Wallula Gap

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 -- Umatilla Marina & RV Park, Umatilla, OR

This past Sunday our intrepid explorers set off upstream along the Columbia to check out a few Lewis & Clark sites between here and where it joins the Snake River at Pasco, WA. The Corps of Discovery traveled through this area in October 1805 on their way to the Pacific Ocean, and again in April 1806 on their way back east. The weather was partly cloudy but the wind was just howling -- 25 - 30 mph with gusts up to 40 or more.

Of particular interest is the geology of the area. In the big bend area of the Columbia River (where the river, which comes down from central Washington from the Northwest, makes a turn before flowing West, through the Gorge, and on to the Pacific) there's a gap in the high basalt buttes through which the River flows. This gap, known as the Wallula Gap, is only a mile wide and the surrounding steep-walled basalt cliffs are a thousand feet high. As the glaciers of the last ice age melted about 12,000 years ago huge quantities of water -- some say more than half the water currently in Lake Michigan, was trapped by ice and debris dams that became jammed in this gap. When the plug let go, a wall of water hundreds of feet high, moving at 50 mph, roared down the Columbia carving out walls of the channel and Gorge. This series of plugs and releases occurred dozens of times over a period of a few hundred years forming the River and Gorge as we know it today.

Another point of interest to me as I learn more about this area as it existed 200 years ago when the L&C Gang were traveling through is the large number of people that lived along the banks of these Northwest Rivers. The expedition was almost never out of sight of Indian villages which were "innumerable" in number. The expedition almost always had Indians traveling with them during this segment of the trip -- the "groupies" of their day. Some historians believe the area was more densely populated at the time than most areas of the East Coast. Certainly 10's of thousands of native people lived and thrived along the Columbia -- a far different picture than the image of these explorers floating down a sparsely populated and "undiscovered" river on their own.

Yesterday, Monday, the weather was just perfect. The wind had dropped to a gentle breeze. We stayed close to Umatilla and biked up and down this part of the river along trails mostly built by the Corps of Engineers in conjunction with McNary Dam right up river and within sight of our camp. We read and did more research on L&C, and I threw a couple small steaks on the grill for dinner. A good day.

Today, Tuesday, were moving over to the Lewiston, ID area. No reservations... we'll find something when we get there.



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