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Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum

Inspiring appreciation of the Columbia River Gorge

A full-size mammoth stands guard over the Ice Age exhibit at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum in The Dalles, Oregon. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum is one of those museums that inspires a trip to an area just to see it. Located in The Dalles, Oregon, the museum is right on the banks of the Columbia River and in a very impressive building.  When you step into the museum, you enter the River Gallery, and your eyes are immediately drawn to a dramatic view of the Columbia River Gorge as seen through a 30-foot wall of glass windows. The room is enhanced with raw timber columns and basalt rock walls.

The museum has a variety of exhibits that focus on the history of the area dating back to the Ice Age. The Ice Age exhibit is very dramatic with a life-sized, 13-foot Columbian mammoth. Other history exhibits include Lewis and Clark, the Oregon Trail, Wasco County history, Native American Culture & Basketry and more. There are also exhibits about the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area as well as the roles the Columbia River has played as a mode of transportation and generating power.

The area has quite a history.

"The Dalles is the fourth oldest city in Oregon, incorporated in 1857," said Susan Buce, marketing manager. "As the center of navigation on the Mid-Columbia River, The Dalles was known as the Gateway to the Inland Empire, a jumping-off spot for pioneers, soldiers, gold miners, adventurers and floozies. Yes, floozies. We have a group of volunteer ‘Fort Dalles Floozies' who greet the tourists on the river cruise boats that dock at The Dalles."

In addition to its exhibits, the museum offers different programs throughout the year. One program highlights the Native American culture in the area.

"The Indigenous Voices program allows us to bring Native American experts to share their cultural knowledge with visitors, including demonstrations of beadwork, tule mats, native plants, first foods, music, dancing and more," Buce said. "The program helps connect our visitors with the twelve thousand years of indigenous history of our region."

The Discovery Center is surrounded by more than 50 acres along the banks of the Columbia River.  Make sure to take some time to walk the interpretive trail that wanders the grounds. Find the pond and look for signs of the beaver that calls it home. Observe the wetlands and the spectacular view of the gorge and the Klickitat Hills across the river.

Insider Tip: Ask for a free brochure at the museum desk that keys to the interpretive markers on the trail.  For the more adventurous, bring your bikes. The center marks the beginning of the seven-mile paved Riverfront Trail, which runs east to The Dalles Bridge Junction and The Dalles dam. It's very scenic, and you can access historic downtown and other sights from the trail.

The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum is a Blue Star Museum and offers free admission to military and their families.  A family of four saves $28 on a visit.

Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum, open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 5000 Discovery Drive, The Dalles, Oregon, 541.296.8600, gorgediscovery.org

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