Two months on the Missouri River. Click on the button at the right to start the Adventure!

Tap To Call

At White Cliffs   arrow

White Cliffs

Friday, May 31, 1805

We proceeded in two periogues, leaving the canoes to bring on the meat of two buffaloes killed last evening. Soon after we set off it began to rain, and though it ceased at noon, the weather continued cloudy during the rest of the day. The obstructions of yesterday still remain and fatque the men excessively; The banks are so slippery in some places and the mud so adhesive that they are unable to wear their moccasins; one forth of the time they are obliged to be up to their armpits in the cold water, and sometimes walk for several yards over the sharp fragments of rocks which have fallen from the hills; all this added to the burden of dragging the heavy canoes is very painful, yet the men bear it with great patience and good humour. Once the rope of one of the perigues, the only one we had made of hemp, broke short, and the periogue swung and just touched a point of rock which almost overset her. At nine miles we came to a high wall of black rock rising from the water’s edge on the south, above the cliffs of the river; this continued about a quarter of a mile, and was succeeded by a high open plain, thill three miles further a second wall two hundred feet high rose on the same side. Three miles further a wall of the same kind about two hundred feet high and twelve in thickness, appeared to the north; these hills and river cliffs exibit a most extrodinary and romantic appearance; they rise in most places nearly perpendicular from the water, to the height of between two and three hundred feet, and are formed of very white sandstone, so soft as to yeild readily to the impression of the water, in the upper part of which lie imbedded two or three thin horizontal stratas of white freestone insensible to the rain, and on the top is a dark rich loam, which forms a gradually ascending plain, from a mile to a mile and a half in extent, when the hills again rise abruptly to the hieght of about three hundred feet more. In trickling down the cliffs, the water has worn the soft sandstone into a thousand grotesque figures, among with which a little fancy may be discerned elegant ranges of freestone buildings, with columns variously sculptured, and supporting long and elegant galleries, while the parapets are adorned with statuary; on a nearer approach they represent every form of elegant ruins; columns, some with pedestals and capitals entire, others mutilated and prostrate, and some rising pyramidally over each other till they terminate in a sharp point. These are varied by niches, alcoves, and the customary appearances of desolated mafnificence; the allusion is increased by the of martins, who have built their globular nests in the niches and hover over these columns; as in our country they are accustomed to frequent large stone structures. As we advance ther seems no end to the visionary enchantment which surrounds us. In the midst of this fantastic scenery are vast ranges of walls, which seem the productions of art, so regular is the workmanship; they rise perpendicularly from the river, sometimes to the height of one hundred feet, varing in thickness from one to twelve feet, being equally broad at the top as below. The stones of which they are formed are black, thick, and durable, and composed of a large portion of earth, intermixed and cemented with a small quantity of sand, and a considerable proportion of talk or quartz. These stones are almost invariably regular parallelipeds of unequal sizes in the wall, but equally deep, and laid regularly in ranges over each other like bricks, each breaking and covering the interstice of the two on which it rests; but though the perpendicular interstice be destroyed, the horizontal one extends entirely through the whole work; the stones too are proportioned to the thickness of the wall in which they are employed, being largest in the thickest walls. The thinner walls are composed of a single depth of the paralleliped, while the thicker ones consist of two or more depths; these walls pass the river at several places, rising from the water’s edge much above the sandstone bluffs which they seem to penetrate; thence they cross in a straight line on either side fo the river, the plains over which they tower to the height of from ten to seventy feet, until they lose themselves in the second range of hills; sometimes they run parallel in several ranges near to each other, sometimes intersect each other at right angles, and have the appearance of walls of ancient houses or gardens.