Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Blalock Canyon, Oregon"
Includes ... Blalock Canyon ... Missoula Floods ...
Image, 2005, Blalock Canyon, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Blalock Canyon as seen from Interstate 84, Oregon. Image taken September 25, 2005.

Blalock Canyon ...
Blalock Canyon is located at Columbia River Mile (RM) 233. Upstream is Alkali Canyon, Jones Canyon, and the Oregon community of Arlington. Downstream is Philippi Canyon and the railroad station of Quinton. On the Washington side of the Columbia River is Rock Creek, where Lewis and Clark spent the night of April 23, 1806. Upstream on the Washington side is the community of Sundale.

Early Blalock Canyon ...
Blalock Canyon, the Union Pacific Railway station Blalock, and the Blalock Post Office (in operation between January 1881 and December 1959) were all named after Dr. Nelson G. Blalock, a Walla Walla pioneer (and Civil War veteran) who had hoped to develop an agricultural center on the flatland that at one time existed at the mouth of the canyon. That area is now inundated by Lake Umatilla, the reservoir behind the John Day Dam. Upstream of Blalock Canyon near Boardman, Oregon are the Blalock Islands, also named after Dr. Blalock.

Early Maps ...

Historic Map, 1913, Blalock and Sundale, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
1913 Topographic map detail, showing Blalock, Oregon, and Sundale, Washington. Also showing the Columbia River, the "Four O'Clock Rapids", "Blalock Rapids", and "Owyhee Rapids", and Blalock Canyon, Lang Canyon, and Jones Canyon. Original map 1:125,000 "Arlington Quadrangle", Washington-Oregon, U.S. Geological Survey, 1916 edition.

Blalock 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


Views ...

Image, 2006, Blalock Canyon, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Blalock Canyon and railroad siding, as seen from Interstate 84. View from front window of truck heading west. Image taken October 2, 2006.
Image, 2005, Blalock Canyon, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Blalock Canyon as seen from Interstate 84, Oregon. Image taken September 25, 2005.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 21, 1805 ...
A verry cool morning wind from the S. W. we Set out verry early and proceeded on, last night [their previous camp was downstream of Roosevelt, Washington] we could not Collect more dry willows the only fuel, than was barely Suffient to cook Supper, and not a Sufficency to cook brackfast this morning, passd. a Small Island at 5 miles a large one 8 miles in the middle of the river, Some rapid water at the head and Eight Lodges of nativs opposit its Lower point on the Stard. Side, we came too at those lodges, bought some wood and brackfast. ...     at 2 miles lower passed a rapid, large rocks Stringing into the river of large Size [near Blalock Canyon], opposit to this rapid on the Stard. Shore is Situated two Lodges of the nativs drying fish here we halted a fiew minits to examine the rapid before we entered it which was our constant Custom, and at all that was verry dangerous put out all who could not Swim to walk around, after passing this rapid we proceeded on passed anoothe rapid at 5 miles lower down, above this rapid on <the Stard. Side> five Lodges of Indians fishing &c. [near Rock Creek where they would camp on their return, on April 23, 1806] above this rapid maney large rocks on each Side at Some distance from Shore, one mile passed an Island Close to the Stard. Side, below which is two Lodge of nativs, a little below is a bad rapid which is bad crouded with hugh rocks Scattered in every Direction which renders the pasage verry Difficuelt a little above this rapid on the Lard. Side emence piles of rocks appears as if Sliped from the Clifts under which they lay passed great number of rocks in every direction Scattered in the river 5 Lodges a little below on the Stard. Side, and one lodge on an Island near the Stard. Shore opposit to which is a verry bad rapid, thro which we found much dificuelty in passing, the river is Crouded with rocks in every direction, after Passing this dificult rapid to the mouth of a Small river on the Larboard Side [John Day River] 40 yards wide descharges but little water at this time, and appears to take its Sourse in the Open plains to the S. E.     from this place I proceved Some fiew Small pines on the tops of the high hills and bushes in the hollars. imediately above & below this little river [John Day River] comences a rapid which is crouded with large rocks in every direction, the pasage both crooked and dificuelt, we halted at a Lodge to examine those noumerous islands of rock which apd. to extend maney miles below,-. great numbs. of Indians came in canoes to View us at this place, after passing this rapid which we accomplished without loss; <we passed> winding through between the hugh rocks for about 2 miles-. (from this rapid the Conocil mountain [Mount Hood] is S. W. which the Indians inform me is not far to the left of the great falls; this I call the Timm or falls mountain it is high and the top is covered with Snow) imediately below the last rapids there is four Lodges of Indians on the Stard. Side, proceeded on about two miles lower and landed and encamped near five Lodges of nativs, drying fish [Washington side just downstream of today's John Day Dam] those are the relations of those at the Great falls [Celilo Falls], ...     this part of the river is furnished with fine Springs which either rise high up the Sides of the hills or on the bottom near the river and run into the river. the hills are high and rugid a fiew scattering trees to be Seen on them either Small pine or Scrubey white oke. ...     we made 33 miles to day.

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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

  • 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 Press, Portland;

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.
February 2014