Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Multnomah Falls, Oregon"
Includes ... Multnomah Falls ... Multnomah Creek ... Multnomah Falls Lodge ... Benson Bridge ... National Register of Historic Places ... Shady Creek Falls ... Columbia River Basalt Group (CRBG) ... Missoula Floods ... The Golden Age of Postcards ... Multnomah Hazelwood ...
Image, 2004, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, Benson Bridge, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Falls, Oregon, Benson Bridge. Image taken March 6, 2005.

"... we passed several beautifull cascades which fell from a great hight over the stupendious rocks which cloles the river on both sides nearly ... the most remarkable of these casscades falls about 300 feet perpendicularly over a solid rock into a narrow bottom of the river on the south side. it is a large creek, situated about 5 miles above our encampment of the last evening. several small streams fall from a much greater hight, and in their decent become a perfect mist which collecting on the rocks below again become visible and decend a second time in the same manner before they reach the base of the rocks. ..." [Lewis, April 9, 1806]


Multnomah Falls ...
Multnomah Falls, at 620 feet, is the second highest year-round waterfall in the United States, the first being Yosemite Falls in California. Nearly two million visitors a year come to see Multnomah Falls, making it Oregon's number one tourist place. The falls is fed by underground springs from Larch Mountain. Benson Bridge, built in 1914, crosses Multnomah Creek between the Upper and Lower Multnomah Falls. Multnomah Falls is one of many falls in the Columbia River Gorge which can be seen from the Historic Columbia River Highway. Multnomah Falls can also be reached via Interstate 84 which provides parking and access to the falls area. Downstream from Multnomah Falls are Wahkeena Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Crown Point and Rooster Rock, other popular Oregon Gorge locations, are further downstream. Upstream are Oneonta Gorge and Horsetail Falls. Multnomah Falls is located at Columbia River Mile (RM) 136.

Imag5, 2004, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, Benson Bridge, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Falls, Oregon, Benson Bridge. Image taken March 6, 2005.


Multnomah Falls Geology ...
Multnomah Falls drops 620 feet over Grande Ronde Basalt of the Columbia River Basalt Group (CRBG). The two drops of Multnomah Falls were produced because of a more easily eroded zone at the base of the upper falls.
"... Observations of waterfalls over Columbia River basalt have shown that falls often occur where flows are flat lying or dipping upstream. This condition allows blocks produced by vertical joints to remain stable until support is widhdrawn by erosion of softer interflow material at the base of individual flows. The rate of erosion of interflow areas probably largely controls the rate of retreat of the falls. ... The amphitheater-shaped valleys common to many of the falls within the Gorge are due to the freeze-thaw action of water from the splash mist that has penetrated the joints. ..." [Norman and Roloff, 2004]

At Multnomah Falls the visitor can view six lava flows in the cliff face, with pillow flows being visible in the upper sequence near the lip of the Upper Falls. Five more flows of Grande Ronde basalt can be seen along Multnomah Creek along the trail above the falls. The cliff of Multnomah Falls was enhanced by the flood waters of the Missoula Floods thousands of years ago when the flood waters eroded away softer material, highlighting the spectacular cliff face.


Imag5, 2004, Multnomah Falls Lava Flows, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Falls, Benson Bridge, and lava flows. Image taken March 6, 2005.


Lewis and Clark and Multnomah Falls ...
Lewis and Clark passed by Multnomah Falls on November 2, 1805, and again on their return on April 9, 1806.

"... Saw a number of Spring runs flowing from the high clifts and Mountains. Some of which falls off about 100 feet perpinticular ..." [Ordway, November 2, 1805]

"... We passed a creek which lay on the So. side of the River, & a great number of springs & Spring runs flowing from the Clifts & mountains which lay high & fell from off these Clifts & Mountains upwards of 100 feet into the River.    The high Clifts & rocks lies on both sides of the River. ..." [Whitehouse, November 2, 1805]

"... on our way to this village we passed several beautifull cascades which fell from a great hight over the stupendious rocks which cloles the river on both sides nearly, except a small bottom on the South side in which our hunters were encamped. the most remarkable of these casscades falls about 300 feet perpendicularly over a solid rock into a narrow bottom of the river on the south side. it is a large creek, situated about 5 miles above our encampment of the last evening. several small streams fall from a much greater hight, and in their decent become a perfect mist which collecting on the rocks below again become visible and decend a second time in the same manner before they reach the base of the rocks. ..." [Lewis, April 9, 1806]

Image, 2005, Multnomah Falls in October, click to enlarge
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Autumn Colors, Multnomah Falls, Oregon. Image taken October 22, 2005.


