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Image: John Roman

You know Lewis and Clark. (Right?)

In 1803, president Thomas Jefferson tasked Meriwether Lewis and William Clark with exploring the west. Their Corps of Discovery endured a winter of rain by the Columbia River and put it on America’s map.

What's that name?

The Columbia was missed by several early explorers (too slow, Captain Vancouver and the Brits!) and was long known only to native tribes, who attributed the river’s creation to the dragging of a giant beaver’s tail. American Robert Gray ventured up the hairy ocean entry in 1792 and named the river after his ship, a full replica of which now hosts a pirate show at Disneyland.

A really, really, old-growth forest.

In 1931, professor George F. Beck dug pieces of strange wood from the shores of the Columbia near Vantage, where I-90 crosses the river. Using ink and a handheld magnifying glass, he could tell they were petrified—ancient plants that have become stone after millions of years. A state park protects the logs as well as hundreds of petroglyphs made by the Wanapum tribe, and a few dozen pieces of modern graffiti from destructive jerks.

When is a river also a lake?

The Columbia River is always a river. But 12 dams (three in Canada) interrupt its 1,243 miles, and each backs up a wide, slowly moving section of river—a lake. The largest dam, Grand Coulee, makes a reservoir 150 miles long, named for the president who championed the dam, Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

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Still Waters Run Deep
Lake Roosevelt near Collville in the state’s northeast corner

Image: Shutterstock/Kathmanduphotog

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