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[photo] Rock Fort Campsite
Photo by J. Agee, courtesy of Discovering Lewis and Clark

After passing through the mountain ranges of Montana and Idaho, the Corps of Discovery spent six months--nearly a quarter of the two-year mission--on the Columbia River now dividing the states of Washington and Oregon. On October 25, 1805, after having negotiated two extensive rapids on the Columbia, the expedition made camp in the bowl of a fort-like outcropping just downstream from the mouth of Mill Creek at present-day The Dalles. Clark described the campsite, called Rock Fort, that day:

. . .we proceeded on down the water fine, rocks in every derection for a fiew miles when the river widens and becoms a butifull jentle Stream of about half a mile wide, Great numbers of the Sea Orter [or Seals] about those narrows and both below and above. we Came too, under a high point of rocks on the Lard. Side below a crrek of 20 yards wide and much water, as it was necessary to make Some Selestial observations we formed our Camp on the top of a high point of rocks, which forms a king of [artif] fortification in the Point between the river & Creek, with a boat guard, . . . our Situation well Calculated to defend [us] our Selves from any designs of the natives, Should They be enclined to attack us. (Moulton 1988, 5: 339)

Rock Fort Campsite
Photo by J. Agee, courtesy of Discovering Lewis and Clark

The expedition spent two days and three nights at this spot, taking advantage of fair weather to take celestial observations, caulk battered canoes and dry river-soaked supplies. Hunting parties followed Mill Creek (which Lewis and Clark named "Quenett" after local American Indian usage) into the foothills of the Cascade Range to the southwest and found the first game to vary the expedition's diet since entering Oregon. On October 26, the expedition was visited by chiefs of the Chinookan tribes from the Washington shore of the Columbia. The chiefs were given medals and assorted other presents by the co-commanders as a customary gesture of good will.

The expedition camped three nights at Rock Fort again on the home-bound journey from April 15 to 17, 1806. They were once again visited by people from Chinookan villages at the Great Narrows, which came to be called "Les Grandes Dalles" by voyagers who arrived on the Columbia after Lewis and Clark.

Rock Fort Campsite is located on a wedge-shaped parcel bordered by the Columbia River, Bargeway Rd., Bridge and Garrison sts. in The Dalles, Oregon. A riverfront trail leads to Rock Fort where interpretive signage marks the campsite. Please call 541-296-2231 for further information. The nearby Columbia Gorge Discovery Center includes displays on the Lewis and Clark Expedition; visit their website or call 541-296-8600 for further information.

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