Epilogue

The Corps of Discovery left Fort Clatsop and began their return journey on Mar 23, 1806. It took one month to reach the Walla Walla River, and they arrived at the Nez Perce village near Orofino in mid-May. There, they gathered the horses they’d left with the Nez Perce during the westward journey, and established camp to wait for the snow to melt. Lewis was impatient. He started out too soon and was forced to return, finding previous campsites covered with over 10 feet of snow. Finally, on June 24, 1806, the party was able to set out with some Nez Perce guides.

During their return, Lewis and Clark split up and explored the Marias and Yellowstone rivers, respectively. During this time, Lewis’s party on the Marias was attacked by a bear, Joseph Field killed a Blackfoot man who had tried to steal Fields’s gun, and Lewis was accidentally shot by one of his own men on the day before the Expedition was reunited. On Aug 12, Lewis and Clark rejoined 60 miles below the confluence of the Missouri and the Yellowstone. Lewis made his final entry in the journals, describing a bird and and some cherries. Six weeks later, on Sep 23, the party rowed into St. Louis.

Back at the warm Portland sunrise, Paige and I walked down to the waterfront in the pre-dawn.

Salmon Street Springs

A lull in traffic: six people, four of them on bikes

Open 7 days a week. It’s free.

Headed downstream on the Willamette

Hawthorne Bridge.

The Hawthorne Bridge is the oldest “vertical-lift” drawbridge in the nation. In 2012, on an average weekday, it carried over 8,000 cyclists every day. It also carries 800 buses carrying over 17,000 people. Daily.

We walked over to Mother’s for migas and coffee, then had some VD (Voodoo Doughnuts) for dessert.

She jumped on the MAX to the airport, and I returned to the hotel to pack the bike. I headed back up the Columbia, past the miles of lakeside and wildfires. Here’s one on the WA side, just north of Rufus, OR, where I stopped for gas.

I passed a convoy of ten onion trucks.

Onions along The Dalles

and some kind of silo…?

150 miles up the Columbia, I veered south as the river veered north, and I began the inland journey. Southeast of Pendleton, OR, I crossed the Blue Mountains through the very scenic Umatilla National Forest.

Oh, I hope not…

The road curves to the southeast, crossing the northeast corner of OR and then the Snake River on the OR/ID border. 429 miles and 7 hours after leaving PDX, I circled the south Boise hotel district before gliding into a decent but overpriced riverside hotel around dusk. I would have been more frugal and headed back to the cookie-cutter hotels along the interstate, but I smelled food from their outdoor restaurant.

On Wednesday, I made 390 miles in 7 hours continuing on I-84 into Utah. One interesting sight on the way was the Malad Gorge, about 90 miles southeast of Boise on I-84. It’s part of Thousand Springs state park.

Looking up the Malad River from the bridge.

It’s only a couple miles long, 250 feet deep. There is a 60-foot waterfall directly under a footbridge which crosses the gorge alongside I-84. I noticed it as I crossed on the highway bridge, so I took the next exit, paid the $4 day use fee, and went over to the rim.

Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon. Crevasses forming above the Malad River.

I caught US 40 (after a 10-mile wrong turn) east of SLC and found a campground at Lake Jordanelle in the Wasatch Mountains just east of Park City. One other car camper and a half dozen RVs in the Hailstone camp. Nice campground with showers (open on Oct 3) and laundromat (already closed for season on Oct 3). It was windy so I found a site with a pretty deep depression for the tent and some windblocking trees. This was the coldest night of the trip: 28F. It was fine inside the tent. My tent is a North Face Tadpole, and was a gift from my brother Matt in 1993. One of the best pieces of gear I’ve ever used. In snow, rain, wind–this tent has been perfect for one, and sometimes two. With a 20-degree bag and tent flaps closed, it’s plenty cozy.

The next day I set out over Daniels Pass and down the Strawberry River valley, retracing the route I’d driven when moving from Seattle to Lawrence in 1997. The road crosses the Green River before entering Colorado and the joining the Yampa River. It is a beautiful route through the high desert of northern UT ad CO before arriving at Steamboat Springs, home of F.M. Light, as announced by the bazillion or so yellow signs which start appearing many, many miles to the west.

Hwy 40: highly recommended.

Rabbit Ears Pass, elev. 9429 ft.

Hence the name. Yeah, I know the photo sucks.

At the top of Rabbit Ears Pass, just east of Steamboat on US 40, it was a bright, sunny day.

On to Kremmling, still planning on heading out to the prairie of eastern CO on US 34 via Rocky Mt. Nat’l Park, but storms were forming ahead and the temperature was dropping. I started up the Fraser River as clouds began to gather above. It was still light, so I continued another 30 miles to Granby, where I stopped and put on my electric jacket and gloves. I had already decided to sleep indoors, as the weather was turning and clouds were dropping quickly over the passes to the east and south. But it was still clear to the southeast, so I carried on another 20 miles up the Fraser to Winter Park (on the advice of a hotel sign above a grungy motel in Granby promising a nice room in WP), thus abandoning my plan to visit RMNP and Estes Park. When I got to WP, the hotel turned out to be another grungy motel. There was still cloudfall to the east and to the southwest, but to the south, Berthoud Pass looked clear, and it was only 35 more miles to the next civilization, so I proceeded on, enjoying a cold twilight cruise over 11,315-ft pass on the way to a pizza and a hot springs spa in Idaho Springs. 433 miles in 8.5 hours.

Next morning started with snow.

I stalled for a few Fahrenheits at the Mainstreet Restaurant. By the time I got done with my excellent(!) french toast, the clouds had disappeared and the sun shone brightly on Idaho Springs. I hopped on I-70 to start the long glide across the prairie. But after five minutes, we dropped into a dense fog which hung over west Denver. We slowed to 40 mph or so for the descent into the South Platte River valley, where we dropped out of the cloud, crossed the Denver basin and I set sail across the cold, cloudy, rainy plains. I’d hoped to make the whole 600-mile trip back to Lawrence in one final push–it’s a trip I’ve made many times by car and moto–but variable gusts of wind, frequent fog, dropping temps, and the constant threat of rain almost had me bailing out in Goodland. I’m glad I pressed on, because east of Colby, conditions stabilized at around 45F and the wind let up as the highway turned southeast. I calculated a 7:30 pm arrival in Salina, but quickly realized a 6 p.m. stop in Hays would be closer to a brewpub: Lb Brewery on 11th for dinner and a delicious amber ale, then back to my “highway-vue special” room at the Ramada just at sunset. 370 miles in 7 hours.

