Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Alkali, Alkali Canyon, and China Ditch, Oregon"
Includes ... Alkali ... Alkali Canyon ... China Ditch ... China Creek ... Alkali Creek ... Oregon Trail ...
Image, 2004, Arlington, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Arlington, Oregon. Arlington lies at the mouth of the Alkali Canyon. Image taken September 26, 2004.

Alkali ...
Today's Oregon community of Arlington lies at the mouth of Alkali Canyon, and, in pioneer days the town was known as Alkali.

Alkali Canyon ...
Alkali Canyon extends south from Arlington, Oregon and then heads west to Rock Creek, a tributary of the John Day River. China Ditch flows through Alkali Canyon. Downstream from Alkali Canyon is Jones Canyon and Blalock Canyon.

China Ditch ...
In 1988 the U.S. Board of Geographic Names made "China Ditch" the official name for the drainage existing in Alkali Canyon. Other names in use at the time were "Alkali Creek" and "China Creek".

According to "Oregon Geographic Names" (2003, McArthur and McArthur):

"China Ditch (GILLIAM) ... The city of Arlington lies at the mouth of a long draw named Alkali Canyon. Most of the year this canyon is dry but when the Condon branch of the Union Pacific was built in 1904, a drainage ditch was dug alongside the railroad grade. Much of the work was done by Chinese laborers. When the job was finished, one family stayed and built a laundry near the ditch, which soon became known as China Ditch. This drainage was later called China Creek, but at the request of Marion Weatherford, a longtime resident, the anachronism was elimated and the dry watercourse was given back its original name."

Alkali Canyon and the Oregon Trail ...
Between Willow Creek and the John Day River, the wagons of the Oregon Trail traveled down the flat valley of Alkali Canyon. Alkali Canyon extends south from Arlington, Oregon for approximately eight miles before turning west and heading to Rock Creek, a tributary of the John Day River.

Alkali 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


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 20, 1805 ...

Columbia PlateauReturn to

*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, Portland;
  • Oregon State Archives website, 2005, "A 1940 Journey Across Oregon";
  • U.S. Geologic Survey's Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) database, 2014;

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.
May 2014