On May 14, 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set off on an expedition ordered by President Thomas Jefferson. Their purpose was to explore the Missouri River and try to find a passage from the river to the Pacific Ocean. Lewis and Clark put together a group of 42 men who were dubbed The Corps of Discovery. During their journey, they came across numerous landmarks that were noted in Lewis' journal. Though some of the landmarks have since been flooded with the installation of various dams, many can still be seen today.
Beacon Rock (picture above) summits 845 feet above sea level, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. William Clark walked along the north bank of the Columbia River on Oct. 31, 1805, to survey some rapids the party would need to traverse. He spotted Beacon Rock and noted, "A remarkable high detached rock stands in a bottom on the stand side and about 800 feet high and 400 paces around." Beacon Rock is along the Columbia River on the Oregon side and can still be seen today.
Hat Rock is nine miles east of Umatilla, Oregon. The Corps of Discovery noticed the large column of lava rock that stands 100 feet high and resembles a top hat on May 19, 1805. This landmark can still be seen next to Lake Walula, seven miles downstream from McNary Dam. During the time of the expedition, men wore square hats similar to the shape of Hat Rock.?
The expedition party camped for several days at a Native American village that existed in the valley that has now been flooded by The Dalles Dam. The large butte that towered over the village and its valley was noted by Meriwether Lewis on April 6, 1806, "This remarkable rock which stands on the North shore of the river is unconnected with the (nearby) hills and rises to the hight of seven hundred feet; it has some pine or reather fir timber on its northern side, the southern is a precipice of it's whole hight."
Horsethief Butte got its current name much later, by the workers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who developed the dam and Horsethief Lake State Park. They thought the area looked like that of the horse thief hideouts seen in cowboy movies of the 1950s. Today, the state park encompasses 338 acres and includes 7,500 feet of shoreline along the Columbia River.
Tavern Rock Cave and Tavern Bluff are said to have gotten their names because travelers often stopped there to rest and relax as they traversed the river. There may have been a tavern at the location at one point.
For the Lewis and Clark expedition, Tavern Bluffs almost became the last stop on the trip west. Lewis lost his footing while exploring the bluff and cave and nearly fell 300 feet to what would have surely been his death. He managed to plunge his knife into a crevice and stop his fall. The day of this misadventure was May 23, 1804, only two days after leaving St. Charles, Missouri.
The cave is still accessible to hikers, though it is no longer visible from the river. The hike is still steep and covered with loose rocks and gravel.