The $49.99 special was really a $59.99 special. Apparently (unless you want a smoking room) the lower rate does not apply on the weekends, which must be why it was flashing in red numbers on the marquee on a Friday…? It was rainy and 40F the next morning when I finished loading the black beast for the last time and the final 230 miles, under the driveway portico and the wondering gaze of the three smokers gathered in their pajamas for a morning puff. Arrived back home about 1 p.m., where Paige welcomed me home with lunch and a beautiful bouquet from the garden!

Unloaded and washed the bike in the cold fall afternoon. And about the bike…

What a machine. That is all.

Trip specs:

  • 4,908 miles in 13 days.
  • Average daily mileage: 377.
  • Longest day: 528 miles (Orofino, ID, to Fort Stevens State Park/Astoria, OR)
  • Shortest day: 130 miles (Fort Stevens to Portland, OR)
  • Gasoline used: 114 gallons
  • Average mileage: 43.1 mpg
  • Average price/gal: $4.00 or so
  • Lowest elevation: Astoria, OR (0 ft)
  • Highest elevation: Berthoud Pass, CO (11,315 ft)

I’ve had several people ask me about the best moments on the trip. Two of my favorites are 1) traveling up to and arriving at the spring at the headwaters of the Missouri, and 2) reaching the Pacific at sunset two nights later. I also enjoyed my stay at the Heart River. But the best was walking into the Modera in Portland after eight days on the bike, in my road blacks and boots, my helmet hair perfect like a werewolf’s, to find Paige waiting for me. What a sweetie. Thanks for meeting me for dinner on the far side of the continent, babe!

My mileage plan turned out to be pretty spot-on. I rode comfortable distances, physically and logistically. And I lounged. I took my time. I didn’t even ride in the dark. I enjoyed my camp coffee down by the riverside, usually stopped and sat down for lunch and had dinner by sunset. The bike is very comfortable, very quiet, very smooth. There wasn’t a single day that I didn’t wake up ready to get back on and ride. I only had one day–the morning we left Portland–where I could have maybe stayed in one place for just one day, but by lunch I was over that. I could comfortably do 10-20% more miles if I wanted to make time and didn’t stop for random stuff as much as I did on this trip. Which was the point.

What’s next? Well, I was talking with a fellow moto rider about my plans for this trip, and he suggested I do a Four Corners trip. I said, “Oh, I’ve been to the Four Corners…”

Nope. Not that Four Corners. He meant the four corners of the continental U.S.: Blaine, WA; San Diego, CA; Key West, FL; and Madawaska, at the northern tip of Maine. It would be around 11,000 miles for me, and would also take me through the last four states in the lower 48 that I have not visited: FL, NH, VT, and ME. I also have never been to Alaska or Hawaii. I know! I know! I lived in Seattle for years! How could I not have gone to Alaska AND Hawaii?

They’re on my list.

Happy travels,

Eric

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October 2012. By land, from Kansas

Today, we end our journey to the Pacific. But first, some coffee and a quick breakfast in the yurt.

A sweet little setup that is becoming more common in western state campgrounds. There are lots of cabins, too. The yurt is built on a platform and covered by a heavy canvas and vinyl skin.

They are heated and have electricity, a small desk and a shaving cabinet on the wall. Five people and gear could sleep in one. $40 a night. Bathroom down the hall. Recommended.

I went up to Point Adams, at the tip of the south jetty near the mouth of the river, and looked across at the steep, rocky coastline where the Expedition had tried to camp in such miserable conditions before moving to this side.

Too steep to camp over there, I’d say.

Trestle Bay, aka Jetty Lagoon, is crisscrossed with trestle bridges linking the islands in this estuary.

The bridge from Astoria to the south jetty crosses Young’s Bay, a broad tidal flat that was covered with thousands of waterfowl apparently floating on the surface. But they were not floating. They were standing in less than an inch of water, dipping their beaks into the water and sand, eating the water plants and bugs and perhaps small fish. I headed over to the other side of the jetty, back to the Fort Stevens beach, for a daylight look at the Oregon coast.

Just 15 minutes after low tide, the broad, shallow waves rolled forever across the smooth beach.

But just a few dozen yards into the mild-mannered surf, with waves just a couple feet tall…

logs roll and collide, rocks tumble, ships come to grief. Don’t turn your back on the sea, says a safety poster at the ranger station. Check out what the tide brought in:

These massive pieces of driftwood roll around in the shallow waves, in water juuust deep enough to conceal them. There is a couple walking toward me in this picture. They were headed back to the park. They’re somewhere over on the right (maybe in the shade of the dune), but they are so small in comparison to the logs that I can’t remember where they were. Click to enlarge (for all the pix!).

With the beach to myself, I walked over to the wreck of the Peter Iredale, a steel four-masted sailing barque that was blown aground here, just south of the mouth of the Columbia, in October of 1906, a victim of fog, a rapidly-rising tide, and a strong northwest wind. Its accessibility and dramatic state of repose probably make it the most photographed shipwreck in the world.

Tillamook Head viewed through the wreckage

I walked out to where I thought the waves might reach. They glided up the nearly-level beach, huge herds of water molecules, advancing in 1-inch swells, covering their predecessors, each wave broadening anew like a geisha’s fan.

I reached out to touch the water as it surrounded me, sipped a drop from my finger: salt, fish, grit. The ocean. We made it.

Time to go.

I reached into the sea once more, splashed a few symbolic drops of transcontinental communion on the moto, bid goodbye to the Pacific,

and we turned to face the rising sun. Homeward bound.

Looking back up the Columbia. Eastbound and down.

The first few miles of my return trip were spent getting over to Fort Clatsop, the Expedition’s home during the winter of 1805-6.

