First, I apologize for not being able to get this to your earlier, but under the circumstances, I believe you will understand. I will run this post this morning, and the other post this afternoon if I have a good wifi or cellular connection. That has been the problem for the past few days. Day 6 could have been a nightmare, but I’ll let my next post explain what happened.
August 2, Tuesday
I stayed in Missoula, Montana on Monday night, which is less than ten miles away from Lolo. So this morning I circled back to Lolo to tour Traveler’s Rest State Park. As you may remember, this is where Lewis & Clark camped before crossing the Rocky Mountains using an ancient trail, an old Nez Perce trail.
Even today one can see why this became a resting spot not only for the Corp of Discovery but also for the Salish and several other tribes who were friendly to each other. There are tall grasses, shady cottonwood trees, and plentiful game. There is also a sparkling clear stream that Lewis named Traveler’s Rest which runs through the ancient campsite. The stream is now called Lolo Creek.
Speaking of plentiful game, In the middle of the day I saw a deer walk across the field in front of the state park entrance, which is on SR 12, the road that runs westward across the Rockies. Above this road on the northern ridge line runs the ancient trail mentioned earlier. The Nez Perce used this trail to get to the eastern plains’ buffalo grounds.
When the expedition got here, they would have noticed several tepee poles which were left here as community property; but the Corps made it a practice to always set up camp away from the Indians’ camp, but still nearby. They camped across the creek. It was in September of 1805.
First, I listened to a brief lecture from a knowledgeable staff member in the visitor’s center. She talked about the area and the expedition, and then I toured the small museum in the center.
Most fascinating is an 1803 gun on display. Lewis’s journal says that he acquired fifteen rifles from the US Armory and Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry before departing. We don’t know what model, though.
We do know that the Armory began production of a new shorter version of Model 1792 in late 1803 or early 1804. In late 1803 Lewis had already left west for the expedition. This rifle here on display is one of the first fifteen and would have been a prototype and produced earlier than standard issue.
Many believe that Lewis would have wanted the lightest and best rifles available. It is believed he may have gotten fifteen of these to take west. This rifle is serial #12. It was bought in an online auction. The new owner noticed the significance of the serial number, whereas its previous owner did not.
Afterwards, I went on their self-guided half mile trail loop using interpretive stops and a brochure to learn more about their encampment. At the first stop I was joined by a gentlemen who turned out to be a park ranger.
I was the only person walking the loop, so he joined me; and we walked the rest of the loop as he explained what took place at each stop. It was good to meet Mike and discuss the expedition with an expert.
What makes this state park unique in the Lewis & Clark story is that this is where archeologists have archeological proof as to the exact place where they camped. As was usual on the expedition, it was a military style encampment.
They can tell where the three kitchens of the campsite were placed. Because two of the men were taking medicine for intestinal problems and because that medicine contained mercury, they know where the latrines were located, too. The pills they took were called Dr. Rush’s Bilous Pills, also known as thunderclappers. I’m afraid that their pain was our gain.
Also, the men used the fires to make repairs and bullets for their guns, and the archeologists found a small lead puddle in one of the fire sites.
They stayed here three days so they could prepare themselves for their westward journey over the mountains. They hunted game, and probably gazed at the snow-covered Lolo peak in the distance.
Today, next to the campsite sits a very tall and old witness fir tree. It was here long before Lewis & Clark passed through. They did a core sample on the tree to determine its age, and it was there when Lewis & Clark came through here in 1805. It witnessed their historical expedition.
The Corp of Discovery broke camp and with their Indian guide left Traveler’s Rest on September 11, 2005 turning west to take the Nez Perce trail over the daunting Bitterroot Mountains, two hundred miles of mountainous terrain. Today, much of this trail is called the Lolo Motorway. I struck out on Montana 12 traveling west, too.
The Lolo Motorway Trail is an upper road that follows the ridge line, but it is a 100-mile long dirt and gravel road. If this were the beginning of the vacation, I would do it in a heartbeat; but tomorrow is my last day and I have to be as far back as Missoula by tomorrow night. Also, I didn’t find out about it until about noon today, too late to do it today.
I’ll save this for when I do the next segment of the Lewis & Clark Trail. I’ll begin that one in Missoula and end it near the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon.
SR 12 runs through a long valley before climbing up to Lolo Pass. Lolo Creek runs through this valley, and the expedition followed this creek until they got to Lolo springs where they camped and then moved on to cross Lolo pass.
At Lolo Pass there is an Idaho Rest Area and Information Center. I walked through their small interpretive center and walked around outside, too. This would have been a good place to take a hike.
On the other side of Lolo Pass they began to go up high to follow the ridges on the ridge line. My drive down below is through great forests and running next to the Lochsa River. It is a beautiful drive. The sun came down at just the right angle to create thousands of diamonds on the water.
It was explained by one of the roadside signs that the land up here is laid out in a checkerboard pattern with every other plot of land owned by the federal government and Plum Creek Timber Company. I remembered them telling me how Plum Creek lands were bought from the railroad who received the lands from the federal government when the railroads were built out here. I used to represent Plum Creek before the Florida legislature.
But Lewis & Clark’s Shoshone guide brought the expedition down at one point near what is today Whitehouse Pond. This was a Lochsa fishery. They thought he was lost when he had to take them back up north, back to the high ridges. Lochsa Canyon which State Road 12 follows had too many cliffs and gorges for a horseback ride down below.
I am beginning to get a little worried as it is approaching 6 pm, and I’ve seen very few places to dine and lodge for the evening. I got lucky, though, because I rolled into Kamiah, Idaho by 6:30 pm. I had a Mexican meal and stayed at the Lewis & Clark Resort, which has been converted into a motel/KOA campground. It was very nice to be in a campground where I’ve always felt the safest. I took a long walk around its streets and it is quite cool and nice up here. A dry front is moving through and it is really nice to hear the wind in the pines and aspens. Aspens have a different sound in the wind. It is more of a rustling sound.
I drove over five hours (with lots of stops, though), and am still not out of the Rockies. Poor Lewis & Clark. They must have thought that they would never get out of these mountains.
Speaking of Lewis and Clark, I’ve already discussed William Clark, but the success of this expedition included both men. The two men complimented each other’s skills and traits, providing for strong leadership.
Meriwether Lewis was quiet, intense and serious, the opposite of Clark’s outgoing and gregarious temperament. Both men were resourceful, intelligent and kept good journals of the experience.
Lewis was over six feet tall and stayed in great physical shape. Like Clark he was also a skilled back woodsmen. He was fiercely loyal, disciplined but also flexible. He had a sharp eye for flora and fauna, and his detailed journal entries reflect this. He also learned herbal medicine from his mother, which would also be useful to the expedition.
I am very close to the town which is located where the Corp descended down from the ridges. I plan to end my westward journey there tomorrow.