Tuesday, June 7, 2011
We wound our way through a continual string of S turns and then crossed over the continental divide in Montana -- the rivers from then on run west draining into the Columbia River that flows through the rolling, dry, treeless landscapes of eastern Washington and Oregon. Along the Columbia River, many dams produce hydroelectric power and provide safe passage for towboats with barges – serving as a 2-way highway for agricultural products grown through modern irrigation techniques and manufactured goods shipped from around the world. Alongside the dams, fish ladders give passage so spawning salmon can return to their home streams. As the river passes through the Columbia River Gorge, basically a break in the Cascade Mountains, many fast-flowing streams and small rivers add to its volume.
For centuries America’s rivers and lakes have connected us. From the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, to the Great Lakes, to the Mississippi, to the Missouri, and finally to the Columbia River, America’s waterways provided routes for exploration, paths for commerce, water for agriculture and power for industry. In the 18th century, Lewis and Clark followed the routes of America’s western rivers to reach Fort Clatsop where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. Here they wintered after completing the westward leg of their journey of exploration.
Now we arrived in Hood River, where the Hood joins the Columbia River. Hood River, population about 6,000, is a town overlooked by the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Hood to the south and Mt. Adams to the north, one hour east of Portland --- the end of our cross-country journey.
Friday, June 3, 2011
How do you count the grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park? The grizzly bear likes to scratch his back on the rough bark of the pine tree. Rangers wrap trees with braided wire to snag the hair of the bear as he indulges his wish to scratch. The hair is then used for a DNA analysis which (bears) the special signature of the individual. No duplication in the count is possible and one therefore obtains an accurate census. And so, high tech science meets a rather pedestrian need of the naturalist.
State capitols in the heartland stand as enduring monuments to the meaning and value of our federal system that balances the power of the federal government with that of individual states. Dedicated in 1904, the Montana capitol in Helena is a wonderful piece of American Renaissance or neoclassical architecture that hearkens back to an ancient and noble past with its high domed rotunda, columns and marble. Paintings, drawn by local artists, depict significant events in Montana’s history. For example, in the four corner panels high in the rotunda typical Montanan figures are celebrated: a cowboy, a trapper, a prospector, and an American Indian –-- and under an arch, the golden spike ceremony for the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad.
Whereas John Brown, the abolitionist, was the subject of the most prominent art work in the Kansas capitol in Topeka, the Montana capitol’s most prominent painting, “Lewis and Clark Meeting Indians at Ross’ Hole,” portrays a pivotal moment in the far west. Charles Russell (1864-1926), who is sometimes seen as echoing the vibrancy of Remington, created this over-sized 25’ by 12’ canvas for the wall directly behind the chair of the Speaker of the House. His mural depicts the Indian camp where the explorers successfully traded for horses to take them over the Bitterroot Mountains before the snows blocked their passage. Lewis and Clark, small dim figures on the far right of the canvas, are hardly visible. In this epic painting. Russell focuses on the Native Americans’ role in the success of the expedition. Undoubtedly, this image gave a message for the legislators to consider as they debated laws for Montana and all its citizens.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
The expedition’s voyage up the Missouri from Great Falls, MT, took the explorers through an unusually beautiful and commanding passageway, which Lewis named the Gates of the Mountains (photo 1). Here the river, 100 to 150 yards wide, cut through 1200 foot towering grey-black limestone cliffs (photo 2) interrupted by narrow gulches and canyons descending to the river. In his journal, Lewis noted that it had “a dark and gloomy aspect.”
Further along on the way west, Lewis and Clark passed into the Bitterroot Mountains known only to the local Native Americans. The two leaders of Corps of Discovery sought a water route to the Pacific Ocean. But no such luck! They unsuccessfully tried to pass through the mountains via the Salmon River consuming vital travel time. After skillfully trading with the Shoshones for packhorses and hiring a guide, they ascended through the snows of Lolo Pass (photo 3), summit 5235 feet, and then descended the steep ridges along the Lochsa River (photo 4) to the Clearwater River leading to the Snake River and thence to the Columbia for the last stage of their journey west. This passage through the Bitterroot Mountains was extremely difficult with deep snow, scarce game and limited provisions. Despite all these obstacles, and without losing one member of the expedition, and with the assistance of Sacagewea as translator, they successfully completed the mountain passage before the full blast of winter struck. Having successfully overcome all challenges, they now reached the Pacific coast where they wintered in 1805-06.
John Bozeman pioneered what came to be known as the Bozeman Trail that branched off from the Oregon Trail at Fort Laramie, Wyoming and led through Indian lands into Montana. Here is the pass at 5,760 feet on May 29, 2011. Not an easy trip for settlers moving west.
We detoured from our original plan (see cover map) due to heavy snows in western Wyoming which prevented travel through the passes near the Tetons and Yellowstone. Instead, we found an alternative route, crossing from eastern Wyoming into Montana (over Bozeman Pass) and on to Helena. From there, we later followed Lewis and Clark's path over Lola Pass in Idaho into the state of Washington.