On Nov 15, the party moved from their north-shore camp of five days to one about 3 miles farther west, around the point which today anchors the north end of the Astoria Bridge. They moved from one side of the future bridge to the other. They stuck it out for 10 more days near Chinook Point before the captains decided they had to move. They presented the Corps with three choices: stay on the north side, head back upstream to the falls at The Dalles, or cross to the south side of the bay and see what was there before deciding. The members of the Corps, including both Sacagawea and Clark’s slave York, voted with one exception to explore the southern side.

Returning 15 miles upriver, they crossed and camped for 12 days along the shore east of today’s Astoria, OR. On Nov 29, an exploratory party of six rounded the point on which Astoria now sits, paddled across the bay and about 2 miles up the small Netul River (now named Lewis and Clark River), where they found flat ground 30 feet above the tidal pool, with spring water, plenty of accessible timber, and lots of elk. “A most eligable situation,” declared Clark. On the side of a pine tree, he carved: “William Clark December 3 1805. By Land from the U. States in 1804 and 1805.”

They immediately began construction of the fort, and named it after the Clatsop tribe who lived along the southwest side of the bay. The Corps spent all of December building, finishing on Jan 1, 1806. It rained every single day.

A replica of the fort stands on the original site of Fort Clatsop.

The forest on the southwestern bay is dominated by sitka spruce, western hemlock, and red cedar. The sitka in this picture is less than 110 years old–it’s also actually much taller than it looks. Sitkas can live up to 700 years, and the tallest trees in the world are sitkas over 300 feet tall.

The replica is the third built on this site. The original, made of untreated wood, rotted away quickly in the 70 annual inches of rainfall. A replica of the fort was constructed on the Expedition’s 150th anniversary, in 1955, but it was lost in a fire in 2005. The current replica was built in 2006.

Charbonneau family quarters

Enlisted men’s quarters

The Expedition camped here, trading with and learning from the Clatsops, or “dried fish people,” from December 7, 1805 until March 23, 1806. During this time, Lewis observed their incredible canoeing skills. He saw racks of drying fish he estimated at over 10,000 lbs. Mmmm…dried fish.

The three months at Fort Clatsop, despite the abundance of game (131 elk, 20 deer killed), was, as Ambrose writes, “more a prison than a fortification.” Nothing but elk and deer with occasional whale blubber. The food, the rain, the chores–life was a slog. Lewis spent the time recording his scientific observations, describing the people, the land, the animals, the plants. Among the hundreds of specimens in his notes and in his collection of samples, there were 24 new animal species and 10 new plant species. Clark spent the winter finishing his map of the continent, perhaps the single most important product of the Expedition. The map showed the bad news: there was no Northwest Passage.

There a statue of Sacagawea, in honor of the Shoshone guide, counselor and interpreter, along the trail to the fort. The bronze depicts her with her infant son, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau. At the time the party moved into the fort at Clatsop, the child was 11 months old.

After the Expedition, Sacagawea and her husband, Toussaint, moved back to the Mandan settlements near the Knife River until 1809, then to St. Louis, where she entrusted the child to William Clark, who had moved to St. Louis. In 1811, she and Toussaint moved back up the Missouri River, to Fort Manuel Lisa, a trading post near modern-day Omaha, NE, where she died in 1812. At time of her death, the young Shoshone guide for the Corps of Discovery was just 25 years old.

Young Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau had been born on Feb 11, 1805, in the Mandan villages at the Knife River, where the Expedition spent the winter of 1804-5. He traveled every mile of the journey into the truly unknown (to any Euro-American) lands of the west. And he returned. After Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau returned to St. Louis, Jean-Baptiste lived with William Clark, and was enrolled in the St. Louis Academy in 1820, now known as St. Louis University High School. Clark paid just over $8.00 per quarter for tuition. 160 years later, I enrolled in the same school.

Jean-Baptiste moved from St. Louis to present-day Kansas City, KS, then spent 6 years in Europe, then returned to St. Louis before moving west. He worked as a trapper, hunter, and fur trader, then as a military scout, wagon train leader, and gold prospector. He died in Oregon in 1865.

It rained and hailed in the week before the party left Fort Clatsop. On March 23 1806, Clark wrote: “The rain seased and it became fair about Meridian, at which time we loaded our canoes & at 1 P. M. left Fort Clatsop on our homeward bound journey.”

I did, too. I headed for the Astoria Bridge and crossed to the WA side for my return to Portland, OR.

View from OR of Astoria-Megler Bridge, 4.1 miles long, completed in 1966.

Construction had traffic down to one lane, so I snapped a couple more pix while we waited at the top of the 360-degree entrance ramp.

Looking up the Columbia above Astoria, OR.

The view from the bridge, looking toward the port of Astoria and the Pacific Ocean.

The area where the Expedition first camped upon arriving at the mouth of the Columbia can be seen in this picture:

“Roughing it” doesn’t quite do it justice.

A rest area and park mark the site of their miserable experience:

Their second camp is just around the point at the left of this picture:

Hmm…rocky and steep over there, too.

The Expedition stayed on the south coast for their trip back up the Columbia. I took the north side highways 401 and 409 back to Portland.

North shore waypoint in-joke for the family–Duffy’s in Gray’s River, WA.

I rolled back along the heavily-forested, hilly riverside road, thankful that neither I nor the BMW had experienced any illness, fatigue, or mechanicals. And thankful for 8 days of perfect weather. At Longview, I joined I-5 for the last few miles into Portland, OR, for a night on the town with Paige, who is flying out to join me for a celebratory dinner and a toast to a successful trip. One of our favorite splurges in the U.S.: dinner at Veritable Quandary and a room overlooking the garden at the ultra-modern Modera.

Knowing Paige would be waiting at the end of the continent was a powerful motivator! Also, there was chocolate soufflé.

It was another beautiful night on the patio, in every way the most beautiful night of all.

Cheers!

Very happy travels. 105 miles today in a few hours. Total mileage: 2853.

Tomorrow, we all head home.

