Yesterday, I left Three Forks and was on my way to Beaverhead Rock State Park. My route ran between State Road 2 and US 287 until Whitehall, Montana.
The road followed the Jefferson River, so it was perfect. This time of year the water is low. Wonder if it was the same for Lewis & Clark? They traveled this area in canoes, though; and we know that much of the time here they walked or waded and pulled the canoes with ropes. Don’t you know they were being watched from high up above in the hills and mountains?
If they were able to ride in the canoes, they poled them much like our current poling boats. They seldom rowed them anymore. So I believe the water must have been low.
The river flowed through a narrow canyon, near Lahood Park, Montana on SR 2; and I wondered what this looked like to them in 1805. It is still narrow today, and that was after widening it at the river’s edge to add a two-lane highway and a railroad. This is a beautiful ride especially here.
I need to describe what it is like driving through this area. These little two lanes roads winding through the mountains with their potholes and buckled road beds have a 70 mile per hour speed limit. I’m thinking, “why bother”. It is too fast even for me. And I’m the daughter that Dad nicknamed “Leadfoot,” but I’m not one out here. Not compared to these people.
Finally, I got to a little town called Whitehall, and stopped at the Legends Family Restaurant. They must have been short on help, because they told me to seat myself; but there was only one table and it still had a cup and newspaper at it. It was 1 pm. I set down, and the waitress took my order and never bothered to clear the table. I just pushed it to the other side.
Menus everywhere now are full of fast foods. I guess because that is what people want, so I ordered another chef salad. This one was lettuce, ham, roast beef, and a few sprinkles of cheese. Not much to write home about.
Finally I got to Two Bridges, Montana. Chuck would love this place. It has more fly fishing and outdoor shops than it has churches. Of course, I knew what that meant. There had to be a great fly fishing stream(s) nearby.
I turned right in the middle of town on Montana 41 and immediately crossed over the Beaverhead River. The Beaverhead is one of two rivers that creates the Jefferson River. The other was the Ruby. They chose to follow the Beaverhead so now I’m following it, too.
I stopped at a little park on the river and took some pictures. It is a clear stream not very deep and quite cool but not cold.
Afterwards, the road took me through the Jefferson River Valley where the Corps struggled to pull their boats up this river. This valley was an old Indian corridor, and they found an old trail. The men became much fatigued during this part of the expedition. The rocks in the river bruised their feet.
At one point while driving, Canon in D done with violins began playing on the radio. Within a short time I realized that this music was made for just such a drive. The wind in the fields seemed to roll with the music. I could not have planned a more majestic moment.
I finally got to Beaverhead Rock which sits right beside the Beaverhead River.
Sacajawea when seeing this rock, knew that her people were nearby. The rock was a landmark for several tribes who moved through this valley to and from their buffalo hunting grounds.
She was captured near here by another tribe when she was a girl of 12 and taken east where she was sold as a slave to Charbonneau. She became one of two of his wives. So she had come full circle and was back in her native lands.
Again, this is a state park where I can find no entrance. So I studied the area and a Google Earth map, where I noticed a gravel road which enters it just before crossing the river. The road pulled off just before a flashing sign that warns about a coming curve. So I drove the road into the park, but it simply surrounds the rock–the road and the park.
The rock is about 150′ high and made of Madison limestone. The road went around its base so closely to its cliffs that I worried a little about falling or calving sides. The vegetation was cattails and tall grasses along with several different kinds of wild flowers–yellows and purples.
Every afternoon the wind picks up, and here the grasses are blowing in waves. I can see how this was special to per people. It was also a meeting place for them.
The Indians thought this rock looked like a swimming beaver, thus the name they gave it.
I drove on to Dillon, Montana and turned north on the old US 91. Just north of town is a rock called Clark’s lookout. I found the entrance to the park just past the rock on the right. This one is well marked.
The Beaverhead River runs by here, too. It is simply a deep stream at this point. Clark climbed up on this rock and used its height to make measurements and notations for his mapmaking.
William Clark was from a famous revolutionary war family. Two of his brothers were revolutionary war generals. In fact one brother George was the original person that President Jefferson asked to lead this expedition. George declined but recommended his brother William.
I got interested in the Clark family many years ago when I read the historical fiction novel “From Sea to Shining Sea” by James Alexander Thom. They were an amazing family and several played key roles in our nation.
President Jefferson then asked Meriwether Lewis to lead the expedition. Lewis in turn asked for his friend William Clark to co-captain the expedition with him.
William Clark had much to bring to the expedition’s success. He was outgoing and had an easy temperament. He was also a surveyor, mapmaker, frontiersman, experienced woodsman, and former military commander. In fact he had been Lewis’s commander earlier when they were in the military. This is how they became friends.
Actually, the Corps of Discovery was a military expedition commanded by the two co-captains. Before they left Illinois, Clark drilled the men military style to get them in shape for what was to become. Capt. Clark was the military commander on the expedition.
I left Dillon and got on Interstate 15 going south. About twenty miles later I got off on SR 324. near the Clark Dam. This dam creates the tail waters of the Beaverhead River. By the way Lewis and Clark still called this river the Jefferson, even up to this point.
The reservoir formed by the dam flooded the canyon here, and this canyon is where Lewis and Clark realized that the river from this point on was not navigable. Their travel by boat came to an end here.
