Columbia Hills State Park

View of the rocky banks of the Columbia River as seen from Columbia Hills State Park

Between the Long & Short Narrows

As the corps passed through the Columbia River Gorge, they faced major navigational hazards. Celilo Falls forced them to make a two-day portage. Just downstream from the falls they encountered the Long and Short Narrows. In between the two narrows is the present-day site of Columbia Hills State Park.

A large village stood at the site of the state park. On October 24 Clark wrote, "The natives of this village received me very kindly, one of whom invited me into his house, which I found to be large and commodious, and the first wooden houses in which Indians have lived since we left those in the vicinity of the Illinois; they are 20 feet wide and 30 feet long, with one door raised 18 inches above ground… the roof of them was supported by a ridge pole resting on three strong pieces of split timber, through one of which the door was cut."

Passage through the narrows was dangerous and required great skill, and a certain amount of luck. Later, Clark reflected on the passage: "I thought by good steering we could pass down safe, accordingly I determined to pass through this place notwithstanding the horrid appearance of this agitated gut; swelling, boiling, and whirling in every direction (which from the top of the rock did not appear as bad as when I was in it; however, we passed safe, to the astonishment of all the Indians."

Still waters with glassy reflections of the banks of the Columbia River as seen from alongside the r

1806: the Return Home

As the members of the corps pushed their way up the river towards the narrows, the men began attempts to trade for horses from the local American Indians. Lewis and Clark knew they could not portage their largest canoes upstream through the narrows and falls. They needed horses to continue their trip. The local inhabitants had horses, but negotiating for them was not easy. The American Indians were shrewd traders and knew they had the upper hand in the bargain.

At the present-day site of Columbia Hills State Park, Clark arrived with the local chief at sunset. "After some ceremony, I entered the house of the chief. I then informed them that I would trade for their horses in the morning. The chief set before me a large platter of onions, which had been sweetened," noted Clark. Later, "the natives requested the party to dance, which they very readily consented, and Peter Cruzat played on the violin, and the men danced several dances and retired to rest in the houses of the first and second chief." Over the next few days, many tiresome attempts at deal-making netted the corps several horses to help them on their way toward home.

View from atop the steep basalt cliffs of the Columbia River down to the river gorge

The explorers were impressed by the amount of trade that passed through the villages. Clark described this stretch of river as "the great mart of all this country." Indians from all over the Northwest came to trade for "their pounded fish of which they prepare great quantities."

Past & Present Landscape

Much of Columbia Hills State Park has looked the same for centuries. Lewis and Clark would recognize the basalt cliffs, steep slopes of broken rock, and dry rolling hills. They would recall the grasses, beautiful wildflowers, and oak trees growing in the creek bottoms. The modern visitor sees all this and more, including some much-appreciated changes.

An irrigated oasis - complete with shade trees, small campground, restrooms, and picnic areas welcomes visitors to this otherwise desert-like landscape. You can enjoy views of the Columbia River, see ancient American Indian petroglyphs (carvings etched in stone), imagine the native village and tons of dried fish, and recall the experiences of the Corps of Discovery.

Some changes to the landscape are quite dramatic - the Long and Short narrows and Celilo Falls are now underwater, submerged by the lake formed behind the Dalles Dam.