Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"McNary Dam"
Includes ... McNary Dam ... Umatilla Rapids ... "Muscle Shell Rapid" ... Lake Wallula ... Mount Adams ...
Image, 2004, McNary Dam from overlook, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
McNary Dam. McNary Dam spanning the Columbia River from just upstream Umatilla, Oregon, to upstream Plymouth, Washington. Image taken from Dam overlook, Oregon, off of Highway-730. Sillusi Butte is the high point visible on the Washington State side of the dam. Image taken September 24, 2004.


McNary Dam ...
The McNary Dam is located at Columbia River Mile (RM) 292.5, at the head of Lake Umatilla, the reservoir created by the John Day Dam. McNary Dam spans the Columbia River from Umatilla, Oregon, to Plymouth, Washington, at a location once known as the "Umatilla Rapids". Lewis and Clark refered to these rapids as the "Muscle Shell Rapids". Immediately downstream of McNary Dam is McNary Wildlife Nature Area and the Interstate 82/395 Bridge. Sillusi Butte is on the Washington side below the dam and was noticed by Captain Clark. Upstream from McNary Dam can be found McNary Beach, Warehouse Beach, and Sand Station, all managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Hat Rock and Boat Rock are also located upstream of McNary Dam on the Oregon side. Lake Wallula, the reservoir behind McNary Dam, extends 64 miles upstream and reaches as far as the mouth of the Yakima River. Lewis and Clark first passed through this area on October 19, 1805, and again on their return in April, 1806, where they camped downstream of McNary Dam near Plymouth, Washington.

McNary Dam History ...
In 1945, Congress authorized construction of a dam at the Umatilla Rapids, naming it after the late U.S. Senator, Charles McNary. It awarded the first contract for construction in April, 1947. By 1950, part of the lock, fishway and spillway rose above ground on the Washington shore. A year later barges headed upriver. Construction was completed in 1954, with all power units in operation by February 1957.

McNary Dam is 7,365 feet long, and rises approximately 183 feet above the streambed. It consists of a concrete structure with an earthfill embankment at the Oregon (south) abutment. The spillway is a concrete, gravity-type spillway dam, 1,310 feet long, and contains twenty-two 50x51 feet vertical lift gates. The dam's crest is at elevation 291 mean sea level, which is designed to pass a design flood of 2,200,000 cubic feet per second.

McNary Dam is located at Columbia River Mile 292, and raises the normal water surface about 85 feet. The project was originally called the Umatilla Dam, but the River and Harbor Act of 1945 renamed the dam in honor of the late Senator Charles L. McNary (U.S. Senator from Oregon, 1917-1944).


Dedication, September 23, 1954 ...
President Eisenhower dedicates McNary Dam on Setpember 23, 1954.

"On September 23, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicates McNary Dam located on the Columbia River near Umatilla, Oregon, and Plymouth, Washington, 292 miles from the mouth of the river. The dam is named for Oregon Senator Charles L. McNary (1874-1944), who spearheaded efforts to resolve problems of navigation on the river. The dam is 7,365 feet long and towers 183 feet over the riverbed."


Source:    "HistoryLink.org" website, 2004.


Penny Postcard, McNary Dam, Columbia River
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Dedication, McNary Dam, Columbia River, September 23, 1954.
Penny Postcard, Chrome, Divided Back (1930 to present), "McNary Dam". Postmarked May 8, 1956. Published by Smith's Scenic Views, Tacoma, Washington. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
Caption on back: "McNary Dam, Oregon and Washington. Tourists throng to see the sights at McNary the 7300 foot structure harnessing the Mighty Columbia River."

Online searching reveals image is presumably from the September 23, 1954 McNary Dam dedication, attended by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.



Views ...

