In one of the longest portages ever Lewis and Clark stumbled out of the mountains in search of another water route and found the Clearwater River.
Last year I wrote about another section of the Lewis and Clark Trail in the “Following Old Trails” series. I blogged about this segment of the trail from Great Falls, Montana to the Weippe Prairie in Idaho.
As you probably remember, the Lewis and Clark Trail is a historical water trail which followed the path that Meriweather Lewis and William Clark took at the request of President Thomas Jefferson in 1805-1807. I ended that segment in the fields of Wieppe where they literally stumbled out of the mountains starving, cold, and wet. You can read about that here to refresh your memory. Only stop reading when I begin to talk about the road back through the Clearwater National Forest. I had car trouble and it gets too long.
Today, Chuck and I began this “Following Old Trails” journey in Orofino, Idaho at the Best Western River View on the Clearwater River near Wieppe Prairie, a great place to stay, by the way. Weippe Prairie is where Lewis and Clark began, again trying to find a water route to the Pacific, a northwest passage. Chuck and I are 130 miles from Lolo Pass, and yesterday we followed the lower route which was not the route that Lewis and Clark took. If you remember from last year’s blog post they took an upper route following a ridge line through the Bitterroot mountains. It is a rough forest road that travels approximately one hundred miles up there.
We are driving on a 202-mile scenic byway (US 12) called the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway, and it follows a trail that the Nez Perce Indians used and that later Lewis and Clark used. Unfortunately, today there is lots of smoke, and the views are not as good or are restricted. However, I traveled through this area last year and the views were beautiful. Today, though, there are numerous wildfires throughout the west.
The scenic byway commemorates the Lewis and Clark expedition’s quest for a watercourse through the Rocky Mountains connecting the Missouri and Columbia Rivers. Of course, there was no watercourse all the way through, which is why they took a long portage over the mountains going west and coming back east.
Today, we left Orofino, traveling west on US 12 with our destination being Walla Walla, Washington. In Wieppe Prairie, Lewis and Clark cold, wet, and starving stumbled out of mountains having made it to the western side of the Bitterroots. An early winter storm made it treacherous. On the other side at Wieppe Prairie, they found the Nez Perce Indians, a friendly tribe who were very helpful. They were fed food made from the camas root, which was a staple in the diet of the Indians but which made the expedition very sick. It was sustenance, though, and they were starving.
The Lewis and Clark expedition was the ultimate American adventure. Back home every newspaper wrote about them. They were famous overnight, but now they were in truly uncharted territory. The risk was greater, and no one back east knew their fate. Not even President Jefferson who sent them. The men who took their ship back from the Mandan village earlier that spring were long home, so the east knew that as of early spring 1805 the rest of the men of the Lewis and Clark expedition were safe, but now it was fall of 1805 and no word could be expected for quite some time.
Lewis and Clark were racing against time and the elements. It was September again and they wanted to reach the Pacific before the winter set in.
Just west of Orofino on Highway 12 is a little park that’s called Canoe Camp. In this park is the beginning of an interpretive trail where you can see the Dworshak Dam across the Clearwater River. There is also a beautiful view of the river here, and there is a replica of the dugouts made by Lewis and Clark for the remainder of their trip.
About halfway down the trail at this park, I ran across another one of the brass monuments that were placed to commemorate where Lewis and Clark stopped to camp. A surveying society used Clark’s coordinates to mark the spot. This one commemorates what he called the Canoe Camp, thus the name for this little wayside park.
This site was selected by Clark because of the many large ponderosa pines that grew here. This is where they came to make their canoes for the trip west. The canoe makers chopped out small portions of the pine logs then used fire or hot coals to carve out the wood. This made it easier to then chip out the inside of the canoes.
They were taught how to do this by several of the Nez Perce Indians who also joined them at this campsite to help them. The expedition stayed here 10 days and made five of these canoes. This camp was where they made the transition from the overland travel to travel by water again. The expedition also needed this camp as well as time to recuperate from the dried salmon and camas that they ate when they came out of the Bitterroot Mountains.
This took place here in late September 1805. Lewis and Clark built of the five canoes, four large and one small one so that the 34 members of the expedition could continue. The large canoes were about 50 to 55 feet long and could carry a minimum of seven men and 800 to 1000 pounds of their gear.
Today in this place the river has been extensively modified. There is the hydroelectric Dworshak dam that we can see in the distance.