Down the Columbia

I set out for the Pacific Ocean this morning from Camp Orofino. The moonset over the  Clearwater River downstream from camp:

Early start since the campsite itself didn’t have any people to talk to and I had close to 500 miles to ride to reach Astoria and the mouth of the Columbia. Plus another 20 or so to the campground at Fort Stevens. Another oatmeal breakfast as the sun came up on the last westward day of the trip. The lights of Orofino’s bridge district can be seen a couple miles upstream.

Gonna take it to the bridge.

I headed back up and crossed over the Clearwater River to return to Hwy 12 toward WA. Just downstream, the Clearwater’s North Fork runs in from the northeast. It is impounded by the Dvorshak dam, creating the reservoir and state park I’d seen on the map yesterday. The dam is almost two miles upstream from the mouth of the North Fork, but it’s visible from the shore opposite:

Here’s a closer look:

Ya, it’s tall! At 717 feet tall, this dam is the third-tallest dam in the United States after Oroville (CA, 770 ft.) and of course the Hoover dam (AZ, 726 ft., sez Wikipedia), and the highest of its kind anywhere (a “straight axis gravity” dam). The reservoir behind it is 53 miles long! There is a steelhead hatchery on the point in the foreground, established as mitigation for the dam’s blockade of steelhead and salmon from their spawning waters upstream on the North Fork.

The dam was completed in 1973. Here’s an artist’s depiction of the 19th-century confluence area, from a state park placard:

This huge dam project on a small river was embroiled in controversy from the outset.

In his guidebook, Idaho for the Curious, Cort Conley wrote, “There have always been more politicians than suitable damsites. Building the highest straight axis gravity dam in the Western Hemisphere, on a river with a mean flow of 5,000 cubic feet per second, at a cost of $312 million, in the name of flood-control, is the second-funniest joke in Idaho. The funniest joke is inside the visitor center: a government sign entreats, ‘Help protect this delicate environment for future generations.’ The North Fork of the Clearwater was an exceptional river with a preeminent run of steelhead trout, and the drainage contained thousands of elk and white-tail deer. The Army Corps of Engineers proceeded to destroy the river, habitat, and fish; then acquired 5,000 acres for elk management and spent $21 million to build the largest steelhead hatchery in the world, maintaining at a cost of $1 million dollars a year what nature had provided for nothing.”

This reminds me of the old Indian proverb/joke:  “When the white man found this land, Indians were running it. There were no taxes, no debt, plenty of fish, plenty of deer, clean running water. Women did all the work. The medicine man was free. Indian men spent all day hunting and fishing; all night having sex. Only the white man could be dumb enough to think he could improve on a system like that.”

The proximity of this structure to small towns and to the numerous parks and campgrounds near the mouth of the river–along with its history of structural problems–makes me think of the Taum Sauk reservoir breach in SE Missouri. In 2005, the overfill system failed, allowing the reservoir to overflow, washing away a portion of the northern retaining wall and leading to a catastrophic release of 1.5 billion gallons of water in twenty minutes. The campground below, one of the most popular in MO, was completely inundated with a 20-foot flood of muddy water, huge boulders, and massive trees swept from the heavily-forested slopes of Proffitt Mountain. The only thing that kept it from being an even larger disaster was the date: Dec. 14. Had this occurred during a summer weekend, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people would have been killed instantly. On the morning of the breach, five people living in the park–the park superintendent and his family–were swept away in their house, but all survived!

On dams and the massive projects which accompany them: these are trade-offs we make–and accept–as a civilization. Every time we flip on a light, camp in a scenic lakeside state park, enjoy a California orange or a Washington wine, or bake a loaf of bread grown from irrigated Kansas wheatfields. Compromises on behalf of our own advances: irrigation, recreation, drinking water, flood control.

But that’s enough sexism, racism and politics for one post. And this is not a blog about dams.

Lewis and Clark landed here after their grueling search for navigable water ended when they reached the Clearwater. They then marched downstream until they reached this large grove of Ponderosa pines that grew on the left side of the river. Here, the Expedition camped for ten days in order to make canoes for the remainder of the journey. The site is called Canoe Camp.

These tree trunks are parallel, it’s just hard to get a good vertical panorama. The Ponderosa is perfect for making dugout canoes: its wood is easy to work, and its long, straight trunk is free of knots. The Corps’s boats could carry 7 men and half a ton of equpment and supplies. The boats were huge and difficult to maneuver. Clarks’ canoe sprung a leak in just the third set of rapids they encountered. They overturned numerous times, risking supplies and lives in the swift, rocky water.

This dugout is about 40 ft. long. The party made one this large, and four more, each 50 ft. long!

The Clearwater winds down to the Snake River on today’s WA/ID state line, carving its shallow valley into the basalt and sediment. The river drops 300 feet in about 40 miles.

US 12 follows the river all the way to Lewiston, ID, on the WA state line. There, it joins the Snake River, known in these parts as Lower Granite Lake.

Looking upstream from the bridge over the Snake River. Lewiston, ID on the left. Clarkston, WA, on the right.

Looking downstream at Lower Granite Reservoir. Clarkston, WA, on the left. Lewiston, ID, on the right. Photoshop skills waning.

The Snake continues NW, then W into the Palouse region of east central WA, while US 12 heads W, then SW, crossing the Tucannon River, then following the Touchet River for 10 miles before arriving in Walla Walla, where I grabbed a few more envelopes of freeze-dried backpacker food. The region has been a major wheat-producing center since before the Civil War.

Tilled wheatfields. Just like Kansas, only with mountains.

Also flyover country. Contrails near Walla Walla.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are numerous fires burning in WA. This one was was less than a mile from Walla Walla’s city limits.

The central mountains of WA are the site of dozens of much larger fires. They are all well north of my route, with two notable exceptions burning near the I-84 corridor through the Columbia River Gorge. The OR side fire is mostly contained, and the WA is one ridge removed from the gorge.

It’s 30 miles of rolling prairie and river valley through Touchet, where US 12 drops down to the Walla Walla River, finally to the gates of the Columbia.

Looking back upstream, just south of the Snake River.

