a picnic
lunch, and studied ancient Nez Perce Indian pictographs. This experienced
was only equaled by our kayaking excursion down the Palouse River, where
we explored hidden caves and islands, and were buzzed by a military
jet, which appeared out of nowhere.
The captain and crew on the Safari Spirit make great
friends after a week on the river
American Safari cruises the Columbia River between September
and November. For more information on taking an American Safari yacht
cruise down the Columbia and Snake Rivers, Hawaii, Mexico, Alaska, or
Washington and British Columbia, visit www.amsafari.com
or call (888) 862-8881.
& Clark Expedition Cruise; St.
Louis and Kansas City; Cruising
the St. Lawrence River; River