Hydroelectric dams make great travel stopsYes, they provide power, and yes, they provide big lakes for water skiing, fishing and boating. But did you know the Northwest's hydroelectric dams also can be great getaways?
All right, educational getaways, but nevertheless the dams have some darn interesting information to impart to both you and your kids. It's a great family outing.
Wanapum DamThe most recent dam to offer visitor services is the Wanapum Dam, a Central Washington dam easily accessible if you're traveling east and west on Interstate 90. The Grant County PUD opened a new visitor center in 2015. Among the new exhibits are some that show how the Columbia River has shaped Grant County over time. You can watch the formation of the Columbia Basin on video and try your hand at generating your own electricity. Recreation centers are highlighted at the center and will show you where you can take advantage of the water activities made possible by the dam.
Wanapum Dam is about four miles south of the Interstate 90 bridge near Vantage. Admission to the visitor center is free.
Rocky Reach DamRocky Reach Dam, near Wenatchee, has quite an elaborate visitor center and tour. The dam's visitor center is just about eight miles north of Wenatchee on Highway 97A.
A highlight of any visit is the opportunity for a close-up view of fish passing through the fishway. The fish viewing room allows visitors to watch salmon and other species continue their upstream migration to spawning areas. Guests can also walk along the forebay deck to the powerhouse and take an elevator down to the fourth floor where they can enjoy a number of exhibits and observation points.
Self-guided tours take visitors through the Museum of the Columbia, featuring a look back at the rich history of early life along the Columbia River. Balconies provide visitors with views of the full length of the powerhouse, the spillway, fish ladder, juvenile fish bypass, and the Columbia River. The center also has acres of grounds where you can picnic and enjoy the many flowers or chase the bunnies that call the property home.
Bonneville Lock and DamBonneville Lock and Dam is about 40 miles east of Portland, Ore., near Cascade Locks, Ore., and has been declared a national historic landmark because of its contribution ton Northwest history. Visitors will find the dam educational and interesting for all ages.
There are many ways to enjoy the visitor center -- there's an observation deck as well as a theater with a fascinating movie about the dam. There's also a fun interactive game for the kids to make choices and see if they can live to become an adult fish -- a great way of explaining to the kids about our Northwest fisheries. The turbine room is an amazing facility where you can see the dam work from the inside out.
The Bonneville Dam is really an engineering marvel, and learning how the dam and powerplant work really gives you a new appreciation for the work and innovation that went into creating the dam.
Grand Coulee DamA tour of Grand Coulee Dam is an amazing experience and well worth the two-hour side trip northeast from Wenatchee whenever you get over to the east side of the mountains.
When you take the 45-minute tour of Grand Coulee Dam you'll be escorted by armed guard to the top of the spillway where you can look down at a wall of water much higher and much wider than Niagara Falls. The look down is breathtaking as you watch the water make its long journey to the river below -- if you're afraid of heights, you might just want to stay in the tour bus.
Grand Coulee Dam is not just any dam -- it once was the world's biggest dam and remains among the few dams in the world that can produce enough electricity to power 11 western states. It's not as high as Hoover Dam, but it's wider, and the visitor staffers at both dams enjoy a running competition to make their respective dam sound more impressive than the other.
Once you get to Grand Coulee, there's no mistaking just how important this piece of concrete is. It's the world's largest concrete structure and it holds back an incredible amount of water that is sucked down through turbines that are constantly spinning and humming.
If you stop at the vantage point coming into Grand Coulee, you can look down at the dam alongside an information board that shows you how the dam dwarfs Niagara Falls and famous skyscrapers from around the world. Tours of the dam run hourly and the tour guide gives you a great overview of how the dam came to be.
Today, Grand Coulee Dam produces 6,800 megawatts of electricity but also is the major source of irrigation for the massive Columbia Basin project. The dam's reservoir has enough water to irrigate more than 670,000 acres.
PHOTOS: Spillway at Grand Coulee Dam
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