June 19, 2012
We end our cross-country journey here in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, which is located on the borders of Oregon and Idaho. The area was established by Congress in 1975 to protect the historic and archaeological treasures of Hells Canyon and the Snake River between Hells Canyon Dam and the Oregon-Washington border. Roughly 215,000 acres of the recreation area are designated the Hells Canyon Wilderness. In addition, there are nearly 900 miles of hiking trails in the recreation area.
Hells Canyon is a 10 mile wide canyon in the recreation area. It is North America’s deepest river gorge at almost 8000 feet. The canyon was carved by the waters of the Snake River, which flows more than 1 mile below the canyon’s west rim on the Oregon side and 8,000 feet below the peaks of Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains range to the east.
At 1,078 miles long, the Snake River is the largest tributary of the Columbia River, and the largest North American river that empties into the Pacific Ocean. More than 11,000 years ago, prehistoric Native Americans lived along the Snake. By the middle 19th century, the Oregon Trail, had been established. Steamboats and railroads moved agricultural products and minerals along the river throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The powerful, steep flow of the Snake River has been utilized since the 1890s to generate hydroelectricity. The Hells Canyon Dam is the third and final hydroelectric dam on the Snake River, which includes Brownlee Dam, and Oxbow Dam, all built and operated by Idaho Power Company.