Hood River has been on our itinerary since my good friend John moved there for work this spring and today we arrived at Viento State Park just a few miles west of town. This state park is right on the Columbia river….but also sandwiched between I-84 and a heavily used railroad. It is a beautiful place for the eye but not so much for the ears. We knew this going in so were not surprised. Our site was a driver side back in so we nailed it on the first try and as we were setting up John showed up! We chatted for quite awhile as we ate lunch then decided to go check out Bonneville Dam. John had been to the dam 4 weeks earlier for Father’s day and the shad were running. He wasn’t sure if there would still be anything to see at the fish ladders or not. But we were pleasantly surprised to see there were still plenty!!
What is a fish ladder you ask? Well, when you build a 197 foot high wall in the middle of a river only the well-to-do fish who own a family car can drive the road up and around the dam to continue their spawning journey upstream. The fish ladder is for all the poor fish who have to rely solely on their fins to get them upstream. There seem to be two parts to the ladder. The first that the fish encounter is a series of steps that the water cascades down not unlike it probably did before the dam thing was built. The fish jump and dart up each of these little steps to the next portion of the ladder which is fashioned like a line for a Disneyland ride. The water weaves back and forth through this zig zaggy maze of concrete to the top of the dam. Supposedly this portion of the ladder is used to slow the flow rate of the water over the stair step portion below. Without the Disneyland line the steps would just be a raging torrent of water rather than a gentle cascade. But, the flow still seemed plenty strong and these fish were working hard to get upstream.
You can go down into a room where they have a bunch of exhibits about the dam and the wildlife including the shad (the majority of what we saw….in fact the count had been 18,000 shad the day before), couple different types of salmon, sturgeon and these creepy nasty looking things called lampreys. They also have port holes looking into the fish ladder so you can watch the fish fighting the current from below the water. So cool to watch the water flow one way and the fish going the other. Then all of a sudden you’ll see this long eel like thing swimming upstream and attach itself to the window with its sucker mouth. The lamprey are freaky looking and there was one porthole window that must have been particularly tasty or grippy because there was a ton of the things stuck to it. When you got close you were looking right into their mouth. It gave me the bookemhockers (similar to the heebyjeebies).
I think John was worried the kids would be bored but there was no need to worry because we all had a lot of fun watching and learning and before long there was an announcement over the loudspeaker that the place was closing. As usual, we shut the dam place down.
But we weren’t done yet. Right next to the dam is a fish hatchery that stays open until dusk so we stopped in there for a look. The main attraction here is the 10 foot long sturgeon named Herman. Sturgeon are an ancient fish that can get up to 20 feet long!! The Bonneville dam has prevented them from spawning further upstream as they are too big for the fish ladders I guess. I really don’t know what you do with sturgeon….eat them? But I guess the dam has had a significant impact on them. While at the hatchery I bought a little smoked salmon for us to share back at the rig that all the kids seemed to really enjoy (and Sheba got to lick the package clean which made her very happy).
After John left to go home we had dinner then chatted for quite awhile with our neighbors at the campground who were also from Colorado. The couple is just newly retired (early retirement) and the guy is big into kite boarding. Hood River is one of the wind surfing and kite boarding meccas in the US so tomorrow we’ll go check out the portion of the gorge where the wind howls, boarders board and kiters kite! For now you can have a look at our pictures from today.
At fish ladder
Looking for sturgeon
Rainbow trout pond