History of Wasco County, Oregon
by Wm. H. McNeal

Chapter 11
(approximately 7 pages when printed)


     Dr. Thomas Condon was professor of Geology at the University of Oregon and in the 1860's was the local Congregational minister (Biography on page 58) and Wasco county pioneer geologist who spent many years studying the geology of old Wasco county, and, was one of the most outstanding geologist of the west.

     The crust of the earth has written upon it and around it the facts of its history, if we would but study them. The layers of rocks are as pages of a book revealing the history of our world. The Rocky mountains show evidence of having been under the sea! The Oregon coast has risen out of the sea 210 feet at Cape Blanco and Newport. ALL of Oregon was once covered by water. The Blue mountains was the first to raise out of the ocean to form what we call Shoshone Island. The whole of Oregon is full of sea shells. The Cascade range was the next to rise out of the ocean forming what we call Shoshone Sound, a sea of ocean water protected by land. Camp Drake on Crooked river shows part of that old shore line and part of it is visible in the John Day valley at Rock creek and Spanish Gulch east of Damp Watson and at Bridge Creek and Canyon City. The Cascade mountains finally rose high enough to shut out the ocean. The melting glaciers of the Rockies then made fresh water in the area, which had 3 drainage outlets 1. the Colorado river, 2. the Columbia river, 3. evaporation of the Great Salt Lake and Nevada areas (also the Frasier river drainage area).

     The Columbia river first became a series of lakes in a warm tropical country with palm trees, rhinoceros, alders, maples, elm, yaws. At that time the Japanese current flowed across Alaska and upper Canada. Then came the lava flow periods. Near Sherars Bridge there is 27 to 30 well marked lava flows in an 1800 foot drop of the road from The Dalles to Canyon City. Each flow is separated by a layer of volcanic ashes of various thicknesses up to 30 feet. In the Bend area Ponderosa pines are growing out of ashes 20 to 40 feet in thickness. The ashes disappear 50 miles east of the Cascades. During these eruptions the ashes on the surfaces of the lakes covered the dead bodies of birds, fish, mammals, animals as the Silver Lake area shows best where deposits are from a fraction of an inch a year forming a total depth of 3000 feet.

     East of Antelope on the old Dalles to Canyon City road near Cold Camp and Current Creek hill, the ridge offers a wonderful panorama view over potato hill. The Current creek hill is an elevated shore line from 1500 to 1800 feet above the bed of Shoshone lake. Current and Cherry creeks drained into the John Day and cut through those old lake beds nearly 2000 feet! Woodpile rock is very impressive as a basalt column of the area extending cut of the old lake bed which contained fresh water shell fish. The sandstone beds indicate inflowing streams, long since dried up, and its in these beds that we find the leaves, wood, bones, fish, shells, fowl which tell of the life of other periods.

     The silica bed on 3 Mile creek 3 miles south of The Dalles, contain minute shell fish, white like chalk, which will float on water and will make excellent polishing powder.

     Near Mitchell on Bridge creek the table land is covered with a thin coat of soil abounding with sea shells! "I had always wondered why mammals had not been found closer to The Dalles?" (They have recently been found at English and in Standard Hollow). Sick and wounded animals came to water and died, their skeletons sinking into the mud where they were preserved with marvelous care for millions of years.

     At The Dalles the ledge of stone from Mill creek to Chenowith is a remnant of an old lake bed ex-tending across the Columbia to the Klickitat mountain. There has been no violence here since the existence of that lake! The sand rock is used for building purposes. A fragment of a camel bone was found in one rock quarry of gray stone. The quarry was 300 feet above the Columbia river which means the river has washed away all the old lake bed, except the stone remnant. A fossil plant collection from The Dalles area included birch, acacia and oak leaves.

     The John Day Valley fossils include aredons, from the size of a coyote to an elk; rhinoceros in large numbers; elotherium (hogs); rabbits; squirrels; rats; leptomeryx (minature deer); cats in large numbers and all sizes up to a cougar; dogs up to the size of Newfoundlands; split-hoofed horses from 5 to single toed and hoofs from the size of a dog to a donkey; camels of all sizes; elephants; bird bones including geese twice the size of the largest known today; 5 species of sea gulls; sloth as large as a bear; camels like llamas; bears; coyotes; gophers, otter, beaver, mammoths, horses, buffalo, mastodons. The mammoth have 4 large teeth which they shed at 2, 6, 8, 25, 50 and 100 years.

