October 18, 2014

On the Trail with Lewis and Clark

I’ve always been interested in Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery.  I remember the flurry of programs and exhibits that flourished during the bicentennial commemoration of 2003-2006 and even participated in several of them.  When Tim suggested that we follow the Missouri River on our way to warmer weather, I jumped at the idea.

Following at least a portion of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, which has been established by the National Park Service, seemed to provide a theme, or loose framework, for our journey southward.  I’m not a Lewis and Clark fanatic who has to stop at every site; however, I did look forward to learning more about the expedition, the various Indian tribes encountered and the Missouri River itself.

When Tim and I left the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we followed the Sakakawea Trail, a North Dakota scenic byway, east toward the Missouri River.  Just a note – in North Dakota, the name of the Shoshone woman who traveled with Lewis and Clark is spelled Sakakawea, while elsewhere the spelling is typically Sacagawea.  The western part of the drive passes through rolling farmlands. Unfortunately, it was difficult to appreciate the scenery due to the heavy rain and fog.

The weather was so disagreeable that Tim and I decided to stop early. We found a small, city-owned campground in Hazen, where we stopped shortly after noon.  Alas, there was no room at the inn.  The lack of an open campsite, however, did not deter the wonderful camp host from finding a place for us to stay.  She knew there were few campground options in the area and went out of her way to accommodate us.  She directed us to pull into the parking area in front of the community center and ran a couple of extension cords to the RV.  It wasn’t 30 amps, but we could turn on our lights and, more importantly, plug in our little space heater.  We were warm and toasty, and very grateful to be off the road.  The clean showers and laundry were an added bonus.  There are definitely advantages to having a small RV.  We can fit almost anywhere.

A Port in the Storm

We drove into town for lunch and discovered a regional dish called a Fleishkuekla, a type of meat pie wrapped in dough and deep fried.  The dish was brought to the Dakotas by German-from-Russia immigrants. We ordered two to-go and tried them at dinner.  Let’s just say that we likely won’t order them again.

The weather was better the next morning, and we headed out to encounter Lewis and Clark.  In 1804 Lewis and Clark arrived at what is now Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site and encountered the Hidatsa who lived here.  It was also near here that the expedition met Sacagawea.

The Hidatsa, a Northern Plains Indian tribe, were primarily farmers who lived in earthlodge villages along the Missouri River and its tributaries.  Highlights of the park include a reconstructed earthlodge, as well as a trail that passes the archeological remains of two village sites.  Circles in the earth, or depressions, left by approximately 50 to 75 earthodges, are visible in the landscape.

Reconstructed Earthlodge at Knife River Indian Village National Historic Site

Interior of the Earthlodge

Interior of the Earthlodge

Depressions in the Ground

We crossed the Missouri River to visit the North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, which provides an outstanding overview of the expedition.  The interactive displays focus on the preparation for the journey, as well as the journey itself.  One exhibit made me think that the journals kept by Lewis and Clark were forerunners of today’s blogs.  I know, however, that my blog will never even come close to the extensive notes recorded in those journals.

A New Member of the Corps of Discovery?

The Interpretive Center also maintains Fort Mandan, the encampment built by the Lewis and Clark expedition as their quarters for the winter of 1804-1805.  We toured the reconstructed fort with a very informative guide and learned how the explorers spent their days.  It was interesting to find out how much they relied on the Hidatsa and Mandan for corn, beans and squash, and for information about the upper reaches of the Missouri River.

Reconstructed Fort Mandan

Quarters of the Corps of Discovery

Quarters of Sacagawea
We don’t usually visit three different historic sites or museums in one day, but it seemed to make sense because of their proximity to one another, as well as their related themes.  With a bit of information-overload, we drove south on the scenic Lewis and Clark trail that runs along the Missouri River.  Our destination was Bismarck, North Dakota’s state capital.


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