Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Wallula Gap, Washington"
Includes ... Wallula Gap ... Wallula Gap National Natural Landmark ... Twin Sisters ... Columbia River Basalt Group (CRBG) ... Missoula Floods ... McKenzie's Head ... Ross's Head ...
Image, 2005, Wallula Gap from Sand Station, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Wallula Gap, with Port Kelley grain elevators, as seen from Sand Station Recreation Area, Oregon. Image taken September 24, 2005.

"... the hills ... again approach the river and are rocky abrupt and 300 feet high. ..." [Lewis, April 27, 1806]


Wallula Gap ...
The Wallula Gap spans both sides of the Columbia River (Lake Wallula) and is located in southern Washington State, 16 miles south of Pasco, Washington. Upstream of the Wallula Gap is the mouth of the Walla Walla River and Wallula, Washington, home of an early trading post known as Fort Nez Perce. The fort was located at the bend of the Columbia with a view straight down the Gap. Across from the mouth of the Walla Walla at the edge of the Wallula Gap basalts is the former Washington State town of Yellepit, the location of Lewis and Clark's campsite of April 27 and 28, 1806. At the head of the Wallula Gap lies Port Kelley and Spring Gulch. Lewis and Clark spent the night of October 19, 1805, near Spring Gulch.

"... the river passes into the range of high Countrey at which place the rocks project into the river from the high clifts which is on the Lard. Side about 2/3 of the way across and those of the Stard. Side about the Same distance, the Countrey rises here about 200 feet above The water and is bordered with black rugid rocks ..."
[Clark, October 18, 1805]

Wallula Gap Basalts ...
The basalts flows of the Wallula Gap were created in the Miocene Era, over 10 million years ago, and are part of the massive fissure flood basalts of the Columbia River Basalt Group (CRBG). Wallula Gap was created when ancestral Columbia and Snake Rivers flowed through a low area of the basalts.
[More]

The Creation of Wallula Gap ...
From Geologist Bruce Bjornstad of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, as presented to the Geological Society of America's annual meeting in Salt Lake City on October 17, 2005:

"... The story of Wallula Gap begins back in the Miocene Epoch, about 17 million years ago. At that time, lava flows of basalt ran out of giant fissures in the Earth's crust east of here, near the Idaho-Oregon-Washington border. During basalt volcanism, the southern and western portions of the Columbia Plateau, including Wallula Gap, began to warp and fold under stresses deep in the Earth's crust. The bending of the ancient lava flows is clearly visible in the folded layers of basalt exposed in the steep walls of the gap.

Early in the history of folding, the ridgecrest here was slightly lower than elsewhere along the ridge. This caused first the ancient Salmon-Clearwater River (precursor to the Snake River), and then the Columbia River to flow across the ridge over this low point. As the ridge continued to bend upward, river erosion kept pace, and a water gap developed. Until about 10 million years ago only the ancestral Salmon-Clearwater River flowed through Wallula Gap. It wasn't until about 6 million years ago that the Columbia River joined in, where it has continued to flow ever since. Somewhere between 2 and 3 million years ago, the ancestral Salmon-Clearwater River captured the Snake River in the vicinity of Hell's Canyon, along the Idaho-Oregon border; this added significantly to the amount of water draining through the gap. ..."


Wallula Gap and the Missoula Floods ...
Wallula Gap is the largest, the most spectacular, and the most significant of the several large water gaps through the basalt anticlines in the Columbia Basin, and funneled the mighty waters of the Missoula Floods. The Missoula floods are the largest known floods on Earth in the last two million years; the flow of water was ten times the combined flow of all the rivers of the world. The flood crest at Wallula Gap on the Columbia River at the Washington-Oregon border was about 1,200 feet, as evidenced by glacial erratics that were left stranded on the slopes of the Horse Heaven Hills and other anticlinal ridges. The water that poured down the Columbia River Gorge stripped away soil, surficial sediments, and talus up to 1,000 feet elevation as far as The Dalles, Oregon . By the time it reached Crown Point, the surface of the last flood (there were over 40 individual floods) had dropped to about 600 feet elevation The average interval between Missoula floods was about 30 years, with the last flood occurring about 13,000 years ago.
[More]

Early Wallula Gap ...
Lewis and Clark first saw the Wallula Gap on October 18, 1805, as they headed downstream from their camp at the confluence of the Columbia and the Snake, the location of today's Sacajawea State Park. The Corps camped that night near Spring Gulch Creek and proceeded through the Gap the next day.

