Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Phoca Rock, Washington"
Includes ... Phoca Rock ... "Seal Rock" ... "Lone Rock" ... "Sentinel Rock" ... "Hermit Islet" ... Phoca ...
Image, 2004, Phoca Rock as seen from Bridal Veil Overlook, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Phoca Rock as seen from Bridal Veil Overlook, Oregon. Image taken October 10, 2004.

"... at 17 miles passed a rock near the middle of the river about 100 feet high and 80 feet Diamuter ..." [Clark, November 2, 1805]

Phoca Rock ...
Phoca Rock lies along the Washington shore of the Columbia River at River Mile (RM) 132, just offshore from large basalt feature of Cape Horn and Cape Horn Landing. Across the Columbia on the Oregon side is Dalton Point. Phoca Rock is a landslide remnant, the result of undercutting of the Columbia's southern bank by the Missoula Floods.

Lewis and Clark and Phoca Rock ...
Phoca Rock was named by Lewis and Clark, after the Latin (Greek?) word for "seal", as presumably they saw many seals in the area. However in their journals for November 2, 1805, the day they passed Phoca Rock, they make no mention of spotting "seals" of any kind.

"... at 17 miles passed a rock near the middle of the river about 100 feet high and 80 feet Diamuter ..." [Clark, November 2, 1805]

The name "Pho ca rock" does appear in their writings during the winter while in their camp at Fort Clatsop.

"... 11 miles to the Pho ca rock in midl. Rivr. 100 foot high, Saw Seal's; ..." [Clark, winter 1805-1806]

"Lone Rock" and "Sentinal Rock" ...
Throughout history the Phoca Rock has also been called "Lone Rock" and "Sentinel Rock". In 1841 Charles Wilkes of the U.S. Exploring Expedition called it "Hermit Islet".

Penny Postcard, Phoca Rock and Steamer, ca.1920
Click image to enlarge
"Lone Rock" and Steamer, ca.1920 Penny Postcard, ca.1920, "Columbia River Showing Lone Rock Near Cape Horn, Oregon". Pacific Novelty Co., San Francisco and Los Angeles. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
Penny Postcard, Phoca Rock, ca.1910
Click image to enlarge
"Sentinel Rock", Columbia River, ca.1910 Penny Postcard, ca.1910, "Sentinel Rock, Columbia River.". Card #4046, Published by M. Rieder, Los Angeles. Postmarked August 1913. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.

"Phoca" ...
According to Moulton, the "seal" which Lewis and Clark spotted was the Harbor Seal, "Phoca vitulina richardii". Today the Pacific Harbor Seal, California Sea Lion, and the Steller Sea Lion frequent the waters of the lower Columbia River, from its mouth at Clatsop Spit all the way up past the Bonneville Dam.

Lewis and Clark and the "Phoca" ...
"... The Seal or Phoca are found here in great numbers, and as far up the Columbia as the great Falls, above which there are none. I have reasons to believe from the information of the men that there are Several Species of the Phoca on this Coast and in the river, but what the difference is I am unable to State not haveing Seen them myself Sufficiently near for manute inspection nor obtain the different kinds to make a comparison. the Skins of Such as I have Seen are covered with a Short thick Coarse Glossy hair of a redish bey brown Colour. tho' the animal while in the water, or as we saw them frequently in the river appear to be black and Spoted with white sometimes. I am not much acquainted with the Seal, but Suppose that they are the Same common also to the atlantic Ocian in the Same parrelal of Latitude. the Skins, or those which I have Seen are presisely Such as trunks are frequently Covered with. the flesh of this animal is highly prised by the nativs who Swinge the hair off and then roste the flesh on Sticks before the fire. ..."

[Clark, February 23, 1806, while at Fort Clatsop]

Views ...

Image, 2005, Phoca Rock in front of Cape Horn, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Windy Weather, Phoca Rock, as seen from Dalton Point, Oregon. According to the evening news, winds were sustaining at 30-40 with gusts of 60-70. Image taken December 10, 2005.
Image, 2015, Columbia River looking upstream from Cape Horn, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Phoca Rock, as seen from Cape Horn, Washington. Image taken October 3, 2015.

"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.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, November 2, 1805, first draft ...
Meridian altitude 59 45' 45" made a portage of about 1 miles with half of the Baggage, and run the rapid with the Canoes without much damage ... we Set out Passed 2 bad rapids one at 2 & the other at 4 mile below the Isd on Lard. [Bradford Island] and upper end of Strawberry Island [Hamilton Island] on the Stard. Side from the Creek end of last Course

S. 50 W. 5 miles to a timbered bottom on the Lard. Side, passed the Lowr. point of Strawbery Isd. at 3 miles [Hamilton Island], a Isd Covd with wood below on Stard. Side a remarkable high rock on Stard. [Beacon Rock] Side about 800 feet high & 400 yds round, the Beaten Rock. The mountains and bottoms thickly timbered with Pine Spruce Cotton and a kind of maple Passed 2 Small wooded Islands on Std. Side [today Ives and Pierce Island], <opsd> below the lower Island on the Stard. Side at 4 miles an Indian village of 9 Houses. The river wider and bottoms more extencive.

S. 47 W. 12 miles to a <Lard.> Stard. point of rocks of a high clift of black rocks [Cape Horn]. passed a Stard. Point at 4 miles. here the mountains are low on each Side & thickly timbered with pine. river about 2 miles wide, passed a rock at 10 miles in the middle of the river [Phoca Rock] this rock is 100 feet high & 80 feet Diameter, a deep bend to the Stard. Side, ...

S. 58 W. 4 miles <to a> Stard. point of a large bottom. Encamped on the 21 Lard Side river about 2 miles wid Country thickly timbered we Encamped behind a large rock [Rooster Rock] in the Lard. Bend, a Canoe with 7 Inds. came down & Encamped with us

Clark, November 2, 1805 ...

Clark, undated, winter of 1805-6 ...
"Estimated Distances in Miles Ascending the Missouri, Crossing the Rockey Mountains & decending the Kooskooskee [Clearwater River], Louises River [Snake River] and the Columbia River of the remarkable places and Latitud partially anexed. ...

5 miles to a village of 9 Houses of the Sha ha lah Nation on the Stard Side near the beaten rock 800 feet hi [Beacon Rock, Washington];

11 miles to the Pho ca rock in midl. Rivr. 100 foot high [Phoca Rock], Saw Seal's;

Columbia River GorgeReturn 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., Burns, M., and Burns, S., 2009, Cataclysms on the Columbia: The Great Missoula Floods, Ooligan Press;
  • NOAA, 2008, "Seal & Sea Lion Facts of the Columbia River & Adjacent Nearshore Marine Areas, March 2008;

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.
October 2011