Early Bridge ...
In the late 1800s a wooden bridge spanned Multnomah Falls in the location of today's Benson Bridge.
"... For years prior to construction of the Multnomah Falls Footbridge, at least as early 1883, a timber bowstring truss bridge spanned the falls at the present bridge's location. No doubt it was a favorite stop for passengers traveling on the nearby Oregon-Washington Railroad and navigation Co. (OWRN) main line running east from Portland, or on steamboat excursions up the Columbia. By at least 1891, the bridge was reinforced with additional timber bracing and cables but it vanished by 1899. ["ColumbiaRiverHighway.com" website, 2006]

Penny Postcard, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, ca.1890s Penny Postcard: Early Bridge, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, ca.1890s. Penny Postcard, Image ca.1890s, Postcard ca.1910, "Multnomah Falls on O.R. & N. Railroad, Oregon.". Published by Sprouse & Son, Tacoma, Washington. Made in Germany. Divided back. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.


Benson Bridge ...
In 1914 the "Benson Bridge" came into existence. The Bridge, crossing between the upper falls and the lower falls, was built by Simon Benson, a prominent businessman and owner of Multnomah Falls at that time. The bridge was crafted by Italian stone masons. Before then, a log bridge was in its place. Simon Benson eventually gave the 300-acre Multnomah Falls site to the City of Portland, and in 1943, final ownership of the Falls and the Lodge was transferred to the United States Forest Service. Benson State Recreation Area (often called Benson State Park) was also named after Simon Benson and is located downstream of Multnomah Falls.

Image, 2005, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, Benson Bridge, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Falls, Oregon, Benson Bridge. Image taken March 6, 2005.
Image, 2004, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, Benson Bridge, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Falls, Oregon, Benson Bridge. Image taken June 27, 2004.


"Multnomah" ...
According to the State of Oregon's "Blue Book", the name "Multnomah" is derived from "nematlnomaq", probably meaning "downriver".

In 1805, Lewis and Clark made note of the Indian village called "Multnomah" on Sauvie Island.

"... and 12 Leagues below quick Sand river passed a village of four large houses on The Lard. Side, ..." [Clark, November 4, 1805]

Moulton writes the "Multnomah" are:

"... An Upper Chinookan-language group living on Sauvie Island ("Multnomahs" on "Wappâto Island" on Atlas map 80), Multnomah County. The term is Chinookan má?numa(x?), "(those) at/toward the body of water." They are identified by tribe on Atlas maps 80, 88 ..."


According to H.H. Riddell, in his article "The Lesser Waterfalls Along the Columbia" (Mazama, December 1916, vol.V, no.1, p.84):

"... Multnomah falls, narrowly escaped being named after the earlier name of the creek and dubbed "Coon Creek falls" . ..."

Image, 2009, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon. Image taken July 5, 2009.


Tourism ...
Multnomah Falls is Oregon's most visited tourist attraction, having over 2 million visitors each year (2005).

Image, 2009, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, Benson Bridge, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Falls, Tourists, and the Benson Bridge. Image taken July 5, 2009.
Image, 2009, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, Benson Bridge, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Falls, Tourists, and the Benson Bridge. Image taken July 5, 2009.
Image, 2009, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, Benson Bridge, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Falls, Tourists, view from the Benson Bridge. The Columbia River and the hills of Washington State are in the background. Image taken July 5, 2009.


Views of Multnomah Falls ...

Image, 2005, Benson Bridge, click to enlarge
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Benson Bridge across the Multnomah Falls. Image taken October 22, 2005.
Image, 2005, Benson Bridge and Lower Multnomah Falls, click to enlarge
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Benson Bridge and Lower Multnomah Falls from the Historic Columbia River Highway Bridge. Image taken October 22, 2005.
Images, 2005, Multnomah Creek, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Creek, Oregon, flowing beneath the Historic Columbia River Highway Bridge, with Benson Bridge and the Lower Multnomah Falls in the background. Image taken October 22, 2005.
Image, 2005, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, Benson Bridge, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Falls, Oregon, with Benson Bridge. Image taken October 22, 2005.
Image, 2005, Multnomah Falls in October, click to enlarge
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Autumn Colors, Multnomah Falls, Oregon. Image taken October 22, 2005.
Image, 2005, Multnomah Falls, top of Lower Falls, click to enlarge
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Bottom of Upper Falls, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, with Benson Bridge. Image taken October 22, 2005.
Image, 2005, Multnomah Falls, top of Lower Falls, click to enlarge
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Top of Lower Falls, Multnomah Falls, Oregon. Image taken October 22, 2005.