"... the river passes into the range of high Countrey at which place the rocks project into the river from the high clifts which is on <both> the Lard. Side about 2/3 of the way across those of the Stard Side about the Same distance, the Countrey rises here about 200 feet above The water and is bordered wth black rugid rocks ..." [Clark, October 18, 1805]

Alexander Ross (Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River, published in 1849) journeyed upstream on the Columbia River in 1811 and reached the Wallula Gap and the "Walla Walla River on August 12th.

"... On the 12th we left our camp early, and in a short time came to the colonnade rocks, which suddenly terminated in two huge bluffs, one on each side of the river, exactly opposite to each other, like monumental columns. The river between these bluffs lies right south and north. The banks of the river then become low with sand and gravel, and the plains open full to view again, particularly on the east side. Close under the right bluff issues the meandering Walla-Walla, a beautiful little river, lined with weeping willows. It takes its rise in the blue mountains already noticed. ..." [Ross, August 12, 1811]

In 1838 on the "Map of the United States Territory of Oregon West of the Rocky Mountains" the area of the Wallula Gap had it labeled "Gt. Bend.". Upstream was the "Walla Walla R." and "Ft. Nezperces". Downstream was the "Umatallow R.". The large basalt ridge across from the Walla Walla River was labeled "Volcanic M."

"Wallula" (the Name) ...

According to Robert Hitchman in Place Names of Washington (1985, Washington State Historical Society), "Wallula" has the same meaning as "Walla Walla" in the Nez Perce language, meaning "plenty of water" or "place of many waters".

Wallula Gap National Natural Landmark ...
The Wallula Gap was designated as a National Natural Landmark in August, 1980.

Early Journey through the Wallula Gap ...
William Henry Gray, in his history of Oregon from 1792 to 1849 (published in 1870) wrote about passing through the Wallula Gap.

"... Twenty-five miles above Castle Rock stands the thriving little town of Umatilla, at the mouth of the river of the same name, and nine miles above is Windmill Rock. In ascending the river fifteen miles from this place, the land on either side rises to some fifteen hundred feet above the level of the river which occupies the entire bottom from rocks to rocks on either side; when the land suddenly drops from this high plain which extends from the Blue Mountains on the east to the Cascade range on the west, forming, as it were, a great inland dam across the Columbia River, fifteen hundred feet high at the place where the river has broken through the dam. As you pass out of this gap, in looking to the north and east, the eye rests upon another vast, high, rolling plain, in the southeastern part of which lies the beautiful valley of the Wallawalla. ...     The most of this vast, high, rolling plain, and especially the valleys, have more or less of alkali soil; the high plains are similar to those we have just passed, --- destitute of all kinds of timber, except at the foot of the mountains, and small patches of willow and cotton-wood, in some little nook or corner, near some spring or stream. ..." [Gray, 1870]

"Castle Rock" is the now historic location of Castle Rock, Oregon, with Umatilla and the Umatilla River located upstream. Nine miles above the Umatilla River is located Hat Rock and Boat Rock. Perhaps one of them is "Windmill Rock" ??? On the east side of the Wallula Gap is the Walla Walla River and the Blue Mountains, a spectacular view when heading east across the Gap.


Views ...

