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This article is about the John Day River in eastern Oregonmarker. There is also the John Day Rivermarker in northwestern Oregon.

The John Day River is a tributary of the Columbia River, approximately long, in northeastern Oregonmarker in the United Statesmarker. Undammed along its entire length, the river is the third longest free-flowing river in the conterminous United States. There is extensive use of its waters for irrigation. Its free-flowing course furnishes habitat for diverse species, including wild steelhead runs. However, the steelhead populations are under federal endangered species protections, and chinook salmon have been proposed for ESA protection.

The river was named for John Day, a member of the Astor Expedition, an overland expedition to the mouth of the Columbia River that left from St. Louis, Missourimarker in 1810. Day wandered lost through this part of Oregon in the winter of 1811–12.

Drainage basin

Through its tributaries, the river drains much of the western side of the Blue Mountainsmarker, flowing across the sparsely populated arid part of the state east of the Cascade Range in a northwest zigzag, then entering the Columbia upstream from the Columbia River Gorgemarker. It flows through exceptionally scenic canyons in its upper course, with several significant paleontological sites along its banks.

The main branch of the John Day River rises in the Strawberry Mountainsmarker in eastern Grant County, and the four main forks each have their heads in different parts of the Malheur National Forestmarker. The main fork flows initially north, then west through the John Day Valley and through the city of John Daymarker. At Dayvillemarker in western Grant County it is joined from the south by the South Fork John Day River, then flows north through Picture Gorge and past the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monumentmarker.

At Kimberlymarker in northwestern Grant County, it is joined from the east by the North Fork John Day River (which had already joined with the Middle Fork John Day River above Monument, Grant County, Oregon). The river then flows west across Wheeler Countymarker. At the county line with Jefferson Countymarker it flows north, past the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. As it approaches the Columbia River in north-central Oregon it flows in an increasingly meandering course, forming the boundary between Sherman Countymarker to the west and Gilliam Countymarker to the east.

It joins the Columbia from the southeast approximately northeast of Biggsmarker. The mouth of the river is on the narrow Lake Umatillamarker reservoir, formed on the Columbia by the John Day Dammarker, approximately downstream from the mouth of the John Day.

Recreation and ecosystem

Mouth of the John Day River on the Columbia, spanned by a railroad bridge

The John Day is navigable by rafts and other small river craft. Its lower course is used for irrigation of cropland and ranching. In 1988, the United States Congress designated of the river from Service Creek to Tumwater Falls as the John Day Wild and Scenic River, as part of the National Wild and Scenic River program. The segment of the river is a popular destination for anadromous steelhead and warm water bass fishing, as well as whitewater rafting.

In addition to wild spring chinook salmon and bass, the river furnishes habitat for redband trout, bull trout, and westslope cutthroat trout. There are no hatchery salmon or steelhead released in the John Day River.

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