    The glacial age ice plowed over the hills east of The Dalles when Mt. Mazama (Crater Lake) existed and this period followed the tropical period destroying the tropical animals and vegetation.

     The mouth of the Deschutes was once 250 feet above its present level and the walls of the canyons contain bones, teeth, tusks of prehistoric animals.

     The hills of 15 Mile creek, at the same level, are rich in geological finds up to 330 feet above sea level. (It was about 800 feet that Forest Hay discovered the Mammoth at English and about 1500 feet that Mr. Egbert found the Mammoth in Standard Hollow).

     The Dalles to Canyon City road is rich in fossils. The first 60 miles to Antelope is over volcanic materials. From Antelope to Mitchell (and Fossil) is filled with animal and vegetable fossils. Chemical eruptions, in places, changed sand to sandstone, gravel to cement; clay to rook and petrified wood. At first the area had marine life and that was called the Eocene period. Then came fresh water, lakes and the warm period. Then there was fire, volcanoes, eruptions, earthquakes. This was followed by animal life of the horse and camels. Then there was more volcanic action with no life, but after which we again find the horse and mammoth.

     The Cascades have a rise of 37 feet. Indians say the canoes of the olden days could be paddled from the mouth of the Columbia to The Dalles, under a great natural bridge at the Cascades. The great falls of the Columbia at Tumwater (Celilo) was about 90 feet which prevented salmon from going over them and made the ancient fishing village of Wishram (Spedis or Spearfish) a very important fishing and trading place. (Please note that Dr. Condon did not deny the existence of the Bridge of the Gods, rather he affirmed it).

Geology of Wasco County by Herbert Ed Morrow

     Ed Morrow is known as the Flying Geologist of The Dalles; one of the many self educated amateurs who often contribute as much or more toward the advancement of science and wisdom as the professional. He is a native of Sherman county and resident of The Dalles since 1945.

In studying our geology one must visualize the lava outpourings which made our landscape followed by the big erosion task which created the lakes and the Columbia, Snake and John Day rivers. The rivers in those first days flowed to the south into Shoshone lake which reached from the summit of the Cascades to the Rockies and from the California boundary to the Okanogan mountains. Outlets of that first big inland sea and lake, after the rising of the Cascade mountain range, was the Colorado river, the Klamath river and evaporation. Gradually that lake became smaller and known as Condon lake extending from the Cascades to the Blue mountains.

     Very few persons would guess that what is now Wasco and Sherman counties was once the bottom of a lake bed, which had no outlet for a long period of time and that the John Day river is older than the Columbia! The gradual lowering of Condon lake established our well known creek bottoms, White river and the Deschutes. This Condon-Shoshone lake was 2000 feet deep at first. The overflow of the lake cut the channel past Rowena through a fault, possibly after an earthquake which created the fault. This lake was called Lewis lake north of the Wallula Gap.

     At the Cascades the earthquakes weakened the mountain enough to allow the waters to "sweep through" as a creek (under great pressure) then a young river and finally a mighty stream with powerful destructive ability, which, together with more earthquakes, made the fissure greater until the great Shoshone lake was drained!

     While this was occurring Mt. Hood was known as Mt. Snoqualami and extended down into the Hood River valley and to Lookout Mt. and it literally blew itself out of existence being later replaced by the small Mt. Hood cone. The Three Sisters and Broken Top were known as the one Mt. Multnomah before it "blew its top" leaving the 4 miniature snow capped peaks. Crater Lake was known as Mt. Mazama before it "blew its top". All those mountain peaks were around 20,000 feet in height and all were in old Wasco county limits. The explosion and disappearance of these great mountain peaks will give the student some idea of the great volcanic action and accompanying earthquakes that were taking place, and which helped drain old Shoshone lake by causing a crack, fissure or fault in the Cascade mountains near Bonneville through which the lake poured for many centuries. This also created the first "Bridge of the Gods" but there was no human eyes here then to testify to its existence. This was also referred to as the tropical age of Wasco county.

