Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Lake Umatilla"
Includes ... Lake Umatilla ... John Day Dam ... John Day River ...
Image, 2012, Lake Umatilla, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Lake Umatilla, the reservoir behind the John Day Dam. View from Washington State Highway 14, looking across the Columbia River (Lake Umatilla) at the John Day Dam and the mouth of the John Day River. Image taken June 6, 2012.

Lake Umatilla ...
Lake Umatilla, the reservoir behind the John Day Dam, extends approximately 76 miles from the John Day to the foot of McNary Dam. Located within Lake Umatilla is the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge, a refuge spanning both sides of the Columbia River, plus such islands as Crow Butte, Whitcomb Island, and the Blalock Islands.

Reservoirs along the Columbia River ...
There are 4 dams and 4 reservoirs on the Columbia River within the scope of this photographic journey. Bonneville Dam and Bonneville Reservoir are the furthest downstream and located the closest to Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. Bonneville Dam is located at Columbia River Mile (RM) 146, and Bonneville Reservoir extends 46 miles upstream. At RM 192 is The Dalles Dam and Lake Celilo. Lake Celilo extends for 24 miles. Next in line, beginning at RM 216, is the John Day Dam and Lake Umatilla. Lake Umatilla extends for 76 miles. Furthest upstream is McNary Dam and Lake Wallula which begins at RM 292 and extends 64 miles upstream and includes the Tri-Cities of Richland, Pasco, and Kenneweick.

Views ...

Image, 2004, Mouth of the John Day River from Washington State Highway 14, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Lake Umatilla, the reservoir behind the John Day Dam. From Washington State Highway 14, looking across the Columbia River (Lake Umatilla) at the mouth of the John Day River, Oregon. Image taken April 24, 2004.
Image, 2012, John Day Dam from Washington State Highway 14, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
John Day Dam as seen from Washington State Highway 14. On October 21, 1805, Lewis and Clark camped on the Washington State side of the Columbia River, just downstream of the John Day Dam. Image taken June 6, 2012.
Image, 2005, Blalock Islands towards Grain Elevator, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Blalock Islands and Lake Umatilla. View from Washington State Highway 14. The Grain elevator is downstream of Irrigon, Oregon. Image taken May 24, 2005.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 19, 1805 ...
we Set out which was not untill 9 oClock A M. [from their camp at Spring Gulch]    we proceeded on passed a Island, close under the Lard Side about Six miles in length [islands near Juniper Canyon, now under the waters of Lake Wallula] opposit to the lower point of which two Isds. are situated on one of which five Lodges <of Indians> vacent & Saffolds drying fish    at the upper point of this Island Swift water.     a Short distance below passed two Islands; one near the middle of the river on which is Seven lodges of Indians drying fish [across from Boat Rock and Hat Rock],     at our approach they hid themselves in their Lodges and not one was to be seen untill we passed, they then Came out in greater numbers than is common in Lodges of their Size, it is probable that, the inhabitants of the 5 Lodges above had in a fright left their lodges and decended to this place to defend them Selves if attackted there being a bad rapid opposit the Island thro which we had to pass prevented our landing on this Island and passifying those people, about four miles below this fritened Island we arrived at the head of a verry bad rapid [Umatilla Rapids, today the location of the McNary Dam]

[The islands and rapids in this area between Spring Gulch and the Umatilla Rapids are now under the waters of Lake Wallula, the reservoir behind the McNary Dam. Today's locations passed by Lewis and Clark include Sand Station, Warehouse Beach, and McNary Beach, all U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Recreation Areas, and Hat Rock State Park and nearby Boat Rock. Hat Rock was mentioned by Captain Clark in his first draft but not in his final draft.]

we came too on the Lard Side to view the rapid [Umatilla Rapids] before we would venter to run it, as the Chanel appeared to be close under the oppd. Shore, and it would be necessary to liten our canoe, I deturmined to walk down on the Lard Side, with the 2 Chiefs the interpreter & his woman, and derected the Small canoe to prcede down on the Lard Side to the foot of the rapid which was about 2 miles in length     I Sent on the Indian Chiefs &c. down and I assended a high clift about 200 feet above the water [upstream of Umatilla. Today there is an overlook above the McNary Dam] from the top of which is a leavel plain extending up the river and off for a great extent, at this place the Countrey becoms low on each Side of the river, and affords a pros of the river and countrey below for great extent both to the right and left; from this place I descovered a high mountain of emence hight covered with Snow, this must be one of the mountains laid down by Vancouver, as Seen from the mouth of the Columbia River, from the Course which it bears which is West I take it to be Mt. St. Helens, destant <about 120> 156 miles [actually Mount Adams, Washington, visible on a clear day]     a range of mountains in the Derection crossing [Cascade Mountains], a conacal mountain S. W. toped with Snow [Mount Hood, Oregon]     This rapid I observed [Umatilla Rapids] as I passed opposit to it to be verry bad interseped with high rock and Small rockey Islands [today these islands are under the waters of Lake Wallula, the reservoir behind the McNary Dam], here I observed banks of Muscle Shells banked up in the river in Several places, I Delayed at the foot of the rapid about 2 hours for the Canoes which I could See met with much dificuelty in passing down the rapid on the oposit Side maney places the men were obliged to get into the water and haul the canoes over Sholes- while Setting on a rock wateing for Capt Lewis I Shot a Crain which was flying over of the common kind. I observed a great number of Lodges on the opposit Side at Some distance below [Lewis and Clark's map show 44 lodges lining the Washington shore from Plymouth, Washington, downstream to across from Irrigon, Oregon.] and Several Indians on the opposit bank passing up to where Capt. Lewis was with the Canoes, others I Saw on a knob [Sillusi Butte] nearly opposit to me at which place they delayed but a Short time before they returned to their Lodges as fast as they could run, ...

[This area today is the location of Umatilla, Oregon, and Plymouth, Washington, and is spanned not only by McNary Dam but also my the Interstate 82/395 Bridge. The Umatilla Rapids are below the waters of Lake Wallula, the waters behind McNary Dam.]

proceeded on passed a Small rapid and 15 Lodges below the five,

[Lewis and Clark have missed spotting or commenting on the Umatilla River, located 3 miles downstream of the town of Umatilla.]

and Encamped below an Island Close under the Lard Side [near Irrigon, Oregon] nearly opposit to 24 Lodges on an Island near the middle of the river [the majority of the islands in this area are now under the waters of Lake Umatilla, the reservoir behind the John Day Dam.], and the Main Stard Shor     Soon after we landed which was at a fiew willow trees [today much of the shoreline on both sides of the Columbia is within the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge] about 100 Indians Came from the different Lodges, and a number of them brought wood which they gave us, we Smoked with all of them, and two of our Party Peter Crusat & Gibson played on the violin which delighted them greatly ...     This day we made 36 miles

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

  • U.S. Corps of Engineers, Portland District website, 2005;

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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September 2008