Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum

We stumbled upon the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in northern Oregon one autumn day . The Center opened in 1997 but we had never been there.

Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon 16October2017

Wouldn’t you like to have a river winding across your floor like this one in the entry hall?

Gorge Discovery Center dugout canoe, The Dalles, Oregon 16October2017

How about a cedar dugout canoe? Some were up to 50 feet in length.

Map of Discovery Center area, The Dalles, Oregon 16October2017

The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum is in The Dalles along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Built in the 1900s, this road was the first scenic highway in the U.S. The highway winds through areas with forests, rocky cliffs, and dramatic waterfalls. We were planning to visit Multnomah Falls that day, but it was inaccessible due to a fire.

Columbia Mammoth, The Dalles, Oregon 16October2017

Creatures from the Ice Age

So we ended up here and a Columbian mammoth trumpeted with joy when he saw us. We stayed out of the way of his 16-foot long tusks. We found another interesting critter close by.

Dire wolf display, The Dalles, Oregon 16October2017

Did you know that there were once dire wolves in Oregon? Me neither. They were the largest canid to have lived, weighing as much as 150 pounds. Sometimes creatures portrayed in stories, such as Game of Thrones, actually existed.

From cultures that date back >10,000 years ago

Next we walked into a gallery of Native American artifacts. This center features artifacts from Wasco, Northern Paiute, and Warm Springs tribes.

Beadwork and basketry always impresses me. It would take so much patience to create something like that, something I don’t always have.

Native Americans fishing in the Columbia River, The Dalles, Oregon 16October2017

In another part of the center, the practice of fishing the Columbia River off of wooden platforms is highlighted. Native Americans fished this river for thousands of years but the runs of salmon have decreased dramatically due to dams and warming water temperatures.

Lewis & Clark’s travels

Several displays referred to the explorations of Lewis and Clark.

Lewis & Clark display, The Dalles, Oregon 16October2017

They passed through the Gorge traveling west in October of 1805 and on their way back home in April of 1806.

Lewis & Clark display, Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon 16October2017

Members of the Lewis and Clark party traded with the natives for needed supplies and information on routes. See those strings of beads hanging from the display? Beads had great value as an item to trade at the time.

Butterfly collection, The Dalles, Oregon 16October2017

Naturalists were eager to explore this new land and this display shows some of the winged wonders they encountered. That’s a lot of butterflies!

As the United States expanded its territories in the 1840s and 1850s, more settlers moved toward the West. Lt. John C. Frémont explored the Oregon Trail, camping at The Dalles in 1843. The Army helped map potential wagon routes through Oregon.

Settling into Wasco County

Mock up a pioneer town, Gorge Discovery Center,The Dalles, Oregon 16October2017

Thousands of settlers soon made their way to Oregon and towns sprung up to support them.

The right saddle

Saddles from the George Lawrence Co., The Dalles, Oregon 16October2017

Businesses catering to the settler’s needs prospered. Those are some nice saddles!

The Chinese in mid- to late-1800s Oregon

The railroad expanded into Oregon. Chinese immigrants helped construct railways and worked in the gold mines. They brought elements of their culture with them.

Mock up of Chew Kee & Co. store, The Dalles, Oregon 16October2017

Though some of their customs and products, such as fireworks, were appreciated by the largely European American residents, Chinese often encountered prejudice.

Chinatown excavation project, The Dalles, Oregon 16October2017

This exhibit detailed archaeological work on the Chinatown site that once existed in The Dalles. After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, it was more difficult for them to stay in the United States. Most moved away from The Dalles by the late 1920s.

For some history about Chinese in John Day, Oregon, about 200 miles to the south, read Kam Wah Chung: A Step Back in Time.

Chinatown excavation project artifacts, The Dalles, Oregon 16October2017

Excavations at Chinatown have uncovered many artifacts and evidence of past floods and fires. In 2013, this site was listed among Restore Oregon’s Most Endangered Places.

Gorge Discovery Center. Etc…

There were a couple things we didn’t see on this visit.

  • The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center put a lot of time into restoring native habitat on the 54-acre campus. There is a short nature walk with interpretive markers around the buildings.
  • They have a Raptor Interpretive Program that uses live falcons, hawks, eagles, and owls. They have presentations for visitors on days that vary with the season.
Outside the Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon 16October2017

The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center was a nice place for an unplanned stop.  Lots to see and do there. We were there in October and there weren’t many other visitors. The fall leaves outside the building greeted us in bright shades of gold.

There’s a great fountain just outside the front door. I leave you with the calming sounds of its waters.

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