What could be better than taking a riverboat cruise along the Snake and Columbia rivers on a luxurious boat with an outstanding staff, terrific meals, and great stops in friendly towns and cities in Washington and Oregon? Starting that kind of trip by re-visiting a friendship with a dear couple from a previous cruise on the Mississippi River!
That’s exactly what happened last week when I signed on for a cruise highlighting the adventures of Lewis and Clark when they set out to find a passage to the Pacific Ocean as directed by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803.
Dr. Byron and Anne Johnson had told me all about the beauty of the northwest when we traveled along the Mississippi a couple of years ago listening to Jefferson Davis’ great grandson tell us all about the Civil War and how it impacted the towns we visited on that river cruise. Anxious to let me see for myself the beauty of their own part of the country, the Johnsons met me at the Spokane airport, and brought me to their incredibly beautiful and serene home high in the hills overlooking their own fields where they used to raise horses, the river that rushes through their land, and the magnificent forest that surrounds the hills above and beside the home they designed themselves. The living room wall is almost solid glass, affording an uninterrupted view of the natural beauty in their 65 acres, the wild turkeys and magpies soaring overhead and the flowers just starting to bloom.
But the other walls in the living room and adjacent rooms are just as magnificent, thanks to the talents and hard work of this charming couple. A hunter, fisherman and taxidermist, Byron has displayed some of his works on the walls and over the fireplace, magnificent specimens of duck, birds, fish, and so much more. Anne, talented in so many other areas, has an incredible wreath displayed which she made from pheasant feathers, as well as an almost floor to ceiling wall hanging she made from all the mementoes of the 30 or more races the couple has run. They also display a great array of photos of their two children and six grandchildren, and unique and stunning furniture Byron has designed and made.
Dinner in this splendid home was also unparalleled, featuring pheasant…of course that Byron had taken, de-feathered and prepared for Ann’s outstanding roasting, along with Irish cheese, asparagus, fruit, noodles, and apple pie. The Johnsons certainly practice, and taught me to appreciate, the beauty of not only protecting but also taking advantage of the plentitude of nature and what it can provide for us in so many ways without destroying the environment.
Historic Davenport Hotel
Anne and Byron drove me the short distance from their home to the Historic Davenport Hotel in the heart of Spokane, the landmark 4-Star hotel the cruise company had reserved for those of us arriving the day before the American Empress was scheduled to leave on the eight-day cruise. A night in comfortable splendor here is all you need to see why it is such an award-winning attraction to both locals and visitors alike.
Since the boat was not sailing until late afternoon, the cruise company also offered a tour of Spokane before taking us from the hotel to the dock and after scooping up our baggage, so it would be in our staterooms before we even boarded.
Like so much of the northwest, Spokane has been settled since at least 13,000 years ago when it was the hunting-gathering grounds of early native Americans. It came into its own as a unique forward-thinking community when it was home to the environmentally themed World’s’ Fair in 1974, becoming the smallest city to ever host the Fair. The 100 acres set aside for the Fair is now a tranquil riverfront park on the Spokane River and the roaring, charging Upper and Lower Spokane Falls. It’s also possible to visit the historic power plant that provided electrical power form the falls as well as the tramway for the Fair that still seasonally takes visitors on overviews of the area. The city was named after one of the tribes that hunted there, a name that means Sun People.
Bing Crosby Statue
The city is also home to Gonzaga University, the Jesuit-run college that welcomes guests to tour its main building and see its attachments to Bing Crosby, the crooner who grew up in a middle-class Sears-built home that is now part of the Gonzaga campus. Though he was born in Tacoma, Washington, the Crosbys and their seven-offspring moved to Spokane when Bing was three or four years old and he attended Gonzaga High School before attending the University as well. A tour through this home includes viewing some of the platters Crosby made famous…” White Christmas” being the most popular record ever made and the only single to make pop charts 20 times.
Leaving Spokane and headed to Clarkson, Washington, where the boat was docked, it was a two hour bus ride through wheat fields, small towns, some uninteresting desert, a short trek into Idaho than back across the state line to Washington and a nondescript dock where the American Empress sat in splendor, with a crew waiting at the landing to welcome guests to their home for the next eight days, time to settle into their staterooms, unpack the baggage that arrived ahead of them, and head down to the Astoria dining room for the first of many exciting and delicious meals. It was also the first chance to meet the Riverlorian, Laurence Cotton in the Paddlewheel Lounge of the ship. It’s then that you realize how exciting, educational, and downright enjoyable it would be learning more about Lewis and Clark, the Columbia and Snake rivers, Bonneville Dam, native Americans and so much more from a scholar and historian who not only knows it all but has a magnificent manner of getting that information out to the guests.
NEXT: The boat, the drills, the music and entertainment