It is fabled in story and song.
Woody Guthrie sang about it. Lewis and Clark’s words still echo after 190 years.
For Native Americans, it was a watery highway for salmon to reach their inland villages. For early explorers, an expressway to the Pacific as a young nation rushed headlong to its Manifest Destiny.
The steepest and one of the swiftest rivers in the county is leashed now, reshaped by dam engineers with all the enthusiasm of children molding Play-Doh.
Many call it the country’s hardest working river - a blue-collar waterway - that sends electric power pulsing into thousands of homes and factories. Its waters turn desert into a rolling green carpet of orchards.
But the Grand Coulee and 10 other dams have slowed the 745 miles of Columbia that slithers through the United States. Behind the dams, lakes provide places for kids to swim, but no waterfalls to fuel their imaginations.
Salmon stopped coming to the river’s upper reaches years ago. Fishermen now jig for Midwestern species like walleye and bass. And the Native Americans turn to tourists for a living.
In a series of 14 stories this month, Spokesman-Review staff writer Dan Hansen and photographer Steve Thompson will take you down the Columbia. You’ll journey 420 miles with them as they navigate - in a 13-foot inflatable boat pushed by a 15-horsepower motor.
They’ll introduce you to the Columbia’s history and tell you how it’s changed. They’ll talk to the people who live along its banks, play in its waters and earn a living from its power.
They’ll show you remote river images and they’ll tell you how to get there and where to camp.
Turn to today’s IN Life section for an introduction to our series - Columbia Chronicles.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo