I usually limit myself to things that are in, or at least close to, Grant County, but this week I'm going to make an exception because I want to talk about a regional treasure that no one sees. The remnants of an institution more than twice as old as the oldest pyramid in Egypt stand along the banks of the Columbia River near the city of the Dalles Oregon on US highway I-84. As recently as 1863 this spot was the commercial hub for Indian cultures from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and from Canada south to Nevada. Archaeological evidence says that it has been this way continuously for about twelve thousand years. There are a few traces of what was here, but the two things make this place special: the rapids and the fish, can not be seen. The Columbia is navigable for most of its length but this stretch of the river went through a series of rapids and falls which meant that all river traffic had to leave the water and portage around them. The fish were salmon. I have never seen a salmon run. I have seen pictures of runs from the nineteen-forties where streams were literally filled with leaping fish. Salmon were not only abundant but they could be dried and preserved for extended periods. It is possible that this abundance supported the highest non-agricultural population density in the ancient world. Salmon still swim up the rivers every year but in only a fraction of their numbers before 1850. And in 1957 the Dalles Dam inundated Celilo Falls, the center of the native fishing industry. Today the dams on the Columbia provide cheap clean energy, transportation for produce from the interior and protection from the periodic floods that were a feature of life on this river up until the 1950s. From five thousand years before there were any cities anywhere until just yesterday, this was a hub of commerce where people from many different nations met and mingled . Today the falls are hidden beneath the water, tens of fish swim where once there were hundreds and this history is almost invisible. Time, like the river, flows in only one direction and you can't bring back the past but it does seem to me that this site deserves a lot more recognition. If it were up to me, I'd put some coin operated binoculars on a hill overlooking Celilo Falls and for a few minutes you could see the river of two hundred years ago, the rapids, the teeming fish, the villages up and down the banks, trading parties bringing furs from the interior and cedar from the coast. Maybe someone has an even better idea, I hope they will come forward soon.
This Week:
Invisible Chronicles of Vanished Worlds
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