I love the Columbia River. I spend much of my free time on or near it and enjoy its beauty and grandeur. When I travel, I am reminded that most other rivers are not in its league. The Columbia River defines this region. Without the Columbia River, Portland would not be an important port. There would be no Columbia Gorge and also no Bonneville Power Administration. These four books help to capture what the Columbia River was and now is.
I always like to start with history. Sources of the RIver: Tracking David Thompson Across Western North America by Jack Nisbet tells the story of David Thompson. He explored western North America from 1784 to 1812 and was the first person to chart the entire route of the Columbia River. Two hundred years ago he was one of a handful of white Europeans and Americans to explore the area which was home to many Native American tribes. He was looking for better fur trading routes and ended up helping to expand trade and settlement in the Northwest.
The Columbia River was a wild and free flowing river until the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams were built in the 1930s. They were the first of fourteen dams that changed the river into the relatively tame river it is today. A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia by Blaine Harden looks at the modern river. He tries to explain what has happened to the river and how it is perceived by those who live near it and depend on it for their livelihoods.
The book that opened my eyes to how dams change a river is Robin Cody’s Voyage of a Summer Sun: Canoeing the Columbia River. It is a journal of his trip down the entire river, from the headwaters to the ocean by canoe. His voyage is down a modern managed river whose ecology has been greatly damaged. It is a river that David Thompson would hardly recognise.
Wanting to end on a happier note, my last book is by Sam McKinney, an Oregon native and a respected maritime historian. He has written several books about the Columbia River. Reach of Tide, Ring of History: A Columbia River Voyage is about his journey up the lower Columbia River from the mouth to Portland. He tells about the towns and places along the way and the people who lived and worked on the river. Most of the towns have faded into obscurity, but the lower Columbia being is still free flowing and is most like the river it used to be.
These books will give you much to ponder while you hike, sightsee and go boating on the Columbia River this summer. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.