President Jefferson ordered them to go by boat as far west as possible. It is here that they ran out of navigable waters.
Now they are desperately looking for horses in order to cross over to find a river on the other side of the continental divide. The group had seen no Indians since the Mandan Village back in North Dakota four months earlier. Winter is coming, and time is running out. They needed to cross the mountains as soon as possible.
They camped in this canyon, and it was called Camp Fortunate. I stopped at a little wayside park sitting high over the reservoir. There is a full scale model here of one of the canoes they used.
Lewis struck out further west on foot to find a pass through the mountains. Clark stopped at Camp Fortunate with the rest of the men, including Charbonneau, Sacajawea and her baby. I left the lookout and went west like Lewis did.
I continued on Montana 324 looking for Lemhi Pass where Lewis & Clark crossed over the continental divide on their way to the Pacific. Clark was so sure that they would pick up the Salmon River soon after crossing that he called this a portage on his original map. He later changed it.
I continued south toward Tendoy, Idaho to search for a west entrance to the Lemhi Pass Road. I don’t have instructions to the east side of the pass. I got very lucky though, because I found the road’s east entrance on the way. Following the Lewis & Clark Trail is not so easy some days. Today is better than most.
This entrance travels over USDA Forest Service gravel roads which eventually go over Lemhi Pass. This way will be about 25-30 miles. These roads are on an old Indian Road that Lewis and Clark took to cross the Continental Divide. There is a sign at the entrance showing the way through the pass.
On this side of the pass it is all gravel roads through ranch lands with cattle gaps, some old wood fencing, and then a national forest. Thankfully, I took a picture of the map on the sign before I left the entrance. It would come in handy later, because there are no signs marking the way once you leave the entrance.
This drive is the highlight so far of my trip. It rolls over private ranch lands. The views are beautiful. Here is where one of the party stood with a foot on each side of the once mighty river that is now a stream.
The road also later became a stagecoach road. One of the ranchers owns one of the old coaches and displayed it next to one of his barns. His hme was the old stage station.
Just as I approached the upper canyon, the road narrowed to a single lane and eventually entered a forest of conifers as it switchbladed back and forth up to a saddle. At the top of the saddle are more signs with information about Lewis’s pass through here in August of 1805.
A rock marker in the saddle shows where the continental divide is. I walked around a little but was a bit wary. This is because as I drove up I saw in the distance either a man or a bear walk off into the woods down the road a ways.
I thought it was a man until I saw the sign warning about bears in the area. Then I wasn’t so sure. Surely, it was a man, though, because he was walking on two legs. I haven’t a clue where he went but there was a trail there that dropped down the mountain over the side. So I was probably safe. Otherwise I was up there all by myself.
The signs say that this pass here on the Montana/Idaho border looks much like it did when the expedition came through here in 1805. Lewis crossed it first on August 12. He unfurled the American flag on the other side and for the first time in history the flag flew west of the Rockie Mountains. The views are stunning on both sides.
At the top of the saddle the road forked four ways. Three looked like good easy roads but one of them dropped off down a steep decline and is full of small rocks. I looked at my GPS but there is no service up here. I have no idea which road to take.
Thankfully, I took a screen shot of the map down below. It said that I needed to take Road 013. Oh Great! That’s the bad one with the rocks and the steep descent. I guess the rocks are there to help me keep going?
I rolled up to its edge and thought, “Well, I’ve been on worse.” The whole situation reminded me of Mulholland Drive.
I began my descent and slipped and slid several hundred feet down to a turn where it quickly evened out. Down below the road is narrow and winding, but the rest of the ride was a piece of cake. On the east side of the saddle were rolling ranch lands. On this side it is deep forests.
There are also snakes. It is almost 7 pm, and I’m beginning to think that maybe they came out on the roadbed to stay warmer because it was already cooling down.
It was very windy up at the saddle, and I noticed that it was less hot than down below. I passed four snakes total, all on the west side of the pass. The last one was a large nasty rattlesnake.
Speaking of animals I’ve seen quite a few this trip. At Tower Rock yesterday I saw two big horn sheep coming down some rocks from high above. They are amazing rock climbers. And today I’ve seen several deer.
One jumped out into the road a little ahead of me and then saw me and ran back across in front of my car. I threw everything into the floorboards, but missed the deer. Another time, I stopped to read a historical sign near a pretty tree-lined field and surprised a doe and two of her yearlings who were grazing nearby. They ran off a little ways but I got a picture of her.
Captain Lewis and his three men as an advance party spent a night on the west side of the pass and would go all the way to the Columbia before returning to his expedition back on the east side of the pass. I’ll continue there with that story tomorrow.
I finally got back down from the pass, but I’m in Idaho. I started driving north on Idaho 28 toward my next stop Traveler’s Rest. This is the Nez Perce Trail. And I’m also still following the Lewis & Clark Trail.
I have no idea how long I’ll drive before stopping for the night. It is two and a half hours to Traveler’s Rest in Lolo, Montana. I have fruit to snack on and a meal in the car just in case, but did not need the meal.
I rolled into Salmon, Idaho on the Salmon River about thirty minutes later and found a good restaurant, The Junkyard Bistro, and a surprisingly good Super8 hotel.
I am worn out, but it was a great day.