Or, as they call it around here, Lake Wallula, which is created by the McNary Dam almost 20 miles south of the mouth of the Walla Walla. US 12 turns north toward the Tri-Cities, which bristle with hydro-electric generation and nuclear waste storage, while Hwy 730 falls in along the southern shore of the Columbia River–I mean, Lake Wallula. Where the river once crashed its way from the inland plateau toward its titanic collision with the Pacific Ocean, there is now still, deep water up to the max-fill line: I-84. But the high gorges remain.

The road clings to the water, with a few excursions to the ridge tops, many of which were covered in windmills. These creatures of the wind seemed to be getting along with their hydro-powered brethren of the waters:

Wind power above the John Day Dam.

Sculpted by a once-raging river.

Along the Columbia. I mean, Lake Umatilla.

The passenger train The Pioneer ran on the tracks along the Columbia as part of its service from Chicago to Seattle until it was discontinued in 1997.

Lots of pull-outs for fishing, boating, windsurfing and kayaking. Watch out crossing the interstate.

Approaching The Dalles, smoke from yet another fire began to fill the valley.

Lake Celilo, just east of The Dalles.

On October 24, Lewis and Clark arrived here with their canoes to find a tremendous falls and rapids. The entire river passed over a falls of 20 feet, swept through a opening of 45 yards, then another falls of 8 feet, then another 40-yard opening. This was later known as the Short Narrows of The Dalles. Clark described this gorge as an “agitated gut-swelling, boiling and whorling in every direction,” but believed, along with their best waterman Peter Crusatte, that they could pass the Dalles in their canoes!

And they did, with the numerous lodges of locals turned out to watch the daredevil white men run the rapids. The picture above is taken alongside Lake Celilo, named for the underwater city of Celilo and the falls which once existed here. About 100 members of the Yakima tribe had inhabited Celilo until it was submerged in 1957. At that time, Celilo was the oldest continually inhabited place in North America. I proceeded on.

At The Dalles, WA, the dam is a run-of-the-river type, meaning it does not control the flow of water or store water. But a shallow lake still forms behind it.

There are two large fires on the south slope of the Columbia valley, near Hood River and Mosier, OR, just 15 miles downstream from The Dalles. They were both over 50% contained, but their stubborn remnants and a few new, smaller fires still put out plenty of smoke.

The party made one more difficult run through the rapids at the Cascade of the Columbia (now covered by the lake behind the Bonneville Dam), before arriving at the first sign of tidal waters, near today’s Beacon Rock. They were still almost 150 miles from the ocean, but they were getting close. They passed Multnomah Falls on their left:

I arrived in Portland around 4 p.m.

Crossing the Willamette, looking downstream (north) toward Sauvie Island.

Downtown Portland, where I-84 ends and US 30 and crosses the Willamette River (pronounced will AM it), is about 5 miles upstream from the actual mouth of the Willamette. On the way northwest on US 30, I passed under the St. Johns Bridge.

Bridge with lamppost in the foreground.

Another 5 miles downstream to the north, Sauvie island divides the main channel of the Columbia from the mouth of the Willamette. The Expedition camped on the north bank of the Columbia, across from this island. According to Ambrose, they did not realize the Willamette joined the Columbia on the other side of the island. Today, Sauvie Island is home to about one thousand people. They, like everyone in the Porland-Seattle corridor, are very close to a lot of volcanoes.

The view from above US 30 just south of Scappoose. I think Mounts St. Helens and Adams are not quite visible to the northeast in the center of the pic. Mt. Hood is hazy behind the towers at right.

Here’s a slightly better shot of St. Helens (left, 8364 ft.) and Adams (right, over 12,000). Adams is farther away.

The pics aren’t great but it was a convenient overlook above US 30, looking to the east.  I continued past Longview and its long bridge:

The wide confluence valley where the Willamette meets the Columbia is ten miles across, but narrows to about 2 miles just west of Longview and continues for another 40 miles westward. At about 20 miles from the ocean, the Columbia widens and becomes quite shallow.

Looking across to the WA side of the Columbia Bar. The Expedition tried to camp at the base of the hills.

The Columbia meets the Pacific across the Columbia Bar, a shifting, dangerous, three-mile-wide, six-mile-long navigational hazard formed by the flow of sediments in the river and the force of the tides and waves of the ocean. The channel is dredged and there is a special squad of ship captains who board and pilot all ships over the bar. The area is known as the Graveyard of Ships. Over 2000 shipwrecks have occurred here, the most recent in 2002, when a crab ship ran aground 5 miles south of the Columbia’s opening to the sea. In the last 30 years, 16 wrecks have claimed 26 lives.

The weather and tides are infamous on the northwest coast, and the Corps experienced the worst of it during their short stay on the north side of the opening. They also struggled with theft and very hard bargaining by the Indians they met in the last 200 miles of the Columbia. For ten straight days, rain and wind soaked the explorers and their gear; their canoes filled with water; they camped in driving rainstorms; they were beset by fleas. Still, once below the Cascades, they traveled over thirty miles a day on the fast-moving river.

Lewis and Clark arrived on the north side of the broad opening to the Pacific on November 7, 1805, near Pillar Rock, and camped almost 20 miles from the sea. Looking out over the huge estuary, they thought they saw the ocean. Clark wrote; “Ocian in view! O! The joy!” Lewis wrote that there was “great joy in camp, as we are in view of the Ocian, this great Pacific Octean which we have been so long anxious to see. and the roreing or noise made by the waves brakeing on the rockey shores may be heard distinctly.”

The horrible weather continued for the duration of their stay on the north shore. It rained for 11 straight days. It hailed. The wind blew water from the river onto the hillsides where the party crouched. Clark wrote: “…our present situation a verry disagreeable one…we have not leavel land sufficient for an encampment clear of the tide, the high hills jutting in so close and steep that we cannot retreat back, and the water too salt to be used, added to this the waves are increasing to such a hight that we cannot move from this place…all very wet and disagreeable”

Their canoes were tossed by the waves. “Every exertion by the party was scercely sufficient to save our canoes from being crushed by those monsterous trees maney of them nearly 200 feet long and 4 to 7 feet through. our camp entierly under water dureing the hight of the tide. At this dismal point we must spend another night as the wind & waves are too high to proceed.”