Image, 2005, Wallula Gap, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Wallula Gap from the east. Image taken September 25, 2005.
Image, 2003, Port Kelley and Spring Gulch, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Wallula Gap from the east. View of Port Kelley, Washington, with Spring Gulch drainage visible (v-shape valley), as seen from Washington State Highway 730, south of Wallula Junction. Image taken September 29, 2003.
Image, 2005, Wallula Junction from Highway 730, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Wallula Junction from Highway 730, Wallula Gap. Looking at the Port of Walla Walla between basalts of the Wallula Gap. Image taken September 25, 2005.
Image, 2005, Wallula Gap and the Twin Sisters, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Wallula Gap and the Twin Sisters, as seen from Port Kelley, Washington. Image taken September 25, 2005.
Image, 2005, Wallula Gap basalts with Wallula, Washington, click to enlarge
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Wallula Gap basalts, with Wallula, Washington in the distance. Right bank, as seen Highway 730. Image taken September 24, 2005.
Image, 2005, CEFX 106 going through Wallula Gap at Port Kelley, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
CEFX 106 passing through Wallula Gap at Port Kelley. Image taken September 24, 2005.


Wallula Gap Basalt Flows ...

Image, 2005, Wallula Gap basalts, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Wallula Gap basalts, right bank. Image taken September 25, 2005.
Image, 2003, Wallula Gap basalts, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Wallula Gap basalt flows, right bank, as seen from upstream. Image taken September 29, 2003.
Image, 2005, Spring Gulch, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Wallula Gap basalt flows, right bank, as seen from Spring Gulch, Washington. View looking across the Columbia River. Image taken September 24, 2005.
Image, 2003, Wallula Gap basalts, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Wallula Gap basalt flows, left bank. Image taken September 29, 2003.


Wallula Gap from Upstream ...

Image, 2005, Wallula Gap as seen from Wallula, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Evening, Wallula Gap as seen from Wallula Viewpoint, Wallula, Washington. Image taken September 24, 2005.
Image, 2005, Wallula Gap as seen from Wallula, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Morning, Wallula Gap as seen from Wallula, Washington. Image taken September 25, 2005.
Image, 2005, Wallula Gap as seen from Wallula, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Wallula Gap as seen from Wallula, Washington. The mouth of the Walla Walla River is visible on the left. Image taken September 25, 2005.


Wallula Gap from Downstream ...

Image, 2005, Wallula Gap from Juniper Canyon, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Wallula Gap, as seen from Juniper Canyon, Oregon. Image taken September 25, 2005.
Image, 2003, Wallula Gap from downstream, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Wallula Gap, Washington, as seen downstream from pullover on Highway 730, just east of Sand Station Recreation Area, Oregon. Image taken September 29, 2003.
Image, 2004, Wallula Gap as seen from Hat Rock, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Wallula Gap as seen from Hat Rock, Oregon. Image taken September 24, 2004.


Wallula Gap, etc.

  • McKenzie's Head and Ross's Head ...
  • Twin Sisters ...


McKenzie's Head and Ross's Head ...
"... The Columbia river immediately below Wallula passes through what is now known as the Gap, formed by high cliffs on either side. Just below the Gap, in fact in it, a small island is located. The two rocky cliffs were known to the fur traders as McKenzie's Head and Ross's Head, so called after the two men who built Fort Nez Percees, or Fort Walla Walla as more generally called, in July and August 1818. ..."


Source: T.C. Elliott, 1910, "Peter Skene Ogden, Fur Trader", IN: The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, vol.XI, no.3, p.240, September 1910.


Twin Sisters ...
The Twin Sisters is a distinctive basalt formation within the Wallula Gap.
[More]

Image, 2004, Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap. Image taken September 26, 2004.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 18, 1805, first draft ...
S. E. 1 1/2 miles to mo. of a <Creek> river 40 yds wide under a high Clift. in the Lard. bend [Walla Walla River] here the river enters the high countrey [Wallula Gap] rising abt. 200 feet above the Water large black rocks makeing out from Lard. half across the river and some distance from Stard. Side [Columbia River Basalt]. ... we Encamped a little below & opsd. the lower point of the Island on the Lard. Side [near Spring Gulch Creek] no wood to be found we were obliged to make use Small drid willows to Cook