Upper Pool and Lower Pool ...

Image, 2009, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Upper pool, Multnomah Falls, Oregon. View from the Benson Bridge. Image taken July 5, 2009.
Images, 2005, Pool, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Lower Pool, Multnomah Falls, Oregon. Image taken October 22, 2005.


Winter Waterfalls ...
A cold snap and freezing weather makes for great views of frozen waterfalls on both sides of the Columbia River Gorge, including Multnomah Falls.
[More, including Multnomah Falls in December 2005 and January 2007]

Images, 2005, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Winter, Multnomah Falls, Oregon. Image taken December 10, 2005.
Images, 2005, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Winter, Multnomah Falls and Benson Bridge, Oregon. Image taken December 10, 2005.
Images, 2005, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Winter, Multnomah Falls Pool, Oregon. Image taken December 10, 2005.
Images, 2005, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Winter, Benson Bridge, Multnomah Falls, Oregon. Image taken December 10, 2005.


"Multnomah Hazelwood" ...
The "Multnomah Hazelwood" was an ice-cream shop located along the Historic Columbia River Highway at Multnomah Falls. Open 365 days a year, the Hazelwood was built in 1916 and torn down in 1919. For a time, a Union Depot Station was connected to the Ice Cream shop.
[More]

Multnomah Falls Lodge ...
The Multnomah Falls Lodge is located at Multnomah Falls, Oregon. It was built in 1925 as an overnight rest area on the Historic Columbia River Highway. Originally the lodge had dormitories and four rooms for the overnight stays. As early as 1927 the building was enlarged, and again in 1929 the striped awning patio gained permanent walls and became part of the building. In 1981 the Multnomah Falls Lodge and Footpath were listed on the National Register of Historic Places (Building #81000512). Every type of rock found in the Columbia River Gorge is represented in the Lodge.
[More]

Images, 2005, Multnomah Falls Lodge, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Falls Lodge, Oregon. Image taken March 6, 2005.
Images, 2006, Multnomah Falls Lodge, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Christmas, Multnomah Falls Lodge, Oregon. Image taken December 23, 2006.


Historic Columbia River Highway ...
Multnomah Falls is located along the Historic Columbia River Highway.
[More]

Images, 2005, Multnomah Creek, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Creek, Oregon, flowing beneath the Historic Columbia River Highway Bridge. Image taken October 22, 2005.
Image, 2005, Historic Columbia River Highway, click to enlarge
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Historic Columbia River Highway at Multnomah Falls. Image taken June 29, 2005.
Image, 2012, Historic Columbia River Highway, click to enlarge
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Historic Columbia River Highway at Multnomah Falls. View shot from moving car. Image taken June 15, 2012.


Multnomah Creek ...

Multnomah Creek enters the Columbia River at River Mile (RM) 136.
[More]

Images, 2005, Multnomah Creek, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Creek, Oregon. Image taken October 22, 2005.
Images, 2005, Multnomah Creek, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Creek, Oregon. Image taken October 22, 2005.


Shady Creek Falls west of Multnomah Falls ...

Visible just west of Multnomah Falls behind Multnomah Lodge is an unnamed falls, which according to "Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest" website (2005), is locally called "Shady Creek Falls". Shady Creek Falls flows into Multnomah Creek. Good views of this falls can be had from the Multnomah Falls parking lot between the east bound and west bound lanes of Interstate 84. Shady Creek Falls is a tiered falls, 200 feet high and 10 feet wide, with 2 drops.
[More]

Images, 2005, Shady Creek Falls west of Multnomah Falls, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Shady Creek Falls, located west of Multnomah Falls, Oregon. View from Multnomah Falls parking lot. Image taken October 22, 2005.


From the Washington Side ...

Views of Multnomah Falls can be seen from St. Cloud Wayside, and along the road in the Prindle area of Washington State.

Image, 2005, Multnomah Falls from St. Cloud Wayside, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Falls, Oregon, as seen from St. Cloud Wayside, Washington. Image taken June 29, 2005.
Image, 2005, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, upper falls, from Prindle, Washington, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Falls, Oregon, upper falls, from Prindle, Washington. Image taken April 2, 2005.


