Columbia Gorge

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For 80 miles along the Columbia River, a deep gorge separates the States of Washington and Oregon with cliffs rising as high as 4,000 feet.

The present Columbia River Gorge follows the route that started to form some 2 million years ago, at the last stage of significant geologic activity which began at least 15 million years earlier. During that time major events took place involving the movement of glaciers and the associated scarring of the land, the rapid movement and redistribution of vast quantities of glacial lake water, and of course the ever present volcanic activity and associated basaltic flows.

Picturesque waterfalls decorate mostly the Southern (Oregon) slopes of today's gorge since the Northern (Washington) cliffs are frequently rearranged through landslides that generate gentler slopes. The bedrock of this entire region is tilted slightly southwards so the same effect does not occur as much on the Oregon side.

The Columbia River Gorge is the only low level (nearly sea level) passage through the Cascade range, a 700 mile long range of mountains, with an average elevation of 5,000 feet, that stretches from Northern California to Southwestern Canada.

Numerous peoples and civilizations have flourished in the Columbia River Gorge, an ideal Salmon producing ecosystem, with evidence of human settlement stretching back over 31,000 years. Ancestors of today's Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla and Nez Perce tribal nations lived and fished along the river's banks. Tribes from all over western North America would come to this area to trade for dried, smoked salmon.

The modern era settlement of this region began in the early 1800s with the Lewis and Clark expedition. This was followed by the migration of thousands of people along the Oregon trail through the Columbia Gorge, crossing the Cascades from the arid, extreme climate of the Eastern slopes into the fertile Willamette valley to the West.