Posted by: bkivey | 26 June 2015

Bonneville Dam

After touring the waterfalls along the Columbia Historic Highway, I drove up to Bonneville Dam to have a look.  Completed in 1937, this impressive structure was built for power generation, flood control, and river navigation. The first stop in the complex is the guardhouse , where you will be asked if you’re packing. The only acceptable answer is ‘no’. I asked the guard what happens if someone answers in the affirmative, and was told they’d be turned away. You can’t leave your firearm at the guardhouse, so if you visit, leave the heat at home.

The Visitor’s Center is about a mile from the entrance, and on the way you’ll drive across the locks:

Bonneville Locks 1


cross the bridge in front of the powerhouse:

Driving in front of the Powerhouse


Eventually you come to the large parking lot in front of the Visitor’s Center:

Bonneville Powerhouse Panorama


The powerhouse is on the left, and the Visitor’s Center is out of frame to the right. To the right of the parking lot is the spillway, which was in use this day:

Bonneville Dam Spillway


Given the paucity of precipitation this past winter, I was surprised there was enough water to justify spilling. It turns out that small salmon survive the spillway better than the trip through the turbines, so the dam will spill water to aid fish.

Bonneville Visitor's Center 1


The Visitor’s Center is a multi-story structure containing a museum, observation deck, and gallery to view the fish ladder. The museum has a variety of exhibits on the history of the dam and Columbia river. There’s a fairly good section on the Lewis & Clark expedition. Somewhat surprisingly, I didn’t see any exhibits proselytizing the State religion of Anthropogenic Global Warming.

The fish ladder is directly in front of the Visitor’s Center:

Bonneville Fish Ladder Downstream


There are fish visible in the water, but I didn’t see any fish leaping action. For a different view of the fish ladder, you can go to the bottom level of the Visitor’s Center:

View Into Fish Ladder








Salmon underwater


But wait, what are those tubes on the bottom?

Lampreys on glass


What the fuck?! Apparently the Columbia is full of lamprey, nature’s piscatorial hellspawn. I knew what a lamprey was, but had never seen one, especially inches away. For the last 450 million years, these fish have been using their rotary saw sucker mouths to latch onto a fish and suck their blood. Good times.

After that horror show, I went outside to tour the powerhouse, where the water meets the wire, so to speak.

Bonneville Powerhouse 1


Disappointingly, the powerhouse is only available to guided tours, and the last tour had already left. I’ll have to think of a reason to come back out when I can catch a tour.

Finished up the day at a tavern in Cascade Locks for a late lunch/early dinner, and then the drive back home. All in all, a nice little day trip to break up the week.


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