Nov. 11: “Wind verry high from the SW with most temendious waves brakeing with great violence against the shores, rain falling in torrents. we are all wet as usial–and our situation is truly a disagreeable one; the great quantities of rain which has loosened the stones on the hill sides; and the stones fall down upon us, our canoes at one place at the mercy of the waves, our baggage in another; and our selves and party scattered on floating logs and such dry spots as can be found on the hills sides, and crevices of rocks. rained all day.”

Nov. 12: “Tremendious wind from the SW, with lightineng and hard claps of thunder and hail which continued until 6 a.m.” Nov. 13: “rain continued this morning…tide came in with great fury. Nothing to eat but pounded fish.” Nov. 14: “Rained all the last night without intermition, and this morning, wind blows verry hard. one of our canoes is much broken by the waves.”

The party needed a place to spend the winter, and the north shore, with its steep, rocky terrain, would be impossible. Lewis went to explore the south shore after getting reports from some visiting Indians that game and timber, as well as inhabitable land, were more plentiful on the southern side. 24 days after arriving in view of the Pacific, the party moved to a location about two miles inland from the coast, on the western shore of the Netul River, one of the many tidal creeks which lace the southern margin of the estuary. It is now known as the Lewis and Clark River. There, they build a 50 x 50-foot log stockade and named it Fort Clatsop. It would be their winter home until March, 1806.

I arrived at the ocean under fair skies with a few clouds, just in time to grab a key for a yurt and make it down to the beach for sunset.

A kitesurfer skipped across the low waves as an ocean liner crossed the horizon.

To the south, Tillamook Head stuck out into the Pacific.

The wreck of the Peter Iredale sinks into the beach. It ran aground in Oct., 1906, and was swallowed by the sands before weather abated enough to allow a salvage attempt. the ship was 285 feet long.

A bystander offered to take a picture of me with the bike. With my eyes closed.

And the Beemer takes a bow. 2748 miles covered.

I turned to the east with a fistpump and a shout out to every mile I’d just traveled. A shout of triumph, relief, and gratitude for the chance to travel this beautiful country. Yessss! in my best Ed McMahon. I headed to my very nice yurt, started dinner, and dreamed of tomorrow’s date with Paige, who is flying into Portland to meet me! What a life!

528 miles from Orofino to Astoria. The Corps spent 30 days traveling from Canoe Camp to the mouth of the Columbia. I made the trip in just over 10 hours.

“To follow a creek is to seek a new acquaintance with life”

This quote comes from a passage by Peter Steinhart, quoted by William Least-Heat Moon in “PrairyErth,” his 624-page book about Chase County, KS. In it, the author makes a deep examination of the history, people, and land of a small part of the Kansas prairie. Highly recommended! Speaking of following creeks:

Great Falls, MT to Salmon, ID. This is the day.

The Gates to the Mountains. The Big Hole River. The Jefferson. The Beaverhead. Trail Creek. The headwaters of the Missouri.

Lemhi Pass.

In my Great Falls hotel pillow pile, with the curtain drawn against the thrum of River Drive traffic, I slept in, then had a leisurely waffle breakfast and wrote for an hour and a half, then wasted thirty minutes going to a hardware store on the west side of Great Falls looking for a fix for my cruise control.  Turns out they didn’t have a washer thin enough. Turns out I did already, in my kit of spares: a thin plastic one which I could cut and widen into a C shape. Worked perfectly. Now I can set the throttle, climb in the backseat and fix a snack responsibly at 75 mph. (65 in Oregon *frown*)

That said, this machine has been flawless on this trip. And by flawless I mean totally, monstrously, indubitably awesome!

The first section of the trip, from Great Falls to Helena, is the cure for what ails any interstate avoider. The highway follows the river quite closely, headed upstream to the SW, passing Tower Rock, threading between spires of granite, twisting and turning, leaving and rejoining the river.

The Dearborn River joins from the west

Much of the route of I-15 is along (or on top of) the route of Old US 91, which is now more preferred by drivers and motorcyclists who have the time. I did not, thanks to my morning lollygagging. One place I definitely wanted to see was the Gates of the Rocky Mountains, which Lewis described on July 19. 1805.

The west portal at the Gates to the Rocky Mountains.

Here, Lewis wrote of “the most remarkable clifts that we have yet seen. These clifts rise from the waters edge on either side perpendicularly to the hight of 1200 feet…the river appears to have forced it’s way through this immence body of solid rock for the distance of 5-3/4 miles and where it makes it’s exit below has thrown on either side vast columns of rocks mountains high.” Today, this viewpoint sits upon private land which has been set aside for this purpose just a half-mile from the highway.

Grabbed a sandwich at a Helena off-ramp and headed east on Route 287 to visit the Missouri Headwaters State Park in Three Forks. I had spent a night there while moving to Seattle in 1990. It is where the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers meet to form the Missouri. In 1805, James Madison was Secretary of State, and Albert Gallatin was Secretary of the Treasury. Lewis wrote on July 8, 1805: “We called the S.W. fork, that which we meant to ascend, Jefferson’s River in honor of that illustrious personage Thomas Jefferson [the author of our enterprize.] the Middle fork we called Madison’s River…and the S.E. Fork we called Gallitin’s River. the two first are 90 yards wide and the last is 70 yards.” It’s also the place where the water is first called Missouri.

But I was headed out of East Helena on 287 when I saw a very large orange sign that said, ”Road under construction: motorcycles use alternate route.”  Disappointing, but it sounded serious and I can take a hint. The moto weighs 615 + 85 luggage + me in my heavy armored gear and boots and helmet—the whole enchilada is around 900 lbs. With 40 miles of steep, twisty gravel roads already on the route today, I was going to be concentrating hard and going slow, so I didn’t want to A) ignore a pretty clear caution, risking at best a slow, rough ride and the derision of road workers who told me so; or b) get delayed when the last quarter of my route was mostly remote gravel mountain backroads miles from anyone.

If many of the pictures from today seem smoky, it’s because the west is on fire. In WA alone, over 60 fires are burning right now. In Idaho, in the conflagration known as the Mustang fire complex, which produced the smoke in today’s pictures, three 100-square mile fires burn along the south edge of the Lochsa River valley west of Lolo Pass. US 12 follows the Lochsa. That’s my route to the west tomorrow.

