Yesterday we visited Hells Canyon, about a 2 hour drive (just the truck), and took a fantastic Jet Boat Tour ride on the Snake River. You'll see how much we enjoyed by viewing the photos.
Hells Canyon, North America's deepest river gorge, encompasses a vast and remote region with dramatic changes in elevation, terrain, climate and vegetation. Carved by the great Snake River, Hells Canyon plunges more than a mile below Oregon's west rim, and 8,000 feet below snowcapped He Devil Peak of Idaho's Seven Devils Mountains. There are no roads across Hells Canyon's 10-mile wide expanse, and only three roads that lead to the Snake River between Hells Canyon Dam and the Oregon-Washington boundary.
Where is Hells Canyon?
There is no recognized geographic place called Hells Canyon. According to R.G. Bailey’s book, Hells Canyon, the canyon starts 90 miles south of Lewiston, Idaho and Extends 40 miles further south to appoint near Oxbow, Oregon. This is, of course, debatable.
The earliest known settlers in Hells Canyon were the Nez Percé tribe. Others tribes visiting the area were the Shoshone-Bannock, northern Paiute and Cayuse Indians. The mild winters, and ample plant and wildlife attracted human habitation. Pictographs and petroglyphs on the walls of the canyon are a record of the Indian settlements.
In 1806, three members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition entered the Hells Canyon region along the Salmon River. They turned back without seeing the deep parts of the canyon. It was not until 1811 that the Wilson Price Hunt expedition explored Hells Canyon while seeking a shortcut to the Columbia River. Hunger and cold forced them to turn back, as did many explorers who were defeated by the canyon's inaccessibility. There remains no evidence in the canyon of their attempts; their expedition journals are the only documentation.
The early miners were next to follow. In the 1860s gold was discovered in river bars near present-day Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, and miners soon penetrated Hells Canyon. Gold mining was not profitable here. Evidence of their endeavors remains visible along the corridor of the Snake River. Later efforts concentrated on hard-rock mining, requiring complex facilities. Evidence of these developments is visible today, especially near the mouth of the Imnaha River.
In the 1880s there was a short-lived homesteading boom, but the weather was unsuited to farming and ranching, and most settlers soon gave up. However, some ranchers still operate within the boundaries of the National Recreation Area.
After completion of large hydropower dams on the Columbia River in the 1930s through the 1950s, several entities sought approval from the Federal Power Commission to build dams on the Snake River, including a high dam in Hells Canyon. In 1955, the commission issued a license to the Idaho Power Company to build a three-dam complex in the canyon. The first of the three, Brownlee Dam, at river mile (RM) 285, was finished in 1958. Oxbow Dam, 12 miles downstream, was finished in 1961, and Hells Canyon Dam, 26 miles below Oxbow, was completed in 1967. The three dams have a combined generating capacity of 1,167 megawatts (MW) of electricity. The complex, which provides about 70 percent of Idaho's hydroelectricity, blocks migration of salmon and other anadromous fish upstream of Hells Canyon Dam.