Wednesday night, August 30, 2000, EG and I spent the night in Missoula,
Montana. September 10, 1805, the Corps of Discovery spent the night in what
is now Lolo, Montana, just south of present day Missoula. The next day we
both headed west.
I followed Highway 83 south out of Missoula for a short ways to Lolo and
then turned off on 12 towards Lolo Pass. The map shows this road (12) to be
with few curves, but I had clues otherwise. First, it travels through some
incredible mountains. Second, 12 all the way to Kooskia is marked as a scenic
route. Third it follows the Lochsa River and we know that rivers through
mountains usually follow a crooked path. And last, there was the little clue
that the route was marked in red, "Lewis and Clark Highway, (Wild and Scenic
River Corridor)." OK. I get it.
Missoula is at 3,200 feet and Lolo Pass is 5,200. I don't remember the
climb being steep. What I do remember is driving a few miles short of the
pass and thinking to myself what a nice scenic drive. There must be a river
off to my left and the morning mist is rising nicely off of it. Nope. That
was steam off of the Lolo Hot Springs.
Lolo Pass marks the boundary between Montana and Idaho. I didn't see a
sign, but I had entered the 16th State of the trip.
An Idaho plate with what has to be
ranked as one of the dumbest State
mottoes. And Idaho doesn't
even produce the most potatoes in the States.
Idaho means, "Gem of the Mountains."
Wouldn't that look better on
For the next 100 miles or so, EG and I had a great drive through
magnificent mountains. Probably the second best drive to the Blue Ridge
Highway, and the Blue Ridge was only better because it was longer. Much of
the drive followed the Lochsa River, but for a long time you wouldn't have
known it was there. It was somewhere WAY down below. I even stopped at one
spot to peek over a very steep bank to check to see if the river was down
there somewhere. I could hear it, but couldn't see it. What I also couldn't
see was how anyone could trek through this wilderness and up and down the
step banks through the thick forest - in the winter snows.
From this angle you probably can't
see the grin on EG's grille. Even loaded down and running on hard tires on 3
½" rims she was looking forward to the next 77 miles. If you look closely,
however, you might spot her tailpipe wagging.
Some quick statistics to add to our list before we leave Idaho. It's a
pretty big place at 83,557 square miles (rank 13), bigger than England and
Scotland together and the second biggest on the trip - so far. With a
population of 1.2 million it has a density of 14 people per square mile.
North Dakota at 9 and Montana at 6 are the only smaller ones we've been
After the great drive I coasted into Kooskia looking for gas (there seems
to be a recurring theme here!). Kooskia is just inside the Nez Perce Indian
Reservation and is on the edge of the Clearwater River. I turned north still
following 12 and now following the Clearwater all the way to Lewiston, Idaho
and the Snake River.
Lewis and Clark spent 12 days trying to struggle through some of the
roughest country in the US and trying to avoid starvation. (So much for the
6-day estimate by the Nez Perce!) Clark had gone ahead and found the Nez
Perce near present day Weippe (just east of 12 and north of Kamiah). The Nez
Perce fed them plenty of dried salmon and camas bread. This diet change made
them sick, almost to the point of being incapacitated. When Lewis and the
rest of the party finally stumbled into the camp, Clark warned them about the
diet. It didn't do any good. The starving men gorged, and soon almost the
entire Corps was laid up.
At this point, fate in the person of another woman stepped in and saved
the Corps. The Nez Perce were tempted to kill the Corps for all the riches
they possessed, including all the firearms that would put the tribe on a more
equal footing with the Plains Indians who were getting guns from the British.
An old woman, Watkuweis, had been captured by the Blackfeet years before.
From there she had been sold to some white traders who treated here well.
When she finally made here way back to her tribe she never forgot the
kindness of the white men and now argued in favor of the Corps. Her words
carried the day.
The Corps stayed a day trying to recover from their distressed condition
(which is about as polite as I can put it!) and finally hobbled their way to
the Clearwater River to build canoes. They were a pathetic sight, but managed
the task even though it took until October 6th. On the 7th, they left the
branded horses with the Nez Perce for safekeeping and pushed off in seven,
new, cumbersome canoes. At least for the first time they had the force of the
river going their way.
By the 10th, Lewis and Clark were already in present day Lewiston. They
also had moved from dense forest to open, barren land; from land where wood
was too plentiful to where it almost didn't exist. It was in the Lewiston
area that the Corps added another food to their diet of dried fish and roots:
dog. From here to the Pacific Ocean, those foods became their main diet and
they purchased dogs from the Indians whenever they could. It is ironic that
Lewis had with him the entire trip his dog Seamus.
From Lewiston, I crossed the boarder into Washington, the 17th State of
the trip, and followed Highway 12 through the high, dry plains farming
country and through Walla Walla. Highway 12 eventually hits the Columbia
River and turns north towards the Tri-Cities area (Pasco, Kennewick, and
The 17th and next to last State on
OK. I cheated a bit. I waited until I
arrived home to take this photo.
Washington is an interesting State. You want ocean? There's the Pacific.
You want rain forest? Some of the greatest rainfall in the world is in the
Hoh Rain Forest. You want mountains? There's the Cascades including Mt.
Rainier at 14,411 feet. There's desert, high plains, and many lakes. There is
also the occasional volcano (remember Mt. St. Helens and 1980?) and
Washington, at 66,511 square miles (rank 20) falls in the middle of our
States in size. A population of 5.6 million works out to 84 people per square
mile, again, about the middle of the pack. That's less than any of the first
8 States visited: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia,
Tennessee, Kentucky and Illinois. Unfortunately, it seems that most of the
5.6 million all want to commute on the I-5 corridor around the Seattle area
which is consistently ranked as one of the worst traffic areas in the U.S.
Sir Francis Drake was poking around the Washington coast as early as
1579. (The coastal Indians had already been there for several thousand
years.) Captain George Vancouver reached the Puget Sound area in 1792. He was
looking for the Northwest Passage. He didn't find it either.
Washington became the 42nd state in 1889 and in 1897 came to the
attention of the rest of the nation by Seattle being the jumping off place
for the Alaska gold rush. And in 1909, ten years before the rest of the
nation figured it out, women were given the vote.
Washington trivia? Mt. Baker saw 96.6 feet of snow fall in one year.
Seattle, like Rome, was built on seven hills, and there is a town in
Washington called George. That's probably more than you wanted to know.
Kennewick became my stopping place for Thursday the 31st. EG's odometer
now read 7,402 after covering 388 miles for the day. That's 5,520 since
The next day I'd follow Lewis and Clark along the Columbia River as far
as Portland, Oregon, in anticipation of the All British Field Meet.