I-15 crosses a finger-like projection of the crest of the Continental Divide, formed by the head valley of the Clark Fork and including Butte, so the highway crosses from the Missouri to the Columbia watersheds and back again in about 20 miles.

It’s also where the first Rocky Mountains come into view. As a midwestern river kid who was fortunate to have parents who traveled the nation, and particularly the west, extensively and took me and my three, then five, siblings along, my earliest memories are peering out the front of a Galaxie 500 waiting for the mountains to appear as we made our way from St. Louis to the west. Or was it in the Squareback? Could have been the VW bus or the Econoline.

Northern edge of the Tower Rock formation near Hardy, MT. I can see the mountains!

Elk Park Pass near Butte, elev. 6368 ft. Clark Fork, at the bottom of the smoke-filled valley, drains to the Columbia.

Our Lady of the Rockies at 8,000 ft. above Elk Park Pass.

Deer Lodge Pass, 15 mi. south of Butte, elev. 5902 ft. At the bottom of the next valley is the Big Hole River, which flows into the Missouri.

Between Divide crossings, I-15 takes a short westbound jaunt along the Clark Fork, which drains to the Pacific, and then heads south again to join the Big Hole river, which drains east to the Jefferson, near which confluence the Expedition camped for a week before their march up the Beaverhead.

As the party approached the headwaters of the Missouri and the homeland of the Shoshones in the late summer of 1805, the guidance of Sacagawea became more and more important. Her knowledge of the area and of their nearness to the Three Forks was a boost to morale—“information that has cheered the sperits of the party,” noted Lewis on July 22—an important point, as the Corps were in bad shape with sickness, injuries, and near-constant exhaustion. As the party ascended the Jefferson toward the Beaverhead, it was Sacagawea who noted the landmarks which led up the pass to the divide.

On August 8, the party had traveled 14 miles up the Jefferson when Sacagawea lifted the spirits of the Expedition again. Lewis wrote: “The Indian woman recognized the point to our right which she informed us was not very distant from the summer retreat of her nation on a river beyond the mountains which runs to the west.” The point was the rock for which the Beaverhead River is named.

This picture is looking to the northeast, down the Beaverhead River, which flows on the left of the valley, just out of the picture.

“She assures us that we shall either find her people on this river or on the river immediately west of its source.” The Lemhi River. “as it is now all important with us to meet with those people as soon as pssible I determined to proceed tomorrow with a small party to the source of the principal stream of this river and pass the mountains to the Columbia.”

The Big Hole River’s source is about 15 miles north of Lemhi Pass and the source of Trail Creek. It winds in a large clockwise path from 9:00 to 3:00, where I-15 runs alongside it for almost 20 miles. Then the Big Hole swings back up to the northeast to the Jefferson, while I-15 continues another 20 miles south to the Beaverhead at Dillon, MT.

Last gas.

Finally, after another 15 miles, I arrived at Clark Canyon reservoir, left the interstate, and headed up tiny route 324 on a course headed west for Lemhi Pass.

Here we go.

Headed up 15 miles of gravel.

On August 12, 1804, Lewis, along with three men (McNeal, Drouillard, and Shields), set out from camp near this site for the pass about 10 miles west. With two of the men on either side of the creek, and Lewis and McNeal near the water, they encountered their first Shoshone, one man on horseback, but Lewis could not signal his flanking men to halt, and the rider turned his horse and disappeared up the trail. Their first introduction was a failure.

Today, the road to the pass is a well-maintained gravel road that ascends into the Bitterroots. Crossing open range and a broad valley south of the gold fields of Bannack, the road becomes steeper and more twisted, with pronghorns and black cows roaming freely. Quite freely. In Great Falls, the hardware store clerk advised me to be very careful if I was headed up after 3 p.m.  As I turned onto the gravel, it was about 4:30 p.m.

These guys had just crossed the road ahead of me.

The road rose quickly to the pass, and after about 12 miles began a series of switchbacks which let me know I was getting near the pass. 2 miles below the pass, “McNeal had exultingly stood with a foot on each side of this little rivulet and thanked his god that he had lived to bestride the mighty & heretofore deemed endless Missouri.” The sign at right commemorates the event:

View east, looking back down Trail Creek.

View east from the top. The brown line of small trees marks the path of Trail Creek, and the road is visible to the left of the creek.

A mile from the top, the road enters the Lemhi Pass National Historic Landmark, then swings north and then back south for one final pitch before arriving at the top. There, on the east side of the pass, about 200 meters below the summit, the U.S. Forest Service has developed two sites.

One is a national monument to Sacagawea, established in 1932. The effort to recognize Sacagawea’s contribution to the success of the Expedition and to the history of the young United States was led by a woman named Laura Tolman Scott, who, along with the citizens of the adjacent counties in MT and ID, campaigned for years to have the site established in Sacagawea’s honor. Ms. Scott lived in Armstead, MT, near the Clark Canyon Reservoir at the bottom of Trail Creek.

The other is a simple rail fence surrounding the spring which I’d come to see. Lewis described the “most distant fountain of the waters of the mighty Missouri in search of which we have spent so many toilsome days and wristless nights. Thus far I had accomplished one of those great objects on which my mind has been unalterably fixed for may years, judge then of the pleasure I felt in allying my thirst with this pure and ice cold water.”

I did the same. Just a little. Giardia and all…

A river springs forth.

At last. I confess to being teary-eyed and emotional at the sight of this, the “farthest fountain” of the great river. But let us dispense with all that sentimental hogwash:

Bestride the mighty Missouri.

Lewis walked to the top and looked west to see this:

Imagine hoping to see a nearby river valley down to the Columbia, much as Trail Creek ran down the east side to the Beaverhead, and instead seeing lofty and forbidding mountain peaks as far as the eye can see.

“I discovered immence ranges of high mountains still to the West of us with their tops partially covered with snow.” Hmm. I don’t see any snow. Maybe it’s the smoke.

