Lewis and Clark’s White Salmon Trout: Coho Salmon or Steelhead? Part V

Part V: Quick Sand River to Celilo Falls

Bill McMillan, June 15, 2017


William Clark. “A Map of Lewis and Clarks Track” from History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, to the Sources of the Missouri, thence Across the Rocky Mountains and Down the River Columbia to the Pacific Ocean, 1814. Samuel Lewis, copyist; Samuel Harrison, engraver. Engraved map. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (67)  http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/lewisandclark/lewis-landc.html#67    (Locations added by author) 

Discovering a Great River They Had Passed

The Corps of Discovery remained several days at the Washougal area campsite to explore the Quick Sand (today’s Sandy River) and Willamette rivers on the Oregon side of the Columbia.  This included measures of the large size of Pacific dogwood trees and a tall conifer of comparably small diameter that had fallen.  As recorded by Lewis, April 5, 1806:

            … The dogwood grows abundantly on the uplands in this neighbourhood. It differs from that of the United States in the appearance of its bark which is much smoother, it also arrives here to much greater size than I ever observed it elsewhere.  Sometimes the stem is nearly 2 feet in diameter. We measured a fallen tree of fir No. 1 which was 318 feet including the stump which was about 6 feet high. This tree was only about 3 ½ feet in diameter.  

The dogwood in the Washougal area was what we know today as Pacific, or Nutall’s, dogwood (Cornus nuttallii), compared to the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) of Lewis’s prior experience.  Pacific dogwood was still a characteristic deciduous tree in the 1947-1996 period when I lived in the area.  Its white bloom of flowers suddenly juts out from open gaps in the surrounding forest darkness sometime in April or May, often coinciding with peak returns of early summer-run steelhead to Columbia tributaries below former Celilo Falls – such as at the Washougal, Lewis, Kalama, Wind, Hood, and Klickitat rivers.  The 300-plus foot fallen tree was measured by Sgt. Pryor on the east side of the Sandy River.  It has been thought to be a Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) as designated by “fir No. 1” in descriptions of differing “firs” by Lewis and Clark from February 4th to 6th while at Fort Clatsop (notes in the Journals Online).  On February 4th, while still at Fort Clatsop, Lewis described the commonality of the spruce trees and large size:

… a species which grows to immense size; very commonly 27 feet in the girth six feet above the surface of the earth, and in several instances we have found them as much as 36 feet in the girth or 12 feet diameter perfectly solid and entire.  They frequently rise to the height of 230 feet, and 120 or 130 of that height without a limb.


Read the rest of Lewis and Clark’s White Salmon Trout Part Five

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