Hells Canyon

Hells Canyon is a ten-mile-wide (16 km) canyon in the western United States, located along the border of eastern Oregon, a small section of eastern Washington and western Idaho. It is part of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area which is also located in part of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.[2] It is North America's deepest river gorge at 7,993 feet (2,436 m).[3][4] Notably, Hells Canyon runs deeper than the better-known Grand Canyon in Arizona.[5][6]

Hells Canyon
OR hells canyon.jpg
Snake River flowing through the canyon
Hells Canyon is located in the United States
Hells Canyon
Hells Canyon
Location in the United States
Hells Canyon is located in Idaho
Hells Canyon
Hells Canyon
Location in Idaho
Geography
CountryUnited States
StatesIdaho, Oregon, and Washington
CountyAdams County, Idaho,
Idaho County, Idaho,
Wallowa County, Oregon, and Asotin County, Washington
Coordinates45°22′17″N 116°38′18″W / 45.37139°N 116.63833°W / 45.37139; -116.63833Coordinates: 45°22′17″N 116°38′18″W / 45.37139°N 116.63833°W / 45.37139; -116.63833[1]
RiverSnake

The canyon was carved by the waters of the Snake River, which flows more than one mile (1.6 km) below the canyon's west rim on the Oregon side and 7,400 feet (2,300 m) below the peaks of Idaho's Seven Devils Mountains range to the east. This area includes 214,000 acres of wilderness.[7] Most of the area is inaccessible by road.[4]

GeologyEdit

The geologic history of the rocks of Hells Canyon began 300 million years ago with an arc of volcanoes that emerged from the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Over millions of years, the volcanoes subsided and limestone built up on the underwater platforms. The basins between them were filled with sedimentary rock. Between 130 and 17 million years ago, the ocean plate carrying the volcanoes collided with and became part of the North American continent. A period of volcanic activity followed, and much of the area was covered with floods of basalt lava, which smoothed the topography into a high plateau. The Snake River began carving Hells Canyon out of the plateau about 6 million years ago. Significant canyon-shaping events occurred as recently as 15,000 years ago during a massive outburst flood from Glacial Lake Bonneville in Utah.[8] The canyon contains dense forests, scenic overlooks and mountain peaks. At the bottom of the canyon, the area is a dry, desert environment.[9]

HistoryEdit

 
Snake River winding
through Hells Canyon

InhabitantsEdit

The earliest known residents in Hells Canyon were the Nez Percé tribe. Others tribes visiting the area were the Shoshone-Bannock, northern Paiute and Cayuse Indians. The mild winters, and ample plant and wildlife attracted human habitation. Pictographs and petroglyphs on the walls of the canyon are a record of the Indian settlements.[10]

In 1806, three members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition entered the Hells Canyon region along the Salmon River. They turned back without seeing the deep parts of the canyon. It was not until 1811 that the Wilson Price Hunt expedition explored Hells Canyon while seeking a shortcut to the Columbia River. Hunger and cold forced them to turn back, as also did many explorers who were defeated by the canyon's inaccessibility. There remains no evidence in the canyon of their attempts; their expedition journals are the only documentation.[10] Early explorers sometimes called this area Box Canyon or Snake River Canyon.

The early miners were next to follow. In the 1860s, gold was discovered in river bars near present-day Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, and miners soon penetrated Hells Canyon; however, gold mining there was not profitable. Evidence of their endeavors remains visible along the corridor of the Snake River. Later efforts concentrated on hard-rock mining, requiring complex facilities. Evidence of these developments is visible today, especially near the mouth of the Imnaha River.[10]

In the 1880s there was a short-lived homesteading boom, but the weather was unsuited to farming and ranching, and most settlers soon gave up.[10] However, some ranchers still operate within the boundaries of the National Recreation Area.[10]

In May 1887, 34 Chinese gold miners were ambushed and killed in the area, in an event known as the Hells Canyon Massacre. No one was held accountable. Groups of white men ambushed the Chinese gold miners because of an Anti-Chinese movement that made its way to Oregon.[11][12]

Damming the Snake RiverEdit

After completion of large hydropower dams on the Columbia River in the 1930s through the 1950s, several entities sought approval from the Federal Power Commission to build dams on the Snake River, including a high dam in Hells Canyon.[13] In 1955, the commission issued a license to the Idaho Power Company to build a three-dam complex in the canyon:

  • The first of the three, Brownlee Dam, at river mile (RM) 285 or river kilometer (RK) 459, was finished in 1960.[13]
  • Oxbow Dam, twelve miles (20 km) downstream, was finished in 1972.

