Through Foreign Eyes - Spring/Summer 2009 travel blog

intrepretive center

Missouri River dam

Indian Blanket


Some people think that we travel a lot. We don't hold a candle to Lewis & Clark, the first white men to systematically explore the lands that comprised the Louisiana Purchase. In 1803 President Jefferson ordered them to mount an expedition, documenting the land and all that was upon it and look for a waterway that would allow easy passage from the east coast to the west. This was a journey that took over three years and Lewis & Clark left both their own names and the names they gave to notable features on many landmarks in the northwestern US.

After a year spent provisioning and organizing, they left St. Louis following the Missouri River west. Since the Missouri River flows east, this meant they spent the whole time battling the current. Still it was the easiest and only way to explore this unknown land. The courage and stamina these men demonstrated makes their story a gripping one even today. We went to the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls to learn more.

The men relied greatly on the Indians they met along the way, including the famous Sacagawea. When they spent the winter in what today is North Dakota, the Indians there told them that they would encounter a large waterfall on the Missouri River. Shortly before they got to this part of Montana, they came to a Y in the river and weren't sure which way to go. When the found the waterfall, they knew they were on the right track. When they found four more in a span of about eighteen miles, they were bummed. They had not planned on having to portage all their boats and goods this distance over significant hills. This little detour took them an entire month and almost did them in. The museum here in Great Falls, honors their journey and all that they accomplished. With the exception of one man who died of a ruptured appendix, all the men Lewis & Clark brought with them made it back to the east alive. The two men worked together well as a team and their leadership made the trip a success. However, as they made their way home, taking advantage of the swift current of the Missouri River, they were already encountering adventurous types making their way west without the advantage of the maps and details the two explorers brought with them. As we drove along their trail today, crossing the Missouri River many times as it meanders, we consulted the GPS, ran the A/C, and chatted on our cell phones. What a difference 200 years can make!

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