Lewis descended 3/4 mile into the valley at the left of the picture and took a drink from one of the headwater creeks of the Lemhi River. They camped ten miles farther down the valley in the hope of a proper meeting. As De Voto writes: “Lewis was deep into Indian country with only three men. He had a frightened Indian reporting back…that strangers were in the area.”

But more importantly, the view confirmed Lewis’s suspicions of the previous days that the main goal of the Expedition–to find a navigable waterway communing with Columbia–would not come to pass. It was clear that no such course existed. It was also clear to Lewis that, having crossed 80% of the continent, the complete drop of the waters of the Columbia watershed would be much steeper on average than anything they’d seen during the trip to date, “having in its comparitively short course to the ocean the same number of feet to decend which the Missouri and Mississippi have from this point to the Gulph of Mexico.”

But first, they had to find navigable water.

I checked out the steep descent to the Lemhi River:

Lewis had described this side as “much steeper” than on the opposite side. This road goes straight down the valley. Starting from the top. I’d guess this road was a 15% grade or more. I took Forest Road 184/5 to the north, to take advantage of its more gentle geometry, although it was 24 miles instead of just 12. I rolled down the road with only one serious pucker moment on a curve with very loose, deep gravel, but got down to ID 28 with plenty of daylight to spare as I joined the Lemhi River.

This valley was the home of Sacagawea’s tribe: the Lemhi Shoshone. The valley is 1-2 miles wide with the Bitterroots on the right as I headed downstream to the north.

The Lemhi runs north to its confluence with the Salmon River in Salmon, ID. That’s where I headed, too.

The Salmon River, Salmon, ID

The view from my room at the Stagecoach Inn, just a hundred meters upstream from the mouth of the Lemhi. It rained overnight, but not enough to wash the dirt of the day’s ride off the bike.

309 miles today in 7.5 hours. The Corps took 28 days to reach Lemhi Pass from Great Falls.

“Attached to the enterprise and anxious to proceed.”

Jonathan Carver’s 1778 map of the Mountains of Bright Stone and the unknown.

The Corps of Discovery spent 18 months reaching the Pacific. They were seeking a “direct & practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce with Asia,” as President Thomas Jefferson had directed them. Lewis and Clark led their expedition of 33 persons in a 55-foot keelboat and two 40-foot wooden pirogues, which they sailed, paddled, poled, and towed from Pittsburgh, PA, down the Ohio River, up the Mississippi and continuing up the Missouri to their camp with the Mandan villages in North Dakota. From there, they took the pirogues and made new canoes as needed, portaging the Great Falls and the Continental Divide and running the rapids of the then-wild Columbia to the Pacific ocean. Then they turned around and came back, a journey that lasted another 12 months.

I plan to complete the trip in a little over two weeks via their route westward, then returning through UT and CO, picking up the Arkansas River at its headwaters in Leadville, and following it out of the Rockies, down to the prairie, finally returning home to Kansas on US 50.

It’s not as though the Corps didn’t have roads to follow. Native Americans had inhabited these areas for over 10,000 years; French and British fur traders’ routes criss-crossed the northern plains extensively in the last part of the 17th century; and news and information from lands far and near traveled up and down the busy river. Many of the Corps’s routes of western Montana, including their crossing of the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass, were already well-established highways of foot and horse traffic. Lewis described the Lemhi road, which linked the Blackfoot and Shoshone nations, as “a large and plain Indian road,” which followed today’s Trail Creek to the Missouri’s spring source a few hundred meters above Lemhi Pass. (Side note: modern definitions place the utmost origins of the Missouri at an intermittent source almost exactly 100 miles to the ESE of Lemhi Pass, at the head of the south fork of Hell Roaring Creek, 3/4 mile SSE of Brower’s Spring and 1.75 miles SW of Sawtell Observatory in eastern Idaho.)

Extent of Euro-American routes in 1800, from emersonkent.com.

I’m looking forward to seeing some parts of the Missouri that remain largely undeveloped, unchanneled, and undammed. The nation’s reliance on the Missouri as a commercial highway in the middle of the 20th century led to massive dam and rechannelling projects to ensure shipping channels were kept open. However, since the 1960’s, commercial traffic on the Mo has declined to the point that the tonnage of grains, oil, sand, and other commodities shipped on the Missouri each year is equal to the amount shipped on the Mississippi in a single day. Today, the 15 dams along the Missouri’s length control flooding, generate electricity and provide irrigation and recreation. They have also created, instead of the roaring river that once crashed into the Mississippi near St. Louis, a series of large reservoirs totalling over 75 million acre/ft and stilling one-third of the river’s length. Rechannelling has shortened the overall length of the river by 200 miles.

For a river road traveler, reservoir lakes are less interesting because they tend to be bypassed by through routes as the blufftop and valley roads found along or near flowing rivers give way to roads which are often far from the water. In Montana, Lake Fort Peck, behind a five-mile long dam, is 130 miles long, and has more coastline than California, but there are few paved access points there are no stretches of lakeside roads except near the dam at the northeast end of the lake.

Yes, we have no Lake Shore Drive.

So “following” a modern river like the Missouri means making compromises: while many excellent views and interesting sites are on the shores of these lakes, I won’t be making many detours from the pavement just for the sake of staying close to the water. I also won’t be pulling any boats up the Missouri or hunting deer in order to eat.

Not that I don’t like dirt and canoes and barbecue–I do. And I’m certainly not in a hurry. My average daily mileage will be around 350, a little more than the distance from Lawrence to St. Louis, to leave time for some sightseeing, picture-taking and maybe even a few hours of camp lounging, but I will want to keep rolling. Besides, I’m meeting Paige in Oregon, and I don’t want to be late!

Prologue: beyond the headwaters

As long as I don’t have to make my own canoe.

The Louisiana Purchase. 828,000 square miles. Three cents an acre. Well played, Mr. Jefferson.

Have you ever wanted to take a motorcycle trip across the northern Rocky Mountains? Or follow the route of Lewis and Clark? Or explore the history of the people and places they saw?

Well, you can’t come. But you are cordially invited to follow this mini-travel blog for updates, historical notes, moto musings, and photos from the Louisiana Purchase to the Great Plains, the Rockies and beyond. Check back or like it on FB.