Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Alkali Canyon, Oregon"
Includes ... Alkali Canyon ... Alkali ... China Ditch ... China Creek ... Alkali Creek ... Oregon Trail ...
Image, 2004, Arlington, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Arlington, Oregon. Arlington lies at the mouth of the Alkali Canyon. Image taken September 26, 2004.

Alkali Canyon ...
Alkali Canyon extends south from Arlington, Oregon and then heads west to Rock Creek, a tributary of the John Day River. China Ditch flows through Alkali Canyon. Downstream from Alkali Canyon is Jones Canyon and Blalock Canyon.

Alkali ...
Today's Oregon community of Arlington lies at the mouth of Alkali Canyon, and, in pioneer days the town was known as Alkali.

China Ditch ...
In 1988 the U.S. Board of Geographic Names made "China Ditch" the official name for the drainage existing in Alkali Canyon. Other names in use at the time were "Alkali Creek" and "China Creek".

"The city of Arlington lies at the mouth of a long draw named Alkali Canyon. Most of the year this canyon is dry but when the Condon branch of the Union Pacific was built in 1904, a drainage ditch was dug alongside the railroad grade. Much of the work was done by Chinese laborers. When the job was finished, one family stayed and built a laundry near the ditch, which soon became known as China Ditch. This drainage was later called China Creek, but at the request of Marion Weatherford, a lontime resident, the anachronism was elimated and the dry watercourse was given back its original name."

Source:    McArthur, L.A., and McArthur, L.L., 2003, Oregon Geographic Names, Oregon Historical Society Press

Alkali Canyon and the Missoula Floods ...
Flood waters of Lake Condon of the Missoula Floods spilled over the southern bank of the Columbia River and headed south through Alkali Canyon (RM 243), Jones Canyon (RM 239.5), Blalock Canyon (RM 234), and Philippi Canyon (RM 227.5). The waters rushing through Alkali Canyon flowed to Rock Creek to the John Day River and then northwest along the John Day River drainage back to the Columbia River (RM 217). The waters flowing up Jones, Blalock, and Philippi Canyons created a scabland before entering the John Day River drainage.


"Hodge (1931) recognized more than 50 years ago that floodwaters had overtopped the low divides between the Columbia River and the headwaters of Rock Creek, as well as the divide directly into the John Day Canyon. The floodwater poured up Alkali Canyon, south of Arlington (Oregon 19), and scoured a channel westward (now occupied by the Union Pacific RR branch line) into Rock Creek 6 miles above its junction with the John Day River. Farther west, the Floods poured up Jones Canyon, Blalock Canyon, and Philippi Canyon just east of Quinton, where it formed several square miles of scabland and left a high-perched expansion bar on the east wall of the John Day Canyon 10 miles from its mouth. A sixth small spillway lies at 1020 feet elevation, 2 miles northwest of Phillipi Canyon."

Source:    John Eliot Allen and Marjorie Burns, with Sam C. Sargent, 1986, Cataclysms on the Columbia: Timber Press, Portland, Oregon

Alkali Canyon and the Oregon Trail ...
Between Willow Creek and the John Day River, the wagons of the Oregon Trail traveled down the flat valley of Alkali Canyon. Alkali Canyon extends south from Arlington, Oregon for approximately eight miles before turning west and heading to Rock Creek, a tributary of the John Day River.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 20, 1805 ...
A cool morning wind S. W. we concluded to delay untill after brackfast which we were obliged to make on the flesh of dog. after brackfast we gave all the Indian men Smoke, and we Set out leaveing about 200 of the nativs at our Encampment [near Irrigon, Oregon]; passd. three Indian Lodges on the Lard Side a little below our Camp [Irrigon, Oregon] which lodges <we> I did not discover last evening, passed a rapid at Seven miles one at a Short distance below we passed a verry bad rapid, a chane or rocks makeing from the Stard. Side and nearly Chokeing the river up entirely with hugh black rocks [Lewis and Clark called these rapids "Pelican Rapids"] an Island below close under the Stard. Side on which was four Lodges of Indians drying fish,- here I Saw a great number of pelicons on the wing, and black Comerants [American White Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants]. at one oClock we landed on the lower point of <Some> an Island at Some Indian Lodges, a large Island on the Stard Side nearly opposit and a Small one a little below on the Lard Side on those three Island I counted Seventeen Indian Lodges, ...

[Lewis and Clark are passing through the Blalock Islands area. Today most of the islands are beneath the waters of Lake Umatilla, the reservoir behind the John Day Dam. In this vicinity are today's Boardman, Whitcomb Island, Canoe Ridge, slightly downstream is Crow Butte and historic Castle Rock, along with the many lands of the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge.]

after diner we proceeded on to a bad rapid at the lower point of a Small Island on which four Lodges of Indians were Situated drying fish; here the high countrey Commences again on the Stard. Side [Alder Ridge] leaveing a vallie of 40 miles in width, from the mustle Shel rapid [Umatilla Rapids at the McNary Dam]. examined and passed this rapid close to the Island at 8 miles lower passed a large Island near the middle of the river a brook on the Stard. Side [Alder Creek] and 11 Islds. all in view of each other below, a riverlit [Willow Creek] falls in on the Lard. Side behind a Small Island a Small rapid below. The Star Side is high rugid hills [Alder Ridge], the Lard. Side a low plain and not a tree to be Seen in any Direction except a fiew Small willow bushes which are Scattered partially on the Sides of the bank

The river to day is about 1/4 of a mile in width; this evening the Countrey on the Lard. Side [area around Arlington, Oregon] rises to the hight of that on the Starboard Side [ridge above Roosevelt], and is wavering- we made 42 <days> miles to day [to Roosevelt, Washington]; the current much more uniform than yesterday or the day before. Killed 2 Speckle guls Severl. ducks of a delicious flavour.

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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources:    Allen, J.E., and Burns, M., 1986, Cataclysms on the Columbia, Timber Press, Portland, Oregon;    McArthur, L.A., and McArthur, L.L., 2003, Oregon Geographic Names, Oregon Historical Society, Portland;    Oregon State Archives website, 2005, "A 1940 Journey Across Oregon";    U.S. Geologic Survey, "Geonames" website, 2014, U.S. Board of Geographic Names;   

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
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May 2014