View from the Parking Lot ...

Image, 2004, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, upper falls, from parking, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Falls, Oregon, upper falls, from parking lot off of I-84. Image taken June 27, 2004.


"The Golden Age of Postcards" ...

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

Penny Postcard, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, ca.1890s Penny Postcard: Early Bridge, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, ca.1890s. Penny Postcard, Image ca.1890s, Postcard ca.1910, "Multnomah Falls on O.R. & N. Railroad, Oregon.". Published by Sprouse & Son, Tacoma, Washington. Made in Germany. Divided back. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.

A "timbered" bridge existed at Multnomah Falls in the 1890s.

Penny Postcard, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, ca.1905 Penny Postcard: Multnomah Falls, Oregon, ca.1905. Penny Postcard, ca.1905, "Multnomah Falls". Published by B.B. Rich, Official Stationer. Card is in the same style as offical cards from the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
Penny Postcard, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, ca.1920 Penny Postcard: Multnomah Falls, Oregon, ca.1920s. Penny Postcard, ca.1920s, "Beautiful Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Highway, Ore.". Published by The Oregon News Co., Portland, Oregon. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.

Caption on back reads: "The Falls are about 780 feet high, and during the Spring and early Summer carry a very large vulume of water. Many tourists and picnickers stop at this point for lunch. Located 36 miles from Portland."

Penny Postcard, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, ca.1930 Penny Postcard: Multnomah Falls, Oregon, ca.1930. Penny Postcard, ca.1930, "Multnomah Falls, Benson Foot Bridge, Columbia River Highway, Oregon." Image Copyright Angelus. Published by E.C. Kropp Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.

Caption on back reads: "Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Highway, the second falls in size in the United States, drop in a veil of foamy white 620 feet down the rock walls of the Gorge. A foot trail leads from the highway across Benson Bridge, past the Falls, and on up to Larch mountain, an extinct volcano."

Penny Postcard, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, ca.1920 Penny Postcard: Winter, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, ca.1920. Penny Postcard, ca.1920, "Multnomah Falls in Winter, Columbia River Highway." Published by Van Nuy Interstate Company. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
MORE Penny Postcards of Multnomah Falls Button


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, November 2, 1805 ...
Examined the rapid below us [from their camp at Fort Rains, looking at the Cascade Rapids] more pertcelarly the danger appearing too great to Hazzard our Canoes loaded, dispatched all the men who could not Swim with loads to the end of the portage below, I also walked to the end of the portage with the carriers where I delayed untill everry articles was brought over and canoes arrived Safe. here we brackfast and took a Meridn. altitude 59° 45' 45" about the time we were Setting out 7 Squars came over loaded with Dried fish, and bear grass neetly bundled up, Soon after 4 Indian men came down over the rapid in a large canoe.     passed a rapid at 2 miles & 1 at 4 miles opposite the lower point of a high Island on the Lard Side [Bradford Island], and a little below 4 Houses on the Stard. Bank, a Small Creek on the Lard Side [Tanner Creek] opposit Straw berry Island [Hamilton Island], which heads below the last rapid, opposit the lower point of this Island [Hamilton Island] passed three Islands covered with tall timber [today there are two, Ives and Pierce] opposit the Beatin rock [Beacon Rock]     Those Islands are nearest the Starboard Side, imediately below on the Stard. Side passed a village of nine houses [Skamania and Skamania Landing], which is Situated between 2 Small Creeks [Woodward Creek and Duncan Creek], and are of the Same construction of those above; here the river widens to near a mile, and the bottoms are more extensive and thickly timbered, as also the high mountains on each Side, with Pine, Spruce pine, Cotton wood, a Species of ash, and alder.     at 17 miles passed a rock near the middle of the river [Phoca Rock], about 100 feet high and 80 feet Diamuter,     proceed on down a Smoth gentle Stream of about 2 miles wide, in which the tide has its effect as high as the Beaten rock [Beacon Rock] or the Last rapids at Strawberry Island [Hamilton Island],- Saw great numbers of waterfowl of Different kinds, Such as Swan, Geese, white & grey brants, ducks of various kinds, Guls, & Pleaver [today just below Beacon Rock is Franz National Wildlife Refuge]. ...     we encamped under a high projecting rock on the Lard. Side [Rooster Rock, with Crown Point rising above it],     here the mountains leave the river on each Side [leaving the Columbia River Gorge, Steigerwald Land NWR is on the north and the Sandy River delta is on the south], which from the great Shute to this place is high and rugid [Columbia River Gorge]; thickly Covered with timber principalley of the Pine Species. The bottoms below appear extensive and thickly Covered with wood.     river here about 2˝ miles wide.     Seven Indians in a Canoe on their way down to trade with the nativs below, encamp with us, those we left at the portage passed us this evening and proceeded on down The ebb tide rose here about 9 Inches, the flood tide must rise here much higher- we made 29 miles to day from the Great Shute [Cascade Locks]-






