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Discovering Two Kinds of Ports on Idaho Riviera

August 23, 1987|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

LEWISTON, Ida. — It's already a cruise port, and now vineyards are returning to this inland riviera that is being rediscovered by the travel world in the nation's northernmost Sunbelt.

"Farthest inland of all seaports in the Pacific Northwest" is the description of this Lewiston-Clarkston Valley destination visited by an Exploration Lines cruise ship every six days in spring, summer and autumn.

Before cruising back toward the Columbia River gateway to the Pacific Ocean, passengers can fish the rivers or jet-boat up to Hell's Canyon, deepest gorge on the American continent.

For golfers and tennis players, the prospect of winter golf and court action within half an hour of skiing--just as on the French Riviera--is being headlined to help build four-season tourism.

Fifteen miles of surfaced bicycle, jogging and walking paths on the Lewiston side of the Snake River, and another nine miles along the Clarkston shore are used year-around for the fast-growing fitness activity known as "Volks Marching," the measured walks at a leisurely pace brought here from Germany. The path along the levees has mile markers and is lighted at night.

With tongue in cheek, this river valley is simulating a bid against San Diego for the next America's Cup regatta, sending the message all the way to Australia that "fair winds for sailing also blow along our Riviera."

Cultural Grace

Museums, art presentations, a symphony orchestra, live theater and musical entertainment add cultural notes throughout the year.

The thought of an Idaho Riviera with mild winters north of Sun Valley ski slopes can at first be a bit mind-boggling.

But it is in fact a northern Sunbelt valley shared by the sister cities of Lewiston, Ida., and Clarkston, Wash., along opposite banks of the Snake River that forms a boundary between the two states.

These two small cities--Lewiston, with a population close to 30,000, and Clarkston, with around 15,000, are named for Lewis and Clark, who reached here in the autumn of 1805 during their journey of exploration that helped shaped the destiny of a new nation.

The expedition rested on an island in the river, grateful for a haven from the early winter snows that covered the mountains and countryside around the sheltered valley. Friendly Nez Perce Indians brought fresh salmon.

The county seat of Asotin, six miles up the Snake River from Lewiston and Clarkston, dates from 1883 and has the remains of early Indian petroglyphs on rocks along the river.

As Idaho prepares for its statehood centennial in 1990, Lewiston is celebrating its 127th birthday.

When Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation creating the Idaho Territory in 1863, Lewiston was ready to be named territorial capital of a vast Western territory that included eastern Washington, all of Idaho and most of Montana and Wyoming.

Two years later the territorial government moved south to Boise, which miners and settlers had transformed into the new population center.

Shifting of the population base and government center to Boise gave the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley a chance to develop in its own way by taking advantage of the climate and the confluence of two rivers, where the Clearwater flows into the Snake.

The geology and the glacial ages left this sheltered river valley only 15 feet above sea level, within protective hills that climb to 3,500 feet.

With nature's gift of climate, cherries, grapes, apples, peaches and apricots were soon being shipped to national markets. Clarkston's dark, sweet Bing cherries won blue ribbons at regional and national fairs and led to the slogan, "Bing Is King."

First Wine Grapes

The first wine grapes were planted in the valley in 1872. Vineyards flourished and were ready to become part of a major wine industry just before Prohibition.

Now a new era of the vineyards is beginning around the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. The research base has been provided by Bob Wing, who has proved with his experimental vineyard that 40 varieties of grapes will flourish here, capable of producing such fine wines as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, White Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon.

He is writing a book for the University of Idaho on the past, present and future of wines in Idaho.

Several small family vineyards are growing grapes. The Larry Spencer vineyard on the Clearwater River is selling grapes and is adding more acreage with the goal of building its own winery.

The port that brings cruise passengers here is ready to ship the wines to national and international markets. Between Lewiston and the Pacific Ocean, locks and dams accommodate barges with drafts up to 14 feet and load capacities of 12,000 tons.

The seven-day, six-night Exploration Lines cruises, carrying passengers inland for 465 miles from Portland to Lewiston, departs every six days through Oct. 21, and will begin again next May 16. They can be booked through your travel agent at rates beginning at $1,199 per person, double occupancy for the week.

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