Last year we embarked on a journey westward…
…and found ourselves walking in the footsteps of Lewis & Clark at various points along our trek across the U.S. Our first stop was the Gateway Arch in St Louis, which marks the beginning of the famous trail.
Later in Iowa we stumbled across the Lewis & Clark State Park in Onawa, where we found a full-sized reproduction of Lewis and Clark’s keelboat.
Fast forward a few thousand miles, and we enjoyed a quick afternoon of exploring the end of the trail at Fort Clatsop in Oregon.
It was not until we headed back across the northern states towards Montana that we uncovered a mystery. No matter how I searched, I could not seem to find the Great Falls of the Missouri listed anywhere in travel brochures or within the Roadtrippers app (the app I use to plan our great-big-ole trips). Why not? Wouldn’t this be a big draw for nerdy, history-loving roadtripping families like us? We made our way through the town of Great Falls towards the Missouri River, where we finally found the falls in all their glory.
In his journals, Meriwether Lewis described the first of a series of five waterfalls, the Great Falls, as a “sublimely grand spectile.” Now it is known as Ryan Dam.
Hmmmm… perhaps not as breathtaking and majestic a natural wonder as Lewis once beheld? Nevertheless, it is a manmade wonder of sorts. It’s just not quite what we expected.
Lewis found four additional falls farther upstream from the Great Falls. During June and July of 1805, the Corps of Discovery managed to portage their boats and equipment eighteen miles around the five mighty waterfalls of the Missiouri River. Beyond Great Falls, there was Crooked Falls…
(In our race against the sun setting, we were only able to grab a photo looked down upon the top of Crooked Falls from farther upstream.) Then, there was Rainbow Falls…
Farther upstream lay Coulter Falls, now submerged beneath the Rainbow Falls Reservoir, and Black Eagle Falls (which we unfortunately did not find before the sun set).
No wonder we couldn’t find travel brochures describing the wonders of the falls of the Missouri!
Now that our mystery was solved, we headed farther east and discovered Pompey’s Pillar, a large rock that William Clark named after Sacajawea’s son, whom he had affectionately nicknamed Pompey.
Here we discovered a bit of graffiti left behind by William Clark…
Although there’s much more to experience along this trail, Pompeys Pillar happened to be our final stop along the Lewis & Clark Trail before heading on to the Little Bighorn Battlefield. For a map of the Lewis & Clark Trail, try this downloadable map from NPS website.
A Few Favorite Books about the Lewis & Clark Expedition
What Was the Lewis & Clark Expedition? When Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the “Corp of Discovery” left St. Louis, Missouri, on May 21, 1804, their mission was to explore the vast, unknown territory acquired a year earlier in the Louisiana Purchase. The travelers hoped to find a waterway that crossed the western half of the United States. They didn’t. However, young readers will love this true-life adventure tale of the two-year journey that finally brought the explorers to the Pacific Ocean.
Louisiana Purchase by Roop. An engaging account of the people and places involved in the Louisiana Purchase, from the purchase of the Louisiana territory from the French for $15,000,000 to the issues that it caused regarding slavery and Native Americans.
How We Crossed The West: The Adventures Of Lewis And Clark. Wonderful summary of the expedition, written from primary source texts (the journal entries and letters of Lewis, Clark and Ordway).
Lewis and Clark: A Prairie Dog for the President (Step into Reading, Step 3). A fun little read for younger children.
Draw Write Now Book 5: United States, From Sea to Sea, Moving Forward. Step-by-step instructions for drawing patriotic images and symbols, along with historical persons such as George Washington and Lewis & Clark, as well as wagons, astronauts, and more.