Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Submerged Forest"
Includes ... Submerged Forest ... Table Mountain Landslide (Bonneville Landslide) ...
Penny Postcard, Submerged Forest near Wind Mountain, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Submerged Forest in the Wind Mountain, Washington. Penny Postcard, "Wind Mountain and Submerged Forest, Columbia River". Card #321, Chas. S. Lipschuetz Company, Portland, Oregon. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
Image, 2004, Wind Mountain and Collins Point, Washington, from Starvation Creek, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Wind Mountain and Collins Point, Washington, as seen from Starvation Creek State Park, Oregon. Image taken September 24, 2004.

"Submerged Forest" ...
Early travelers on the Columbia River encountered an eerie scene between Cascade Locks and The Dalles. A forest of drowned tree stumps lined the edge of the Columbia River waters. With the completion of the Bonneville Dam in 1838, the "Submerged Forest" is now truly submerged, drowned by the waters of the Bonneville Reservoir.

"ghostly white forest" ...
"Up until the completion of Bonneville Dam in 1938, a ghostly white forest of drowned tree stumps could be observed along both sides of the Columbia River between Cascade Locks and The Dalles. The submerged forest was first mentioned in a geologic textbook in 1853, in "Principles of Geology" by Sir Charles Lyell: "Thus Captains Clark and Lewis found, about the year 1807 (sic), a forest of pines standing erect under water in the body of the Columbia RIver, which they supposed, from the appearance of the trees, to have been submerged only about twenty years." Both Lewis and Clark in 1805 and Captain Fremont in 1845 recognized that the trees were drowned by the formation of a lake behind a 200-foot landslide dam. Possibly triggered by an earthquake, the dam material slid down from the cliffs of Table Mountain and Greenleaf Peak at a time later determined to be between 1260 and 1290 A.D. The stumps were described in detail by Minnesota biologists Donald B. and Elizabeth G. Lawrence in a series of definitive papers in 1935, 1937, 1937, and 1958. The Lawrences were the first to date the time of the landslide, by caron 14 analyses, as having occurred 700 years before. As of 1936, the Lawrence's counted 3,068 stumps on the south side of the river, and 938 on the north side of the river. The maximum concentration of stumps on the south side occurs just above the mouth of Viento Creek, where more than 800 stumps were counted within a small area."

Source:    John Allen, Professor of Geology at Portland State University, 1985, "Time Travel in Oregon".

Table Mountain Landslide ...
The Submerged Forest was a result of the Table Mountain Landslide, officially known as the Bonneville Landslide. Between 250 and 400 years ago five-square-miles of Table Mountain slide into the Columbia River, temporarily blocking the river, and creating a reservoir behind the dam drowning out the landscape.

Lewis and Clark and the Submerged Forest ...
Lewis in Clark passed by the Columbia River's "Submerged Forest" near Wind Mountain on their way to the Pacific in 1805 and again on their return in 1806.
"... a remarkable circumstance in this part of the river is, the Stumps of pine trees are in maney places are at Some distance in the river, and gives every appearance of the rivers being damed up below from Some cause which I am not at this time acquainted with ..." [Clark, October 30, 1805]

"... We find the trunks of maney large pine trees Standing erect as they grew, at present in 30 feet water; they are much doated and none of them vegitateing. at the lowest water of the river maney of those trees are in 10 feet water. the Cause I have attempted to account for as I decended. ..." [Clark, April 14, 1806]

Wilkes, 1841 ...
The "Sunken Forest" is mention in the 1841 exploration of Charles Wilkes, of the U.S. Exploring Expedition.

"... A short distance above the Cascades, they passed the locality of the sunken forest, which was at the time entirely submerged. Mr. Drayton, on his return, visited the place, and the water had fallen so much as to expose the stumps to view; they were of pine, and quite rotten, so much so that they broke when they were taken hold of. He is of opinion that the point on which the pine forest stands, has been undermined by the great currents during the freshets; and that it has sunk bodily down until the trees were entirely submerged. The whole mass appears to be so matted together by the roots as to prevent their separation. Changes, by the same undermining process, were observed to be going on continually in other parts of the river. ..." [Wilkes, June 29, 1841]

Fremont, 1843 ...
Two years later, in 1843, Captain Fremont of the U.S. Exploring Expedition wrote about the Submerged Forest.

"... Many places occur along the river, where the stumps, or rather portions of the trunks of pine trees, are standing along the shore, and in the water, where they may be seen at a considerable depth below the surface, in the beautifully clear water. These collections of dead trees are called on the Columbia the submerged forest, and are supposed to have been created by the effects of some convulsion whch formed the cascades, and which, by damming up the river, placed these trees under water and destroyed them. But I venture to presume that the cascades are older than the trees; and as these submerged forests occur at five or six places along the river, I had an opportunity to satisfy myself that they have been formed by immense land slides from the mountains, which here closely shut in the river, and which brought down with them into the river the pines of the mountain. At one place, on the right bank, I remarked a place where a portion of one of these slides seemed to have planted itself, with all the evergreen foliage, and the vegetation of the neighboring hill, directly amidst the falling and yellow leaves of the river trees. It occurred to me that this would have been a beautiful illustration to the eye of a botanist. [Fremont, November 17, 1843] ..."

Miss A.J. Allen, 1848 ...
From Ten Years in Oregon compiled by Miss A.J. Allen, published in 1848 (courtesy Washington Secretary of State Website, 2007):
"... After something more than half a day's sail, they arrived at the Cascades, where, according to an Indian tradition, the mountains had extended across the river, its current running under them, till, from some cause, perhaps convulsion, they had fallen into its depths, and, forming a cataract, and then a succession of rapids, from which it received its name. Whether or not the legend be true, it is in the midst of the Cascade mountains, and there are strong indications of their having rent asunder at no remote period. The waters, also, appear to have been dammed, from the fact that there are great numbers of stumps, or trunks of trees--and many of them from twenty to thirty feet high--standing in the river, immediately at, and for many miles above, and no where below, the fall, perfectly petrified. ..."

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 30, 1805 ...

Clark, April 14, 1806 ...

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

  • John C. Allen, 1985, "Time Travel in Oregon, a scrapbook of geological articles published in The Oregonian from November 3, 1983 to October 31, 1885;
  • Washington Secretary of State website, 2007;

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 2011