Yesterday & Today
Although indigenous people inhabited the Columbia River area for millennia and the Lewis and Clark expedition camped here, The Dalles owes its beginning and name to French-speaking Hudson Bay Company fur traders. The word dalle roughly translates to English as a “large tile” or “flagstone,” and dalles is plural. It was a reference to the gutter-like formation of this stretch of the river, which was lined with flagstones. The section was around 150 feet wide and deep and two miles long; the entire Columbia River thundered through the narrow channel. (Pronunciation of the town’s French name rhymes with “pals” and “gals.”)
Fort Dalles was established in 1850. Settlers traveling west on the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800s, however, had no choice but to abandon their wagons at The Dalles and load their possessions onto small wooden rafts for a harrowing trip down the treacherous rapids of the Columbia River. The Barlow Road (a toll road) was cut through the wilderness and opened in 1845. Although it took a long route around Mount Hood, it was a much safer alternative to the Columbia River route.
Fast-forward to the 21st century and The Dalles’ namesake rapids are no longer visible. A series of hydroelectric dams locks have impounded the Columbia River, forming a series of large lakes. The generators in the hydroelectric facilities produce more electricity than the region consumes, which explains why Google, in 2006, located their huge server farm in The Dalles.
The town’s more recent past is largely devoted to serving the area’s agricultural and ranching industries. While maintaining its historical roots, the town is also developing as a recreational destination. Commercial Dock is a port of call for cruise ships sailing the Columbia River Gorge. Trendy restaurants, museums, historic sites, recreational venues, and the stunning scenery are pulling in an increasing number of visitors.