With over 27 museums and interpretive centers in the Gorge, you have the opportunity to visualize and participate in the bountiful life of the Columbia River Gorge. Explore Ice Age exhibits, Lewis and Clark archaeology and learn about the amazing floods and volcanic eruptions that created the Gorge. Old homesteads still exist, as museums feature unique collections of pioneer artifacts. One of the Northwest’s most fascinating cultural art museums in the Gorge features famous displays of French sculpture, Auguste Rodin. So, when the weather is rainy, there is still plenty to do!
Fifteen thousand years ago, a torrent of water, ten times the flow of all of the world’s current rivers combined, raged across the Pacific Northwest. It began when Glacial Lake Missoula spewed a turbulent flood from today’s western Montana as a glacial dam gave way. This catastrophic event is among the largest floods recorded in geological history and is now known as the Ice Age Floods. During the last ice age, glaciers covered much of Canada. One lobe of ice grew southward, blocking the Clark Valley in Idaho. This 2,000 foot-high ice dam blocked the river, creating a lake that stretched for hundreds of miles. Eventually, water traveled under the ice dam. The water drained out of the lake in two to three days, flooding eastern Washington.
The first rush of the Missoula Flood came into the Columbia River Gorge with speeds approaching an estimated 60 mph. Thundering water laden with ice, boulders and topsoil sheared walls of the Columbia Gorge into vertical cliffs. During a period of 2,500 years, as many as 100 of these ice age floods scoured the Gorge. Through the years, the power of the flowing water of the Columbia River created a deep gash into the volcanic rock of the Cascade Range. An Ice Age Floods National Geographic Trail was proposed to bring the dramatic story of the floods to the public’s attention. In 2009, Congress recognized the unique effect of the great floods on the four state landscapes. Thereby establishing the Ice Age Floods National Geographic Trail. The geological trail, the nation’s first, is not a hiking path. Rather it’s a route along existing highways across the four-state region where visitors can see the evidence of the great Ice Age Floods. Click here for more information about the Ice Age Floods National Geographic Trail.