The three dams have a combined generating capacity of 1,167 megawatts (MW) of electricity.[14] The complex, which provides about 70 percent of Idaho's hydroelectricity, blocks migration of salmon and other anadromous fish upstream of Hells Canyon Dam.[15]

Two additional dams, Mountain Sheep and Pleasant Valley, were proposed in 1955 above the mouth of the Salmon River and below the Hells Canyon Dam. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 held up progress, but with the energy crisis, they were revived in 1975; these projects were sponsored by consortiums Pacific Northwest Power Company and Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS).[16][17] At the end of that year, President Gerald Ford signed legislation to create the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and the projects were terminated.[18][19][20]

The first river runners were on the canyon rapids by 1928. [21]

RecreationEdit

In 1975, Congress had declared 652,000 acres to be the recreational area for the Hells Canyon National Forest. [22] There are many recreational activities available within the canyon.[23] Activities in Hells Canyon include fishing, jet boat tours, hunting, hiking, camping, and whitewater sports (mainly rafting and kayaking). Much of these activities rely on the mighty Snake River, which is the main factor in the creation of Hells Canyon. The Snake River is home to numerous fish species, an abundance of class I-IV rapids (some of largest in the Pacific Northwest), diverse wildlife and miles of systems. There is one boat ramp that is located at the upper end of the Snake River. [24] The wildlife is made up of over 350 species and this includes big game, small game, bird, and waterfowl hunting.[25] Trophy hunting in this area consists of Elk, Mountain Goats, Mountain Lions, Mule Deer, Whitetail Deer, and Black Bears. [26] These key components make Hells Canyon an outdoor recreation mecca that brings in tourists from around the world. Hells canyon offers tours year round, while most of the whitewater activities peak in summer months. To participate in these recreational activities one can utilize commercial charters or private trips.

 
Jet boat tour departing
from Pittsburg Landing

AccessEdit

There are three roads that lead to Snake River and they are located between Hells Canyon Dam and the Oregon-Washington state line. There are no roads that cross Hells Canyon.[4] From Oxbow Bridge near Copperfield, Oregon, Hells Canyon Road follows the Idaho side of the river 22 miles (35 km) downstream to the Hells Canyon Dam.[27] The road crosses the dam and continues another mile to the Hells Canyon Visitor Center on the Oregon side.

Further north on the Idaho side, Deer Creek Road connects White Bird, Idaho, to the river at Pittsburg Landing.[28] Near the northern end of the canyon, Forest Road 4260 (Lower Imnaha Road), the last part of which is too rough for most cars, reaches the river at Dug Bar, 21 miles (34 km) from Imnaha, Oregon.[29] On the canyon rims, viewpoints accessible by road include Hat Point and Buckhorn in Oregon and Heavens Gate in Idaho.[29]

Points of interestEdit

Selected locations in Hells Canyon
  •  Points of interest 
  •  Boundaries 
  •  Dams 

