Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Blue Mountains"
Includes ... Blue Mountains ... Ochoco Mountains ... Aldrich Mountains ... Strawberry Range ... Greenhorn Mountains ... Elkhorn Mountains ...
Image, 2005, Blue Mountains, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains (in the distance) as seen from outside Pasco, Washington, near the Burbank Slough. Image taken September 25, 2005.

Blue Mountains ...
The Blue Mountains is a range which runs through northwest Oregon and southwest Washington.

"The backbone of the Blue Mountains begins in Grant County and runs northward through Baker, Union, Umatilla, and Wallowa counties in Oregon and into Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield, and Asotin counties in Washington." [McArthur and McArthur, 2003, "Oregon Geographic Names"]

The Blue Mountains are mainly composed of sedimentary and metamorphic rocks and are generally divided into the Ochoco Mountains, the Aldrich Mountains, the Strawberry Range, Greenhorn Mountains, and Elkhorn Mountains (source: "Oregon Geographic Names", 2003), although local usage occasionally varies from these ranges (source: "geonames.usgs.gov" website, 2018).

Lewis and Clark and the Blue Mountains ...
Captain Clark mentions the Blue Mountains on October 16, 1805, as he journeys along the Snake River. The "range of high Countrey" is today's Horse Heaven Hills and the "S W. range of mountains" is the Blue Mountains of Oregon and Idaho.

"In every direction from the junction of those rivers the Countrey is one Continued plain low and rises from the water gradually, except a range of high Countrey which runs from S. W & N E and is on the opposit Side about 2 miles distant from the Collumbia and keeping its derection S W untill it joins a S W. range of mountains." [Clark, October 16, 1805]

And on October 17:

"I can proceive a range of mountains to the East which appears to bare N. & South distant about 50 or 60 miles." [Clark, October 17, 1805]

Early Blue Mountains ...
The Blue Mountains were noted by nearly every explorer who passed through the area, including Lewis and Clark, who made mention of them in 1805, on their journey to the Pacific Ocean (see above).

Other early references are listed in "Oregon Geographic Names" (2003, McArthur and McArthur):

"One of the first references to these mountains is by Gabriel Franchere, one of the Astorians. On arriving at the Walla Walla River, he wrote: "A range of mountains was visible to the S.E., about fifty or sixty miles off". He does not give the mountains a name. On July 9, 1811, David Thompson of the North West Company of Montreal referred to them as Shawpatin Mountains, but in his entry for August 8, 1811, he said: "Beginning of course to see the Blue Mountains between the Shawpatin and the Snake Indians." ... Alexander Ross, J.L. Townsend, David Douglas, Peter Skene Ogden, John Work, and other early travelers continued to use the name Blue Mountains."

In 1811, Alexander Ross wrote (published 1849):

"August 10, 1811:   On the 10th, at an early hour, we proceeded on our voyage, and met with no obstacle till the evening, when we arrived at the foot of a long and strong rapid Umatilla Rapids, now the location of McNary Dam], where we encamped near the mouth of a considerable river called Umatallow [Umatilla River], which enters the Columbia here. This river takes its rise in a long range of blue mountains, which runs nearly east and west, and forms the northern boundary of the great Snake nation."

"August 12, 1811:   Close under the right bluff [Wallula Gap] issues the meandering Walla-Walla [Walla Walla River], a beautiful little river, lined with weeping willows. It takes its rise in the blue mountains already noticed."

In 1830, John Work wrote:

August 22, 1830:   ... camp near the foot of the Blue Mountains on a branch of the Walla Walla."