Lewis, April 9, 1806 ...
This morning early we commenced the operation of reloading our canoes; at 7 A. M. we departed [from their camp at Shepperds Dell] and proceeded on to the Camp of Reubin and Joseph Fields [near Dodson, Oregon] they had not killed any game; we made no halt at this place but continued our rout to the Wah-clel-lah Village which is situated on the North side of the river [upstream of the location of today's Skamania and Skamania Landing, between Duncan and Woodward Creeks] about a mile below the beacon rock [Beacon Rock]; here we halted and took breakfast. ...     this village appears to be the winter station of the Wah-clel-lahs and Clahclellars, the greater part of the former have lately removed to the falls of the Multnomah, and the latter have established themselves a few miles above on the North side of the river opposite the lower point of brant island [Bradford Island], being the commencement of the rapids, here they also take their salmon; they are now in the act of removing, and not only take with them their furniture and effects but also the bark and most of the boards which formed their houses. 14 houses remain entire but are at this time but thinly inhabited, nine others appear to have been lately removed, and the traces of ten or twelve others of ancient date were to be seen in the rear of their present village. ...     on our way to this village we passed several beautifull cascades which fell from a great hight over the stupendious rocks which cloles the river on both sides nearly, except a small bottom on the South side in which our hunters were encamped. the most remarkable of these casscades falls about 300 feet perpendicularly over a solid rock into a narrow bottom of the river on the south side. it is a large creek, situated about 5 miles above our encampment of the last evening. several small streams fall from a much greater hight, and in their decent become a perfect mist which collecting on the rocks below again become visible and decend a second time in the same manner before they reach the base of the rocks. [Multnomah Falls area]     the hills have now become mountains high on each side are rocky steep and covered generally with fir and white cedar. ...     at 2 P. M. we renewed our voyage; passed under the beacon rock [Beacon Rock] on the north side, to the left of two small islands situated near the shore [Ives and Pierce Islands].     at four P.M. we arrived at the Clah-clel-lah village; here we found the natives busily engaged in erecting their new habitations, which appear to be reather of a temperary kind; it is most probable that they only reside here during the salmon season. we purchased two dogs of these people who like those of the village blow were but sulky and illy disposed; they are great rogues and we are obliged to keep them at a proper distance from our baggage. as we could not ascend the rapid [foot of the Cascade Rapids] by the North side of the river with our large canoes [Hamilton Island area], we passed to the oposite side and entered the narrow channel which seperates brant Island [Bradford Island] from the South shore; the evening being far spent and the wind high raining and very cold we thought best not to attempt the rapids [Cascade Rapids] this evening, we therefore sought a safe harbour in this narrow channel and encamped on the main shore [Tanner Creek, Oregon]. our small canoe with Drewyer and the two feildses was unable to pass the river with us in consequence of the waves they therefore toed her up along the N. side of the river and encamped [upstream end of Bonneville Dam, location of today's North Powerhouse] opposite the upper point of brant Island [Bradford Island]. after halting this evening I took a turn with my gun in order to kill a deer, but was unsuccessful. I saw much fresh sign. the fir has been lately injured by a fire near this place and many of them have discharged considerable quantities of rozin. we directed that Collins should hunt a few hours tomorrow morning and that Gibson and his crew should remain at his place untill we returned and employ themselves in collectng rozin which our canoes are now in want of.





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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:   Beeson and Tolan, 1987; National Register of Historic Places website, 2005; Norman, D.K., and Roloff, J.M., 2004, A Self-Guided Tour of the Geology of the Columbia River Gorge -- Portland Airport to Skamania Lodge, Stevenson, Washington: Washington Division of Geology and Earth Resources, Open-File Report 2004-7, March 2004; Oregon Blue Book website, 2005; "PDXHistory.com" website, 2006; Riddell, H.H., 1916, "The Lesser Waterfalls Along the Columbia": IN: Mazama, December 1916, vol.V, no.1.; U.S. Forest Service website, 2004; Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest 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 2010