Clark, October 18, 1805 ...
This morning Cool and fare wind from the S. E. ...     Took our leave of the Chiefs and all those about us [from their camp, the location of today's Sacajawea State Park] and proceeded on down the great Columbia river     passed a large Island at 8 miles about 3 miles in length, a Island on the Stard. Side the upper point of which is opposit the center of the last mentioned Island and reaches 3 miles below the 1st. Island and opposit to this near the middle of the river nine Lodges are Situated on the upper point at a rapid which is between the lower point of the 1st Island and upper point of this; great numbers of Indians appeared to be on this Island, and emence quantites of fish Scaffold     we landed a few minits to view a rapid which Commenced at the lower point, passd this rapid which was verry bad between 2 Small Islands two Still Smaller near the Lard. Side, at this rapid on the Stard. Side is 2 Lodges of Indians Drying fish, at 2 miles lower and 14 below the point passed an Island Close under the Stard. Side on which was 2 Lodges of Indians drying fish on Scaffolds as above

[Today this reach has been inundated by the waters of Lake Wallula, the reservoir behind the McNary Dam. The Burbank Slough - part of the McNary National Wildlife Refuge - dominates the eastern bank of the Columbia and two islands which remain offshore of Wallula are Crescent Island and Badger Island.]    

at 16 miles from the point [junction of the Snake River with the Columbia, location of today's Sacajawea State Park] the river passes into the range of high Countrey at which place the rocks project into the river from the high clifts [Wallula Gap] which is on <both> the Lard. Side about 2/3 of the way across those of the Stard Side about the Same distance, the Countrey rises here about 200 feet above The water and is bordered wth black rugid rocks [Columbia River Basalt],     at the Commencement of this high Countrey [Wallula Gap] on Lard Side a Small riverlet falls in [Walla Walla River] which appears to passed under the high County in its whole cose     Saw a mountain bearing S. W. conocal form Covered with Snow [Mount Hood, Oregon].    passed 4 Islands, at the upper point of the <first> 3rd is a rapid, on this Island is two Lodges of Indians, drying fish, on the fourth Island Close under the Stard. Side is nine large Lodges of Indians Drying fish on Scaffolds as above [Yellepit area]; at this place we were called to land, as it was near night and no appearance of wood [Lewis and Clark are in the Port Kelley area, where today the islands offshore are under the waters of Lake Wallula.],     we proceeded on about 2 miles lower to Some willows, at which place we observed a drift log     formed a Camp on the Lard Side [Spring Gulch] under a high hill nearly opposit to five Lodges of Indians; Soon after we landed, our old Chiefs informed us that the large camp above "was the Camp of the 1st Chief of all the tribes in this quarter [Chief Yellepit], and that he had called to us to land and Stay all night with him, that he had plenty of wood for us &" This would have been agreeable to us if it had have been understood perticelarly as we were compelled to Use drid willows for fuel for the purpose of cooking, we requested the old Chiefs to walk up on the Side we had landed and call to the Chief to come down and Stay with us all night which they did;     ... we made 21 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

Sources: Bjornstad, B., 2005, Personal Discovery of Cataclysmic, Ice Age Floods Through Geocaching, Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America, Salt Lake City, Utah, October 17, 2005, by Bruce Bjornstad, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Early Canadiana Online website, 2006, "William Henry Gray's A history of Oregon, 1792-1849, drawn from personal observation and authentic information, published in 1870."; Mountain Men and the Fur Trade website, 2007; Norman, D.K., Busacca, A.J., and Teissere, R., 2004, Geology of the Yakima Valley Wine Country - A Geologic Field Trip Guide from Stevenson to Zillah, Washington, Washington Division of Geology and Earth Resources Field Trip Guide 1, June 2004; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla District website, 2004; U.S. National Park Service website, 2004; Washington State University website, 2005, "Early Washington Maps: A Digital Collection".

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