Tag Archives: Lewis & Clark

September 15: In which I run into a couple of old friends. Very old friends.

I saw this on my way out of Bismarck.  Made me wonder if there were transplanted Roswell, NM, residents here.
I saw this on my way out of Bismarck. Made me wonder if there were transplanted Roswell, NM, residents here.

It rained a bit during the night, but had cleared up by this morning. The weather prediction was for it to be overcast most of the day, with a few scattered showers, and I believed it. More fool me.

To be fair, it didn’t do much more than spit as I drove north from Bismarck towards Fort Mandan, where Lewis and Clark built their home for the winter of 1804-05. There they stayed from October till April, waiting for the temperatures to warm up from the minus forty it hit several times that winter, and for the ice to melt on the Missouri River before they headed on upriver to the Pacific Coast – eventually.

It was funny how much the reproduction (the original is under the shifted Missouri River somewhere) fort looks like the reproduction Fort Clatsop in Oregon, where the Corps of Discovery spent their second winter. Or maybe not. Anyway, it reminded me of home, in an odd way, hence the subject header of today’s post. Not that I’ve ever lived in a hand-built log fort or anything…

I love this quote, for obvious reasons.
I love this quote, for obvious reasons.
The front of Fort Mandan.
The front of Fort Mandan.
One of the pierced tin lanterns, lit up.
One of the pierced tin lanterns, lit up.
Inside Fort Mandan.
Inside Fort Mandan.
A blunderbuss.  I'd read about them, but I'd never seen one in person before.  The guide let me try to lift it -- it's *heavy*!
A blunderbuss. I’d read about them, but I’d never seen one in person before. The guide let me try to lift it — it’s *heavy*!
The obligatory statue of Seaman, Lewis's Newfoundland dog.  I'm pretty sure every L&C site I've ever been to has had one.
The obligatory statue of Seaman, Lewis’s Newfoundland dog. I’m pretty sure every L&C site I’ve ever been to has had one.

It had started raining again by the time I left Fort Mandan, and was coming down fairly well by the time I got to the North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center a few miles back down the road. It’s a very nice museum, dealing with both L&C as well as North Dakota agricultural history, which is more interesting than it sounds, especially as the first farmers in what later became North Dakota were the Mandan Indians. Apparently a fair number of our commercial corn and bean varieties are descended from those the Mandans grew, including my favorite dry bean, the Great Northern. I’ll never look at taco soup the same way again [g].

Double life-size statues of L&C and the local Mandan chief in front of the L&C interpretive center, just down the road from Fort Mandan.
Double life-size statues of L&C and the local Mandan chief in front of the L&C interpretive center, just down the road from Fort Mandan.
Nifty bison statues at the interpretive center.
Nifty bison statues at the interpretive center.
The Missouri River near Fort Mandan.
The Missouri River near Fort Mandan.

The rain did not stop. Oh, it slowed down a little, but when I arrived at the Knife River Villages National Historic Site a few miles to the west, it was too wet to go hiking out to see more earth lodges. But there was a fellow in the visitor center who played a wicked Native American flute (I wish I could have recorded him – he was that good), and a very helpful ranger who gave me the phone number of the ranger station at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s North Unit.

See, the last time I was in this part of the world, in 2012, the road into the North Unit had been closed because the land underneath it had slumped. Slumping is the primary way the badlands of the western Dakotas are formed, so it’s nothing unusual, but I had been rather disappointed at the time. So I wanted to see if the road was open again before I drove out of my way to go see it. And yes, it is. And the campground is still open this late in the season, too.

The beginning of the Badlands.
The beginning of the Badlands.

So on westward I went, through the rain and about twenty miles of unpaved road construction (dear godlings, was that not fun), and finally made it here to TRNP’s north unit, where I’m ensconced in a campsite, listening to the rain pound down on Merlin’s metal roof (I’m always glad I’m not tent camping, but I’m really glad tonight).