1
Dug Bar
2
Pittsburg Landing
3
Lower End
4
Hells Canyon Dam
5
Upper End
6
Oxbow Dam
7
Brownlee Dam
8
Hat Point Lookout
9
Buckhorn Lookout
10
Kinney Point
No. Feature Coordinates River mile[30] Elevation[31] Description
1 Dug Bar 45°48′26″N 116°41′22″W / 45.80722°N 116.68944°W / 45.80722; -116.68944 (Dug Bar)[32] 196 mi
315 km
1,017 ft
310 m
Lower Imnaha Road on the Oregon side reaches the Snake at this river bar.[29]
2 Pittsburg Landing 45°37′57″N 116°28′31″W / 45.63250°N 116.47528°W / 45.63250; -116.47528 (Lower Pittsburg Landing)[33] 215 mi
346 km
1,145 ft
349 m
Deer Creek Road reaches the river and a United States Forest Service campground here, on the Idaho side.[28]
3 Lower end 45°22′17″N 116°38′18″W / 45.37139°N 116.63833°W / 45.37139; -116.63833 (Hells Canyon (mouth))[34] 238 mi
383 km
1,384 ft
422 m
Official canyon ends here, according to the Geographic Names Information System.[34]
4 Hells Canyon Dam 45°14′30″N 116°42′04″W / 45.24167°N 116.70111°W / 45.24167; -116.70111 (Hells Canyon Dam)[35] 247 mi
398 km
1,686 ft
514 m
Furthest downstream in the three-dam Hells Canyon Complex. The only dam in the official canyon.
5 Upper end 45°09′37″N 116°43′29″W / 45.16028°N 116.72472°W / 45.16028; -116.72472 (Hells Canyon (source))[34] 254 mi
409 km
1,688 ft
515 m
Official canyon begins here, according to the Geographic Names Information System.[34]
6 Oxbow Dam 44°57′55″N 116°50′44″W / 44.96528°N 116.84556°W / 44.96528; -116.84556 (Oxbow Dam)[36] 273 mi
439 km
1,804 ft
550 m
Middle dam of the three-dam Hells Canyon Complex. Upstream of the official canyon.
7 Brownlee Dam 44°50′10″N 116°54′04″W / 44.83611°N 116.90111°W / 44.83611; -116.90111 (Brownlee Dam)[37] 285 mi
459 km
2,083 ft
635 m
Furthest upstream in the three-dam Hells Canyon Complex; not in the official canyon.
8 Hat Point Lookout 45°26′18″N 116°39′21″W / 45.43833°N 116.65583°W / 45.43833; -116.65583 (Hat Point Lookout)[38]
5,784 ft
1,763 m
Viewpoint on the Oregon side of the canyon rim.[29]
9 Buckhorn Lookout 45°45′15″N 116°49′22″W / 45.75417°N 116.82278°W / 45.75417; -116.82278 (Buckhorn Lookout)[39]
5,328 ft
1,624 m
Viewpoint on the Oregon side of the canyon rim.[29]
10 Kinney Point 45°09′59″N 116°39′51″W / 45.16639°N 116.66417°W / 45.16639; -116.66417 (Kinney Point)[40]
7,083 ft
2,159 m
Viewpoint on the Idaho side of the canyon rim.[41]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Hells Canyon". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. June 21, 1979. Retrieved December 26, 2010.
  2. ^ Hells Canyon. World Book. 2018.
  3. ^ "Hells Canyon National Recreation Area: Establishment of HCNRA". U.S. Forest Service. Archived from the original on December 3, 2010. Retrieved December 26, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c "Hells Canyon National Recreation Area: Hells Canyon Overview". U.S. Forest Service. Archived from the original on December 6, 2010. Retrieved December 26, 2010.
  5. ^ "Hells Canyon, National Geographic".
  6. ^ Simon-Smolinski, Carole. Hells Canyon and the Middle Snake River: A Story of the Land and Its People.
  7. ^ Lanza, Michael (2007). Hells Canyon Wilderness. Pocket Outdoor Media.
  8. ^ "Hells Canyon National Recreation Area: Geology of Hells Canyon". U.S. Forest Service. Archived from the original on March 15, 2011. Retrieved December 26, 2010.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  9. ^ Hells Canyon. World Book. 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d e "Hells Canyon National Recreation Area: The Human Story". Forest Service. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved December 26, 2010.
  11. ^ "Lesson Fifteen: Industrialization, Class, and Race: Chinese and the Anti-Chinese Movement in the Late 19th-Century Northwest". Center for Study of the Pacific Northwest. History of Washington State & the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington. Retrieved 12 March 2007.
  12. ^ Nokes, R. Gregory (2009). Massacred for Gold. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press. pp. 179–181.
  13. ^ a b c "Hells Canyon Dam". Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Retrieved December 26, 2010.
  14. ^ "Hells Canyon". www.nwcouncil.org. Retrieved 2021-05-07.
