The first day aboard any expedition is always full of smiles, gasps, and that age old question: “What is your name, again?” Every passenger aboard National Geographic Sea Bird was wide-eyed at 0645 (especially those from the East Coast) when expedition leader Steve Morello made the call to get up and seize the day. After a hearty breakfast, we boarded jet boats and zipped up into Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

Hells Canyon, in spite of its ominous name, is a place of pure splendor. The walls of the canyon bear the scars of a violent geologic history, but the end results are fantastically beautiful. Magnificent columns of basalt line the hillside, and on occasion, they display murals of Neolithic man. Elsewhere in the canyon, limestone from ancient seas has made an epic journey into the continent to provide a splash of light color. Hiking, fresh barbecue, and birdwatching were among the day’s highlights.

The afternoon offered a lovely change of pace. Nez Perce storyteller James Richard came aboard to explain the lore of his people and their homeland. Richard’s storytelling is a captivating and honest depiction of his people’s legends. His soft voice and subtle humor were a welcome change of pace from the roar of the jet engines. Coco Umiker, PhD. from Clearwater Canyon Cellars was the day’s final guest. The stories of her journey in the winemaking world, including her break-in before she was legally allowed to drink, were inspiring.

As the day winds down and we cruise toward the coast, those of us in the lounge are celebrating photo instructor Chelsea Mayer’s birthday. Expedition ship guests and staff quickly form a patchwork quilt family and celebrating one another is always a highlight.