It’s supposed to clear up tomorrow, and it darned well better. I have a drive I want to make [g].

Three weeks ago, Day 11

 Lewis and Clark, well, Clark, anyway, again

My journal entry for today begins, “A week from today I will be home <sigh>.  But I still have seven days to go.  That’s a lot.”  And later in the same entry, “I’m less than 250 miles from Butte, according to the signs on the Interstate — which means I’m less than 2 full days’ drive from home — but not yet.”  These trips always go too fast.

Neither I nor my car nor the Motel 6 in Miles City blew away overnight, although not for lack of trying.  The weather had calmed down considerably by morning, thank goodness, and after a grocery run and a fruitless search for block (as opposed to bag) ice again — the last ice I’d bought was the last available block at a convenience store in Williston, which lasted approximately twice as long as the bag I’d bought before that — I got back up on the freeway and headed out.

Although I forgot to mention my third (and determinedly last) quilt shop of the trip the afternoon before in Miles City, which had some wonderful tan tone-on-tone fabric created from national park maps.  I collect national park fabrics — I once made an entire quilt made in a national park theme, as a matter of fact.  So I jumped on this one with glee. 

Anyway.  Back to I-94.  It took a couple of hours for me to get to my first stop today, Pompey’s Pillar National Monument. Pompey’s Pillar is another of those newfangled national monuments, like the Upper Missouri Breaks, administered by the Bureau of Land Management instead of the National Park Service.  I know of a third category of national monuments as well, administered by the U.S. Forest Service — an example of one of those is Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, a couple of hours south of where I live, and it seems there’s at least one more category other than that.  Apparently after a certain date, who administers a newly-created monument depends on whose land it was carved from.  The land on which Pompey’s Pillar NM sits was purchased from a private individual.  I assume when that happens the monument is assigned to whichever agency seems most logical.  

At any rate, I seem to be digressing something fierce today.  Pompey’s Pillar has always been sort of a minor item on my personal bucket list.  It was named from Clark’s nickname for Sacagawea’s baby son.  Lewis was not with Clark (they had split up to cover more territory on the way home), when Clark stopped to carve the graffito on the side of the pillar that is the only tangible in situ evidence of the entire journey.  “Wm. Clark, July 25, 1806”  From my journal again, “I’ve seen a lot of old documents in my time — the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, etc.  But there’s something mindboggling about seeing the name of an explorer carved in a rock along the actual route he took.”

Many wildflowers were in bloom, too, along the trail and the stairs leading to the top, from which was another of those it’s-got-to-be-more-than-180-degrees-from-horizon-to-horizon views.  And the ‘interpretive’ center, which was bright new, dating from the bicentennial of the expedition in 2006, was well-done.  I picnicked there, and then drove on to Billings, just past where I-94 ends as it runs into I-90.

Billings is the biggest city in Montana, and it actually looks and feels like a city, with tall buildings and everything.  I needed to do some practical things, like get gas and cash and do laundry, so I spent a couple of hours there.  I think I was most impressed by the flowers in people’s yards.  I am inclined to notice such things, anyway, and it was early June, after all, but they really were lovely. 

 It was fairly late in the afternoon by the time I left town, and I had thought of finding another motel, but after being cheated out of camping the night before by the weather, I really wanted to camp.  Besides, the weather had cooled considerably, and I was back in the eastern foothills of the Rockies, at last.

So I drove on to the small town of Columbus, where I saw an RV park by the side of the highway.  I stopped there, only to be told I had to have an RV to stay there, but the lady said that if I went south through town to where the state highway crossed the Yellowstone River, there was a nice free municipal campground.  So I did, and there it was, right on the river, shaded by the ubiquitous but very pleasant and enormous cottonwoods, where I settled down for the night.

The river was very full, and the place was very peaceful except for two extremely unexpected sheep.

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Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures
http://mmjustus.com/fictionrepeatinghistory.html