The Dalles Dam
“The Dalles” is from the French (La Grand Dalle de la Columbia, meaning flagstone), a reference to the basaltic rocks lining the narrows. In the pre-dam days, this was the most dangerous point in the river for early navigators who approached a virtual staircase of rapids called Celiclo Falls. Most Oregon Trail travelers opted to portage around the rapids at The Dalles.
For centuries the falls were a major fishing spot for Native Americans who caught salmon as they headed upstream to spawn. When Lewis and Clark visited this area in 1805, they reported a village of 21 large wooden houses and called the place a “great emporium . . . where all the neighboring nations assemble.”
The dam at The Dalles was completed in 1957 and the half-mile-long powerhouse now produces some 1.8 million kilowatts of power. Some salmon still make it up this far, and Native American fishing platforms can occasionally be found on both sides of the river. At the time of this writing, there is no public access to the dam owing to Homeland Security directives.
At one time, you could camp for free in undeveloped Spearfish Park on the Washington side of the Dalles Bridge, but rampant drug use and a homeless invasion has lead to a crackdown by the Army Corps of Engineers. For a quick night’s stay in your camper, instead visit Columbia Hills RV Park (111 Highway 197, 509/767-2277, $20), which has camping spaces just north of the bridge. There’s also a convenience store and gas station on-site.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition