Thousands of years ago — but not nearly as many thousand as you might think — the unimaginable power of melting glaciers and rushing water tore a long, deep canyon between the landscapes we now call Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon.
“Ice dams melted and waters bearing enormous ice floes and tons of debris roared out of Lake Missoula,” the late Columbian reporter Kathie Durbin wrote in “Bridging a Great Divide,” her authoritative 2013 book about the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
“The floods rocketed across the landscape at 65 miles an hour, stripping away soil, rock and trees from every landform in their path. They sculpted the basin repeatedly over a period that ended about 15,000 years ago.”
Humans arrived about 12,000 years ago, Durbin wrote, making the Columbia Plateau and the Gorge one of the longest-inhabited places in the Western hemisphere. Indigenous fishing villages thrived here long before Lewis and Clark arrived in 1804, bringing white pioneers and new economies in their wake. Gorge communities and industries have been growing — or struggling to grow — ever since.
Today, powerful political and economic forces are at odds over how resources, communities and growth in the Gorge should be managed.