  15. ^ "Environmental Impact Statements (EISs): Executive Summary" (PDF). Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. pp. xxxv & xxxviii. Retrieved 26 December 2010.
  16. ^ Coe, Gordon H. (24 February 1975). "Power project plans revived". Spokane Daily Chronicle. (Washington). p. 1.
  17. ^ Coe, Gordon H. (24 February 1975). "Dams are in plans along Middle Snake". Spokane Daily Chronicle (photos, maps). (Washington). p. 8.
  18. ^ "Ford signs NRA bill". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. 2 January 1976. p. 16A.
  19. ^ "Ford signs canyon bill". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. 2 January 1976. p. 1.
  20. ^ Husk, Lee Lewis (16 July 2018). "Hells Canyon Fifty-Year Anniversary". 1859: Oregon's magazine. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  21. ^ Deirdre S. Blanchfield, ed. (2011). Environmental encyclopedia (4th ed.). Detroit: Gale/Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-1-4144-8739-7. OCLC 720592930.
  22. ^ Lanza, Michael (2007). Hells Canyon Wilderness. Pocket Outdoor Media.
  23. ^ Recreation: Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Retrieved December 2, 2014, from http://www.fs.usda.gov/recmain/wallowa-whitman/recreation
  24. ^ "Hells Canyon Creek Boat Launch". United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Retrieved 7 May 2021.
  25. ^ Lanza, Michael (2007). Hells Canyon Wilderness. Pocket Outdoor Media.
  26. ^ "Hells Canyon Outfitters | Riggins, ID 83549". www.hellscanyonoutfitters.com. Retrieved 2021-05-07.
  27. ^ "Idaho's Scenic Byways: Hells Canyon Scenic Byway". Idaho's Scenic Byways website. State of Idaho. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved December 26, 2010.
  28. ^ a b "Hells Canyon National Recreation Area: Pittsburg Landing Campground". U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved December 26, 2010.
  29. ^ a b c d e Sullivan, pp. 268–76
  30. ^ United States Geological Survey (USGS). "United States Geological Survey Topographic Map". TopoQuest. Retrieved December 31, 2010. The maps include river-mile markers along the Snake. By convention, the markers are arranged in ascending order, starting with zero at the Snake's confluence with the Columbia River.
  31. ^ Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) except canyon source elevation, which derives from a Google Earth search using GNIS source coordinates.
  32. ^ "Dug Bar". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. November 28, 1980. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  33. ^ "Lower Pittsburg Landing". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. June 21, 1979. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  34. ^ a b c d "Hells Canyon". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. June 21, 1979. Retrieved December 27, 2010.
  35. ^ "Hells Canyon Dam". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. May 22, 1986. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  36. ^ "Oxbow Dam". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. May 22, 1986. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  37. ^ "Brownlee Dam". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. November 28, 1980. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  38. ^ "Hat Point Lookout". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. June 21, 1979. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  39. ^ "Buckhorn Lookout". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. November 28, 1980. Retrieved December 31, 2010.
  40. ^ "Kinney Point". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. June 21, 1979. Retrieved January 3, 2011.
  41. ^ Orr, p. 47

Works citedEdit

  • Orr, Elizabeth L., and Orr, William N. (1999). Geology of Oregon, fifth edition. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company. ISBN 0-7872-6608-6.
  • Sullivan, William L. (2002). Exploring Oregon's Wild Areas, third edition. Seattle: The Mountaineers Press. ISBN 0-89886-793-2.

Further readingEdit

  • Brooks, Karl Boyd (2009). Public Power, Private Dams: The Hells Canyon High Dam Controversy. Seattle: University of Washington Press. ISBN 978-0-295-98912-9.

External linksEdit

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Download coordinates as: KML