Image, 2004, McNary Dam from overlook, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
McNary Dam. McNary Dam spanning the Columbia River from just upstream Umatilla, Oregon, to upstream Plymouth, Washington. Image taken from Dam overlook, Oregon, off of Highway-730. Sillusi Butte is the high point visible on the Washington State side of the dam. Image taken September 24, 2004.
Image, 2005, McNary Dam from McNary Beach, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
McNary Dam from McNary Beach, Oregon. Sillusi Butte is in the background. Lake Wallula extends 64 miles behind the McNary Dam. Image taken September 25, 2005.
Image, 2005, Interstate 82-395 Bridge from Plymouth Park, Washington, with McNary Dam, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Interstate 82/395 Bridge with McNary Dam, from Plymouth Park, Plymouth, Washington. Image taken May 24, 2005.


McNary Dam, etc.

  • Lake Wallula ...
  • Lewis and Clark spot Mount Adams ...
  • Sillusi Butte ...
  • Umatilla Rapids ...


Lake Wallula ...
Lake Wallula lies directly behind McNary Lock and Dam. It extends 64 miles upstream to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hanford Site (about 27 miles above Pasco, Washington), on the Columbia River.
[More]

Image, 2005, Looking downstream from McNary Beach, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
McNary Dam, McNary Beach, and Lake Wallula, Oregon. McNary Dam and Sillusi Butte are in the background. Image taken September 25, 2005.
Image, 2005, McNary Beach, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Lake Wallula from McNary Beach, Oregon. Image taken September 25, 2005.


Lewis and Clark spot Mount Adams ...
Lewis and Clark first see Mount Adams on October 19, 1805, while in the Umatilla region, although they mistakenly think it is Mount St. Helens. They also spot Mount Hood to the southwest.

"... Saw a high mountain covered with snow West this we Suppose to be Mt. <Hood> St Helens in dist. ... a Single Mountn. bears S. W. from the Muscle Shell rapid. ..." [Clark, October 19, 1805, first draft]

"... I assended a high clift about 200 feet above the water 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 a range of mountains in the Derection crossing, a conacal mountain S. W. toped with Snow ..." [Clark, October 19, 1805]

"... we discovred a verry high round mountain a long distance down the River which appears to have Snow on the top of it. ..."[Ordway, October 19, 1805]

"... Country around level plains except Some hills & clifts along the Shores. we discovred a high hill or mountn a long distance down the River which appears to have Snow on it ..." [Whitehouse, October 19, 1805]

"... The Country as we passed along is level plains, and along some part of the Shores are some hills & Clifts. We discovered a high hill or mountain laying a long distance down the River which appears to have Snow on it. ..." [Whitehouse, October 19, 1805]

On a clear day Mount Adams can best be seen at Umatilla, Oregon, from two overlooks to the McNary Dam.


Image, 2005, Mount Adams from McNary Dam Overlook, Umatilla, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Mount Adams from McNary Dam Overlook, Umatilla, Oregon. Mount Adams is very faint, just left of the middle of the horizon. Top of the peak sticks up above the haze layer. Image taken September 25, 2005.


Sillusi Butte ...
Sillusi Butte is located on the Washington State side of the Columbia River and overlooks McNary Dam. Lewis and Clark first passed through the Sillusi Butte area on October 19, 1805. Captain Clark commented on the "knob" across the river.
[More]

Image, 2005, McNary Dam and Sillusi Butte from McNary Beach, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
McNary Dam and Sillusi Butte, from McNary Beach, Oregon. Image taken September 25, 2005.


Umatilla Rapids ...
[More]

Image, 2004, McNary Dam and Umatilla Rapids, from overlook, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
McNary Dam and the location of the Umatilla Rapids. View from Dam overlook, Oregon, Highway 730, approximate location of the downstream end of the Umatilla Rapids, Lewis and Clark's "Muscle Shell Rapid". Image taken September 24, 2004.


"The Golden Age of Postcards" ...

The early 1900s was the "Golden Age of Postcards". The "Penny Postcard" became a popular way to send greetings to friends and family. Today the Penny Postcard has become an snapshot of history.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 19, 1805 ...




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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, 2004.

Sources:
  • Center for Columbia River History website, 2004;
  • "HistoryLink.org" website, 2004;
  • University of Washington Library Archives website, 2004;
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla District website, 2004;


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