86. The Dalles, Oregon

Columbia River

View northwest, downstream

Aerial photo of the Dalles dam crossing the Columbia River

© 2000 Airphoto—Jim Wark

Through the Narrows

From the local Indians' point of view, those thirty-three strangers and their dog put on quite a spectacle for four days in late October 1805, easing their clumsy dugouts down by ropes through the Great Falls (Celilo Falls) and the Short and Long Narrows–later called "The Dalles," a French-Canadian term denoting rapids confined by rock walls.

On the 25th, the Corps coasted by the last few rocky spots into "a butifull jentle Stream of about half a mile wide," and beached their battered canoes at "a high point of rocks" below today's Mill Creek (just around the bend, above center in the picture). It provided, Clark observed with satisfaction, a secure redoubt against any "designs of the natives, Should They be enclined to attack us." Better yet, the hunting thereabouts was promising, for a change.

There really was no need for him to have been on the defensive. On the 26th, two chiefs and fifteen Indian men in a single canoe crossed the river for a visit. That evening, Pierre Cruzatte cast a spell over the assembed Indians with his fiddle, which was much more effective than any pompous diplomatic talk. "At night a fire was made in the middle of our camp, and as the Indians sat round it our men danced to the music of the violin, which so delighted them that several resolved to remain with us all night."

Beyond the farthest bend, the Columbia Gorge rifts the Cascade Range, which separates the desert of the Columbia Plateau from the continent's moist coastal margin. On the way home in April 1806, Lewis noticed the climatic change again when he emerged from the gorge. "Even at this place which is merely on the border of the plains of Columbia," he wrote, "the climate seems to have changed; the air feels dryer and more pure."

At extreme right is The Dalles Dam, which was completed in 1957.


From Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air
Photography by Jim Wark

Text by Joseph Mussulman
Reproduced by permission of Mountain Press