In the Footsteps of Lewis and Clark
October 26, 2004
Bethany and Aidan Sinnott suspended time for six weeks this summer and traveled in the footsteps of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. It was the Sinnotts’ way to mark the 200th anniversary of those explorers’ trek across the continental United States and, at times during their trip, to actually see what the explorers saw when viewing some of the same vistas.
Aidan, inspired with his recent reading of Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, suggested the trip. The couple also had a wedding to attend in California in June and decided that a circuitous journey to get there might be just the thing. Ten thousand, eight hundred and eighty-four miles later, they are cherishing their travel, the places they saw, and the people they met.
Their journey began May 15 and concluded June 29, and except for those nights they stayed in California and Oregon with friends and relatives, they tent camped every night, usually in state or national parks, a feat Bethany recalls with pride. And the cost for all of those nights of roughing it – under $400 – is another source of pride for the travelers.
Bethany, who kept a journal during the trip, agreed to share portions of her notes and her photographs as a way to document the experience. Her dated entries follow:
St. Charles (Missouri) was marvelous. Frontier Park along the river was lively with costumed re-enactors with tents, period equipment and livestock. The day before, the keel boat and two pirogues of the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles had arrived and were greeted by a crowd of 70,000 people. Today, the crowds were blessedly smaller, but the boats were anchored at the riverbank. We were able to talk to two of the re-enactors, who told us the boat has a concealed motor, mandated by the Coast Guard.
I took a picture of the statue of Lewis and Clark and the dog (Seaman).
We strolled down part of Historic Main Street with its quaint shops and houses. Many citizens were costumed, and one couple was driving a yoke of oxen pulling a cart (and holding up traffic).
Highway 24 turned south and crossed the Missouri again. Across the river, we stopped at the Port of Waverly, where we could drive down to the bank of the wide brown river. The current had many eddies, and some debris floated swiftly downstream. Small birds swooped low over the water, and the vista westward showed green riverbanks as far as we could see.
Near Onawa, we visited the Lewis and Clark State Park (Iowa), where we were able to climb aboard and explore on our own full-size replicas of the keelboat and red and white pirogues.
We continued up I-29 to Sergeant Bluff, where we visited the obelisk commemorating Sergeant Floyd, the only man to die on the expedition. Lewis and Clark camped near here after burying him. We have seen a number of historic markers noting Lewis and Clark campsites. We have not kept count of the number of times we have crossed the Missouri River.
May 20 and 21
We crossed back into Nebraska and drove through rolling hills, green and brown with agricultural activity through the Santee Indian reservation, and to beautiful Niobrara State Park…the outdoor Interpretive Center…has plaques about Lewis and Clark and the Ponca Indians. We took a short walk down to the Lewis and Clark campsite on a bluff, marked by a pole topped with a ragged flag.
We went on to Fort Mandan (North Dakota), a reconstruction of Lewis and Clark’s winter camp. (The original site is now under the river about ten miles away.) The triangular stockade seems small, but the quarters are cozy enough. They are furnished with pewter tableware, buffalo hides on the beds, and period clothing. The captain’s room has a writing desk and scientific instruments as well as uniforms. There is a blacksmith room too, a guardroom, and two storage rooms. The original palisade was 18 feet high, but this one is only 15.
Interstate 15 from Great Falls to Helena (Montana) is very scenic and follows the Missouri River rather closely, so we took it. From Helena, we took 287 and 12 to Townsend and on to Three Forks of the Missouri Headwaters, where we camped. Richardson’s ground squirrels were playing in the roadway in the campground.
We…spent most of the day in the Missouri Headwaters State Park…we drove up to the confluence of the Madison and Jefferson Rivers and took some pictures. I climbed down to the rocky shore and put my hand in the water. Next, we drove up to Fort Rock and climbed the paths to the outcroppings, which had splendid views…Aidan spotted a yellow-bellied marmot on the top of the rock. We could see Lewis Rock (on private property), where Lewis stood when he recorded this area.
From Three Forks, we took Route 2 and then 41 through La Hood and Twin Bridges. Somewhere on that very scenic route (which became more rugged along the way), I saw two buffy sandhill cranes. We stopped in a rain shower to see Beaverhead Rock, the landmark that Sacagawea recognized as being near where she had been kidnapped as a child. By the time we got to Clark’s Lookout, a craggy rock that can be climbed, the rain had stopped.
We found our way to Route 278 and into the hills of Bannack, where the campground is nestled in a little valley surrounded by rounded, brownish green hills dotted with sagebrush. In addition to regular campsites, a new canvas teepee was available to rent for $25. How often do you have the opportunity to sleep in a teepee? So, of course we took it. It was quite spacious, with a thick mat on the floor. While we were setting up camp, a mother mule deer and two young ones were grazing in the willow and sagebrush at the edge of our campsite.
Learning from one of the rangers that the Lemhi Pass road was passable, we set out over the mountain on a gravel road…the middle section of the Lemhi Pass road was similar to roads we traveled in Alaska, but the only snow was a small patch right at the Pass. The scenery was breath taking, though, with high mountain meadows and vistas of snow-capped peaks.
We drove along the scenic Salmon River (I took a picture from a bridge with mountain peaks beyond) and then followed the North Fork on Route 93, through Gibbonsville and to the Lost Trail Pass at 7014 feet (Lemhi was 7339). All along, the scenery was gorgeous, but rugged. How difficult it must have been on foot or horseback with no road!
We took Route 12 toward the Lolo Pass through strikingly beautiful mountain terrain with tall dark spruce and fir trees…we hiked the half-mile loop trail that put us on part of the Lolo Trail actually used by Lewis and Clark. The terrain was very steep, and the forest floor was cluttered with fallen trees – not easy going even now. But the trail was rich with wildflowers –false Solomon’s seal, poet’s shooting star, Piper’s anemone, fairy slipper, trillium, western serviceberry, and several we couldn’t identify.
We continued down Route 12 until we saw a sign for a U.S. Forest Service campground, White Sands, on the Elk Summit Road. It was a fortunate choice. We passed a meadow filled with blue camas on the way, and our campsite is beside the wild and scenic Lochsa River. After dinner, I took a 45- minute hike up the Lewis and Clark Trail #25 toward Wendover Camp. The narrow trail wound up almost to the top of the ridge; crossed a small waterway, and came around the next hill to an open vista that was gorgeous. The fast- flowing Lochsa was surrounded with dark green mountains and no sign of civilization.
We camped at the large and rather crowded Fort Stevens State Park [Oregon] and experienced the “vurry turribal” mosquitoes Lewis and Clark complained of.
…on to Fort Clatsop, where we spent the rest of a sunny, cool morning exploring the fort and grounds. A ranger costumed as one of the Corps sergeants posed in the supply room and then helped costume Aidan in a buckskin coat and beaver cap so I could take a picture of him in the captain’s quarters. If only I had remembered to take the camera off “panoramic.”