     The ice age followed the tropical age. Whether this was due to a switch in the axis of the earth or -other reasons; science has not agreed. But the ice age caused a Canadian obstruction in the channel of the Columbia river forcing it to detour down into Lewis lake through the Okanogan mountains, which no doubt was experiencing volcanic action helping to create faults in that area for the river channel. The Columbia in those days was 100 times the size of it today, and with the aid of the ice could easily erode a channel at a rapid rate. As Lewis lake filled it overflowed through the Wallula Gap into the present Columbia river channel past the Horse Heaven Hills and Maryhill Gap. The Grand Coulee, near the Cheney divide, shows existing evidence of the Columbia when it was all of 10 times its present size and the battle it fought for ages with the basalt before it found its present channel. In those days it was like a "run-away ocean" with awe-inspiring power which we can hardly conceive of. The great "Yukon-like" ice thaws of a river 100 times the size of the Yukon, filled with ice, had terrible cutting and knife-like eroding powers which swept the channel clean. When basaltic obstructions dammed up the ice as it did at 3 Mile, the river detoured over Bettengen flats, Thompson Addition, all the residential portion of The Dalles and Chenowith areas, swept back where the Thornton-Foley lakes are and came out at the Country -Club, eddied across Granddalles-Dallesport flats and down the channel to the "first Bridge of the Gods" tearing at the great mountain and gorge beyond the Cascades, enroute to the sea. The sight would have staggered the imagination.

     The high waters of the Columbia filled the gorge from the T.B. Hospital to a like distance up the side of Klickitat mountain (300 feet). This was possible because the long winters with 100 or more feet of show and ice lasted 10 months and the intense hot summers of a possible 24 hour a day duration really poured the water down out of the mountains for 2 or 3 months. The old Condon lake bed edge at -the T.B. Hospital, now seen as sandstone cliffs, is all that remains of silt and sand that once filled -the gorge about straight across to Klickitat hills, before the Columbia river days.

     Condon lake, named after Dr. Thomas Condon, Dalles geologist, was much shallower than Shoshone lake and smaller, being within the confines of the Klickitat hills on the north, the Cascades on the west, Mutton mountain on the south and Tygh ridge and the breaks of the Deschutes on the east. It existed be-fore the Columbia river and was fed by the John Day river, a much older stream in this area than the Columbia. The John Day flowed into Condon lake through the Grass Valley Canyon and other channels since changed. Its tell-tale signs are the Shutler or cement gravel pits it leaves wherever it has flowed. They are found at the Marsh gravel pits, at Fairbanks, English, Celilo, Dry Hollow & Scenic Drive, back of the Bettengen Flats, on the Old Oregon Trail near the McCoy place, on The Dalles to Boise Military road east of High Remington's, on Ward Hill, on Beacon Hill above Seuferts; on the Snoden road back of Lyle, at the Arlington airport, at Blalock, at Quinton. This would indicate many channel changes and more exploration would divulge more deposits such as those above Dallesport school.

     The John Day cement-gravel and agate deposits were made solely by the John Day river at different periods. The Columbia river deposits are granite, quartzes and sandstone. The John Day gravels are in the Moody area at the mouth of the Deschutes and the whole northwest corner of Wasco county which includes the hill between the Columbia and 15 Mile creek from the Deschutes to Seuferts! That hill was at one time a part of Klickitat mountain, moved by quakes to its present location.

     Dr. Thomas Condon said of this area, "A supply of volcanic compost, greater than could be produced by all the fertilizer plants in the world was applied to our land in the form of ashes and molten lava, which cooled into porous stone of 200,000 square miles in extent and often as deep as 2000 feet. This lava and ashes crumbled into powder to make the wheat, bread and stock soil for us. This decomposed lava ash contains nearly all the elements necessary to feed vegetable life, and is the most lasting of all soils. It extends from the Cascade to the Rocky mountains. It is fragile and easily pulverized into soil and loam by water, weather, chemical. The soils of this region, including Wasco county, are vast and inexhaustible manure heaps which insure good crops of wheat and grass on the richest soil in the world."

     Where did this lava come from? Geologic evidence shows the Klickitat Mountain, 7 Mile Mountain. and all the hills and valleys south and west of The Dalles were formed by lava, from Mt. Snoqualami, the 20,000 foot predecessor of Mt. Hood whose base was a part of Lookout Mountain and the Hood River Trough. To the east we always see Mt. Kloan that supplied the lava for much of the Deschutes and Sherman county areas. In the Indian reservation Mutton Mountain did its share. The Deschutes river was created when a fault movement crossed the Columbia fault near Wishram which "broke the back of Klickitat Mountain" and Gordon Ridge, allowing the Deschutes to flow past Kloan Mt. instead of using the old John Day bed down Grass Valley and DeMoss canyons to 15 Mile creek canyon and to the Columbia at Seuferts! We call the Klickitat hills or mountain a part of the Columbia Fault which also included 7 Mile Mountain and the Mosier, and Bingen Mountains".