In 1851, Rev. Gustavus Hines wrote:

"Descending these mountains to the east [Cascade Range], you come into the valleys, successively, through wich the river "De Shoots," John Day’s river, the Unatila, and the Walla-Walla flow, before emptying into the Columbia; and on the north side of the latter river, you come down into the valley of the north branch of the same river. On the north, this middle region is comparatively level, until you approach the northern ridge of the Blue mountains; but on the south side there are innumerable hills between the small rivers already mentioned, as also many plains of greater or less extent. As you approach the Blue mountains on the south, particularly on the Unatilla and Walla-Walla rivers, the hills disappear, and you find yourself passing over a beautiful and level country, about twenty-five or thirty miles broad, on the further borders of which rise with indescribable beauty and grandeur, that range which, from its azure-like appearance, has been called the "Blue Mountains." This valley, extending from the Cascade to the Blue mountains, is about one hundred and seventy-five miles broad, and the traveler in passing through it, meets with a continued succession of rocks, hills and plains of all dimensions, but generally he is well pleased with the face of the country."

Views ...

Image, 2003, Columbia River downstream of Two Rivers County Park, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Columbia River looking downsteam from Two Rivers County Park, Washington. The Blue Mountains are low along the horizon in the distance. Image taken September 29, 2003.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 16, 1805 ...
In every direction from the junction of those rivers [Snake River with the Columbia River] the Countrey is one Continued plain low and rises from the water gradually, except a range of high Countrey [Horse Heaven Hills' which runs from S. W & N E and is on the opposit Side about 2 miles distant from the Collumbia and keeping its derection S W untill it joins a S W. range of mountains [Blue Mountains].

Clark, October 17, 1805 ...
I took two men in a Small Canoe and assended the Columbia river 10 miles to an Island [Bateman Island] near the Stard. Shore on which two large Mat Lodges of Indians were drying Salmon, ... there is no timber of any Sort except Small willow bushes in Sight in any direction - from this Island the natives showed me the enterance of a large Westerly fork which they Call Tâpetętt [Yakima River] at about 8 miles distant, the evening being late I deturmined to return to the forks [Snake River with the Columbia River, to their camp at today's Sacajawea State Park], at which place I reached at Dark. from the point up the Columbia River is N. 83° W. 6 miles to the lower point of an Island near the Lard. Side passed a Island in the middle of the river at 5 miles [Clover Island] at the head of which is a rapid, not dangerous on the Lard Side opposite to this rapid is a fishing place 3 Mat Lodges, and great quants. of Salmon on Scaffolds drying. ... The Waters of this river is Clear, and a Salmon may be Seen at the deabth of 15 or 20 feet. West 4 miles to the lower point of a large island [Bateman Island] near the Stard. Side at 2 Lodges, passed three large lodges on the Stard Side near which great number of Salmon was drying on Scaffolds ... I Set out & halted or came too on the Island at the two Lodges [Bateman Island]. Several fish was given to me, in return for Which I gave Small pieces of ribbond from those Lodges the natives Showed me the mouth of Tap teel River [Yakima River] about 8 miles above on the west Side this western fork appears to beare nearly West, The main Columbia river N W.- a range of high land to the S W [Horse Heaven Hills] and parralal to the river and at the distance of 2 miles on the Lard. Side, the countrey low on the Stard. Side, and all Coverd. with a weed or plant about 2 & three feet high and resembles the whins. I can proceive a range of mountains to the East which appears to bare N. & South distant about 50 or 60 miles [Blue Mountains]. no wood to be Seen in any derection ...

Snake River ConfluenceReturn 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

  • Hines, Rev. G., 1851, "Oregon: Its History, Condition and Prospects: ...", Geo. H. Derby and Co.;
  • McArthur, L.A., and McArthur, L.L., 2003, "Oregon Geographic Names", Oregon Historical Society Press, Portland;
  • Meany, E.S., 1923, "Origin of Washington Geographic Names", University of Washington Press, Seattle;
  • Ross, A., 1849, "Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon Or Columbia River: Being a Narrative of the Expedition Fitted Out by John Jacob Astor, to Establish the "Pacific Fur Company", with an Account of Some Indian Tribes on the Coast of the Pacific", Smith, Elder and Company;
  • U.S. Geological Survey's "geonames.usgs.gov" database, 2018;
  • Work, John, 1830, "Journal of John Work, Covering Snake Country Expedition of 1830-31", IN: Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol.XIII, 1912;

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.
September 2005