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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

On The Trail

In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson changed world history and guaranteed the greatness of the United States of America.  The Louisiana Purchase from France was, in my mind, the single most important action of any President.  Acquiring what would become the American Midwest from France, Jefferson provided America its bread basket, its minerals for industrialization, a position by which to settle and acquire the lands west of the purchase and established the boundaries the nation would take.

Also in 1803 Jefferson sent two guys off to find a way to get from the then United States concentrated on the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean via water.  So Meriweather Lewis and William Clark set out across the newly acquired lands and into and across the northern lands of what is now Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

So to did Leslie and Dennis Smith set out a mere 209 years later across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, though instead of horses and on foot our journey was in a Honda Odyssey with satellite radio and air conditioning.  What took Lewis and Clark several months in 1805 when they reached the Bitterroot Mountains to traverse from the east and then travel by canoe to the convergence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers took us several hours, much of which we spent pondering how Lewis and Clark made their crossing, albeit north or ours, of the mountain range.

But back to the beginning of the trail.  We left Pendleton, Oregon yesterday morning with a plan of travelling northeast to Walla Walla, Washington, then continuing northeast to Clarkston (WA)/Lewiston (ID), then further eastward and northward to Missoula, Montana.  We followed the plan, what was unplanned was the beauty of the American west that we would be experiencing.  What we also followed was a route marked as The Lewis and Clark Trail for most of our drive.

As mentioned in the previous post, coming into Pendleton from the south we drove through huge hills of grass lands.  Leaving Pendleton from the north we were immersed in thousands and thousands of acres of rolling wheat fields.  From Pendleton to Walla Walla we wound through and around golden fields undergoing harvest with giant pieces of farm equipment cutting the wheat, collecting and pouring into trailers.  Driving through towns meant driving past huge grain silos.  Wheat, wheat, wheat.

Partially harvested wheat field and silo
Exiting Walla Walla we saw more wheat but also other agriculture added, lots of orchards, some vineyards, and slowly more twists and turns, more copse of trees and the terrain became a bit less round and a bit more sharp.  As we approached the Washington-Idaho border we started running a long a very wide river, it was the Snake River.  Every man who was a boy when I was knows the Snake River for one reason: Evel Knievel and his attempt to jump the Snake River and one of its widest canyons on a rocket-motorcycle.

Our experience of the Snake River was short lived.  What we did see what major commerce on the river, huge piles of grain and logs on the far banks with ports to load the materials onto barges to be taken down the Snake to the Columbia River and eventually to the Pacific near Astoria, Oregon.  Where Washington and Idaho meet so to do the Clearwater and Snake Rivers meet.

After lunch in Lewiston, Idaho we set out on highway 12 and for the next several hundred miles followed the Clearwater River as it wound its way through valleys and canyons.  It was a most incredible drive with sharp mountain walls filled with towering pines falling right to the water's edge.  We were constantly being passed by trucks loaded with felled trees heading south.  On the river families were floating on intertubes anchored to the river bottom, guys were standing in the rushing water enticing trout with their flies.  Looking up into the hills so densely forested Leslie and kept wondering how it must have been to travel the area two hundred years ago.

Clearwater River along Hwy 12
Finally after several hours of winding road we began to climb and leave the river behind.  We climbed to 5200 feet and the Lolo Pass which breached through the Bitterroot range.  As we cleared the pass we also cleared the border from Idaho into Montana, cleared from Pacific to Mountain time and cleared the Continental Divide.  Until we cross New Mexico sometime next Wednesday or Thursday all rivers and creeks we see will no longer eventually drain into the Pacific.

Driving into Missoula we left the steep mountains behind us and wound through forests and open meadows, much as I pictured Montana to be.

While yesterday's journey was only 350 miles it took us eight hours, most of it on winding roads that required complete driver alertness, all of it on roads that once again had us in wonder of the beauty of our country.  We were very happy to pull into the motor court of the C'mon Inn to have an in room cocktail and reflect on our day's sights.

Traveling our route yesterday somewhat following the trail of Meriweather Lewis and William Clark we could only marvel at the courage and the incredible spirit their party must have had.  While we were exhausted after eight hours in a comfortable vehicle traveling on a well maintained roads we were also in awe of their journey and what they must have experienced as each day Nature unfolded before them.

Here is a link to National Geographic website on Lewis and Clark, you can click on the different legs of their journey.

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