About 10 days after they left Lewis and Clark entered what is present-day Washington State. Guided by Nez Perce men as they were still in Nez Perce country, they beached the dugout canoes and camped on the Snake River on the north side each evening. They stayed here several days, and they traded with and recorded observations about these people who were very friendly and helpful to their journey.
This camp is just west of present-day Clarkston, Washington. Clarkston and Lewiston are twin cities that set across the river from each other–Lewiston in Idaho and Clarkston in Washington state. The terrain changes from tree-lined rivers to plains.
From here the expedition continued west on the Snake River. From this point, we traveled west right beside the Snake. The river here is very wide and seems to be a bit of a reservoir. We are still on Highway 12 headed to Walla Walla, Washington.
Several times yesterday on the Clearwater River we noticed people tubing down the river. The river is cold like our spring water and very clear. I can see why they wanted to tube down it. It is very beautiful plus temperatures here are in the 90s, and I’m hearing it going to be over 100 for the next couple of days. The kids appear to be still out of school out here. Not too far down US 12, our road pulls away from the south bank of the Snake. There are no roads that follow the river closely here. We lose sight of the river in the distance.
About 30 minutes west of Clarkston we came to a rest area where you can read more about the Lewis and Clark expedition. We discovered that we are following the path of their return trip which was in 1806. The Snake is about ten miles north, and there are no roads that follow it closely on either side of the river.
At the rest area, they quoted a journal entry that said that this is where they broke camp on May 4, 1806, a cold and disagreeable morning. We are high on a summit and the wind is blowing furiously through here. No wonder they got so cold. Not a tree in sight, but I have no idea if there were trees then or not. noticed that this had rich soil here, that is was fertile with a dark rich loam.
The expedition noticed that this area had rich soil, that is was fertile with a dark rich loam. Today, this is one of the worlds most productive agricultural regions where farmers grow wheat, dried peas and lentils, barley, and other crops. In every direction, we can see the planted ground to the horizon. It is really quite beautiful.
By the way, the expedition also found great quantities of Quamash a root which the natives used. The expedition used it themselves to make their own food.
Between Clarkston and Walla Walla, we took a side trip up to Palouse Falls State Park. It is a beautiful 20-minute 20 miles drive north from Highway 12. It was especially scenic crossing the Snake River again.
The falls are beautiful. They flow quite nicely even though it is August. We hiked for a while. We also took a picnic snack with a small bottle of wine and just sat at some picnic tables and watched the falls for a while. It seems dry and very hot in the sun, but as soon as you get into the shade, it becomes very comfortable. You know you’re no longer stressed when you just sit there and count the number of cows on the hills in the distance around the falls. The count was always changing because the cattle walked behind bushes appearing and reappearing. They were few but hard to count.
The drive on into Walla Walla was quite scenic. It included mile after mile and hill after hill of wheat fields. The hills were rather high though not mountains, and they had crops of wheat all the way up on top of those hills. It was truly like the song “with amber waves of grain.”
It was like this all the way into Walla Walla, even though Walla Walla is well known for its wineries and tasting rooms.The wineries are sporadically placed throughout these hills.
A town that we especially liked on US 12 was called Dayton, Washington, a quaint little town with all kinds of small shops and a good Best Western Plus. I think if we had known about this we might have stopped here and spent the night, but we have reservations in Walla Walla.
We got some bad advice I believe about Walla Walla, Washington. We did like it. It was a beautiful small city with a wonderful downtown area that was great for taking a walk at night. It reminded me of Thomasville, Georgia.
Also our hotel The Marcus Whitman was very special. It is in an old building and is one of the oldest hotels in the area. They have done a major renovation, and it’s very elegant and very nice. The rate for the night was a very low $129, a bargain for what we got.
The wrong information though was about the drive in and the tasting rooms and the restaurant where we ate. I feel certain we got the wrong restaurant because the Seven Hills tasting room was supposed to be across the street, and it was definitely not there. Also, the restaurant was very expensive. There was a story online about it being very very reasonable. Chuck just wondered if maybe it was reasonable to the people out here. We found this part of the west, especially later in Oregon to be more expensive all around.
Having said that though the food was very good. It was called the Olive Café. We both liked Walla Walla,, and we wished we had gone to one of the tasting rooms before dinner, but it was late and we were starving.