1805 To the Pacific – Down the Columbia River, tidewater at last!
The Corps of Discovery set up camp near present-day Stevenson at the head of
the treacherous Cascades of the Columbia. Clark hiked downstream to determine
the best way to get around this obstacle. During his reconnaissance on Oct. 31,
he first saw and described Beacon Rock. "A remarkable high detached rock
Stands in a bottom on the Stard side…about 800 feet high and 400 paces
around," he wrote. Clark concluded the description by noting they called
it "the Beaten rock."
Here, they saw the effects of the tide – very good news! The presence of
tidal action told them there would be no more falls or serious rapids for the rest
of their journey to the ocean.
1806 The Return Home – Approaching the first major obstacle
During their return trip in the spring of 1806, Lewis and Clark wrote about
the rock. Clark recorded the name "Beaten Rock" in his journals in 1805,
including an inscription on one of his meticulously drawn maps. During the eastbound
trip home in the spring of 1806, they referred to the feature as "Beacon Rock."
"This remarkable rock which stands on the North shore of the river is
unconnected with the hills…it has some pine or reather fir timber on it's
northern side, the southern is a precipice of it's whole hight. it rises to a very
sharp point and is visible for 20 miles below on the river," wrote Lewis.
View from the Top
The rock is now the central feature of Beacon Rock State Park.
When you visit the state park, view Beacon Rock from upstream and downstream. See if
you can figure out why they spelled it "Beaten" in the fall, and "Beacon"
the following spring. To this day, no one knows for sure why they spelled it two
You also can hike up a trail with 53 switchbacks to the top of the rock for a
spectacular view of the scenic Columbia River Gorge. Near the base of the rock,
trails lead through meadows and forest or along the Columbia River.
Beacon Rock is one of the few geographic features named by Lewis and Clark that
still retains its name. Many features named by American Indians and members of the
Corps of Discovery were later renamed by others.
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