Our first morning on board National Geographic Sea Bird was stunning with pink hills surrounding the ship and the melodies of song sparrows offering a soundtrack to stretch class. Halfway through our spinal twists, someone spotted a murmuration of starlings over a distant hill, and everyone watched in silent awe. The trip was off to a magical start.

After breakfast, some guests boarded 34-foot-long jet boats for a 104-mile roundtrip excursion up the Snake River to its confluence with the Salmon River, fondly known as the River of No Return. On our journey, we saw bighorn sheep, bald eagles, great blue herons, common mergansers, belted kingfishers, Canada geese, double-crested cormorants, an impressively large bull snake, petroglyphs, salmon, wild turkeys, columnar basalt, and millions of woolly apple aphids, which looked like “insect snow” against the canyon sunbeams. Another group of guests embarked on an informative journey through sites relevant to the Nez Perce with stops along the Lewis and Clark trail and visits to wineries with breathtaking views.

As evening approached, we settled into the lounge for our first series of educational talks, featuring Nez Perce storyteller James Spencer and winemaker Coco Umiker. They both shared important information about this beautiful basin. Cocktail hour was filled with the pleasant sound of story-swapping, a tutorial on iPhone photography, and excitement over the upcoming lock—our first up-close look at a complex feat of engineering, but certainly not the last.