     The Mill creek falls (117 feet) lava flaw of the columnar formation indicates the flow was molten at the time it ceased, cooled from the top to the bottom, with no movement. The lava completely filled the south fork of the creek channel above the falls. Before the lava flow both the south and north creek forks were about the same depth. The Mill creek falls originally existed at or near the junction of the 2 creeks and cut its retreating way back upstream to its present location, - a colossal job of excavation when the creek was many times as large as the Deschutes river flowing directly off the glaciers of Mt. Snoqualami near Lookout mountain. Mill creek falls, even today, is a little gem of beauty and should be made into a State Park with access roads and trails.

     The Wolf Run lava flows of upper 8 Mile are very interesting.

     Old Slabsides near Rowena is a spectacular over-thrusting rupture of the Ortley fold.

     Elephant Rocks in Owl Canyon, 2 miles west of Friend are startling basalt pumice formations of fantastic shapes of humps, pinnacles and spires filled with odd shaped holes and caverns.

     Graveyard Butte on White River, south of Wamic, is a volcanic vent worthy of study and visiting.

     Sandstone Quarry east of the T.B. Hospital was the shore line of Lake Condon and the big Columbia.

     Our Earthquake knolls around Wapinitia, Criterion, Shaniko and Kent, regularly spaced, from 4 to 5 feet high and 6 to 30 feet across, produced by severe earthquake shocks where the soil was not very deep and not too far from the mountain peaks, are a very interesting study of mine for 30 years.

The Bridge of the Gods

     The second Bridge of the Gods, the Indians all knew so well and tell us so much about in their many stories and legends which were bound in volume form by Fredrick Homer Balch; were caused by a vast slide on the Washington side of the Columbia which completely filled the gorge at the Cascades and created a lake about 300 feet deep which extended back up stream to Arlington. The river soon wore a channel thru the soft earth and rock leaving it arched overhead, for an excellent natural bridge which existed for several hundred years. Its destruction was one of the last events in a long series of geology events, just before the coming of the white man and within memory "of the oldest Indians at that time (1830-50).

     Herbert Edward Morrow was born at Wasco, in Sherman county (1899) son of Harry E. and Nora (Root) Morrow, the elder Morrow being an 1883 pioneer postmaster of Grover and Nora was the daughter of Henry Root an 1883 pioneer of Wasco. Ed was educated in Sherman county specializing electrical engineering and mechanical drawing. In 1925 he went to San Diego and took up aviation and became a pilot. His hobby was the study of geology and he is known as the "flying geologist of Wasco county" by Phil Brogan, staff writer of the Oregonian. He is a student of geology and research in the Pacific northwest specializing in the Columbia river drainage shed and old Condon lake. He returned to The Dalles in 1946 after 20 years in the aircraft industry in California and is now a Wasco county road department employee.

     He says, "I collect rocks and agates merely to have them about me for frequent inspections and study. There was never a time in my memory when a peculiar appearing stone did not receive considerably more than passing notice. As a toddler I collected, "pretty rocks" from the creek. As the years passed my zest for collecting rocks kept pace. I did not have the opportunity to visit the best areas where collecting was really good. Rock collecting is one of mans oldest habits and many people have no idea why they do it. Others want rocks for their gardens, for study specimens or commercial purposes.

     "I have a reverence for rocks. My search is in quest of answers about the Infinite Creator. Rocks tell me of His "creations and the changes that have taken place down through the ages. Rocks are the file cards of our planet and possess startling secrets which man does not have the answer to. Rocks contain many mysteries of the Creator and His nature. The "living stone structure" represents an actual connection with the heated, live core of our planet, and should not be mistaken for the decomposed materials. These stones are alive in the sense that their atomic and molecular structure are alive with forces of chemistry and electronics. All matter has this force (the Creator) within it. The more we study the higher in Wisdom we gain about our Creator and His ability to manifest Himself to each of us in a different way, and in countless millions of ways which we do not see, know or understand. That is why I am "reverent" over the study of rocks. I receive inspiration from within to "see" good specimens and "know" where to look for others. Other people have these same inspirations and powers for other hobbies and lines of work. We should spend more time developing these "God-given faculties" for the good of our fellow man. Rocks maintain a "stony silence" to most people but to me they reveal a beautiful story of Creation of our planet and its preparation by Higher forces for habitation by man."

© Jeffrey L. Elmer All Rights Reserved