Between May 1804 and September 1806, 31 men, one woman, and a baby traveled from the plains to the shores of the Pacific Ocean looking for a water route to the west. On their way to and fro, they went right through Montana.
You can get a feel for the route of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery without having to pull a wooden boat up the Missouri River. Stop in at some of their important waypoints and learn a little about the history of the western United States, while getting your family outside.
Check the National Park Service’s Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail webpage before you go for information, activities, and planning information for the whole trail.
Located on the edge of the Missouri River in Great Falls, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center’s mission is to impart a personal sense of President Thomas Jefferson’s vision of expanding America to the west. The center focuses on the challenges the expedition faced as they portaged the great falls of the Missouri River and explored the “unknown,” but you’ll also learn about the daily experiences of the expedition, the environment, and the native people.
Join a ranger for a program or explore the many hands-on exhibits in the Center. Bring a picnic and wander around adjacent Giant Springs State Park, a scenic and historic site. First recorded by the Lewis and Clark in 1805, it is one of the largest freshwater springs in the country. Adults (16 and older): $8.00/person Children (15 and younger): Free. Federal Annual, Senior, Access, and Military passes are accepted.
The Lewis and Clark Challenge Course (outside on the museum's north lawn on Kagy Blvd.) could use a little maintenance, well, a lot of maintenance, but it’s worth going to see the replica of the boat the Corps of Discovery pulled and paddled upriver. It's huge and heavy, and gives puts into perspective the work the Corps had to do. The interactive series of 14 stations used to offer visitors a chance for a hands-on experience of the Lewis and Clark adventure, but it's mostly nonfunctional now. Free with your Museum of the Rockies membership or entrance fee.
When Lewis and Clark reached the headwater of the Missouri River, near present day Three Forks, they had some naming to do. They named one river for their President (Thomas Jefferson), one for the Secretary of the Treasury (Albert Gallatin), and the other for the Secretary of the State (James Madison).
In 1805, they camped here while preparing to start their journey up the Jefferson River and then into the mountains. The Missouri Headwaters area was also a geographical focal point important to the Flathead, Bannock and Shoshoni Indians, and early trappers, traders and settlers. Take a hike along the bluffs, camp, join a ranger program or cast a line into the legendary rivers. Entrance is free with Montana license plates.
Pompey’s Pillar was named for young Baptiste Charbonneau, infant son of Sacagawea, the Shoshoni woman who accompanied the expedition and contributed greatly to its success. Nicknamed “Pomp,” the infant was born on the expedition. It’s the only place along their actual route where you can see physical evidence of Lewis and Clark’s passing—and inscription from William Clark on the rock.
During his return trip to St. Louis, Clark climbed the pillar and carved his signature and the date in the sandstone. Clark wrote, “This rock I ascended and from it’s top had a most extensive view in every direction on the Northerly Side of the river high romantic Clifts approach & jut over the water for Some distance both above and below...I marked my name and the day of the month and year."
The Monument opens in early May, but even when it’s closed, visitors can walk 3/4 mile to the pillar. An interpretive center is open 9 am to 5 pm daily when the Monument is open. Entrance: $7/vehicle (Free with your National Park pass). It’s 30 miles east of Billings off exit 23.
I've been posting about our Field Trip Friday outings off and on for a few years. You can catch up on all of them here. Or at least the ones I categorized correctly.
For this month's Montana Parent I wrote about the thinking behind the field trips:
Remember when you were a kid and had an upcoming field trip? It was so exciting. I’d rush home with my permission slip, and start thinking about what new and exciting place we’d be visiting. My mom would share whatever information she had about the destination (there was no Googling things way back then), and I’d prepare for a big exploration.
Now that I am an adult (at least chronologically) I can take all the field trips I want. No permission slip required. And since I homeschool my boys, we can take them whenever we want.
I’ve instituted “Field Trip Friday” as part of our homeschool plan, but honestly, we take them any day of the week we feel like it. And we do them year round. The most important goal of our field trips is to have fun, but I also like them to be educational, to incite our creativity, and get us mostly outside. If we can go somewhere brand new, all the better.
The boys and I have visited with otters at ZooMontana, investigated physics at ExplorationWorks!, climbed Sacajawea Peak, soaked in the hot pools at White Sulfur Springs, wandered around Tizer Botanical Gardens, and gazed at paintings at the Yellowstone Art Museum. Sometimes we go with other homeschooling families, but usually, it’s just the three of us exploring Montana.
My kids don’t have to depend on my knowledge to prepare for a field trip. We trip plan online. The Museum of the Rockies, Yellowstone National Park, and other places have information and activities I can download before we go. Instead of just wandering through Native American artifacts, we are learning about how people used bison skins; instead of passing by pools of belching mud, we discuss what makes mud pots pop and gurgle. At the Capitol Building we followed scavenger hunt brochure made just for kids and “met” an early peacemaker and a dog that crossed the country with Lewis and Clark.
My boys learn so much more when we are out interacting with our learning subjects. If I prep them before we go, and follow up after, they get a thorough understanding of many subjects that’s hard to come by from books or the Internet alone.
A lot of our field trips have been along hiking trails. We are lucky to live close enough to Yellowstone to bop down there anytime we like, and like most Montanans, we are never far from a trail. We use field guides and identify plants and birds. We discern how the geology affects the vegetation and hydrology. Maps are pulled from packs to follow a stream to its source.
We’ve enjoyed our outings so much that I’ve started setting up field trips for our homeschool science group. A little more formal, these field trips are more like the school-arranged visits of my youth with an expert talking to the kids and leading us on a tour.
And sometimes my boys and I are having so much fun, that we do two “Field Trip Fridays” per week.
Scroll to the bottom to find details on planning your own trip.
The latest High Country News has an article titled, "The death of backpacking." In it writer Christopher Ketcham asserts, for various reasons, that Gen Xers, specifically folks 40 and under, aren't into backpacking. It's hard work, there is no adrenaline payoff (if you do it right), and it takes you away from flashy technology.
That's probably all true, but as someone who just got back from backpacking with a seven-year-old through Yellowstone, I felt a little defensive. (My math-minded readers will note that I am not 40 or under, but I'm going to let that one go--41 is close enough, and I am a stereotypical Gen Xer.)
Admittedly, there were moments while we walked along the Yellowstone River Trail, gasping at the beauty of the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone, the bright wildflowers, and rushing water, that I thought the whole thing was ridiculous. Why would I carry all the gear and food for two people (sans Anders' sleeping bag), through clouds of biting deer flies, over hot, exposed hills, while playing 20 Questions 20 times?
I won't go into all the wonders of getting into the backcountry, spending real time with your kid, slowing down, and seeing places that most people don't even know about. You have to go to know.
So, I can see why backpacking may be dying. It's hard work.
I do wonder about the data Ketcham used to make his point. He looked at the fall of backpacking gear sales. My backpack and stove are 12 years old, my beloved Crazy Creek chair, which blew out on this trip (may it rest in peace) is 21 years old, and my sleeping bag is 18 years old (it can vote and go to war!). My water filter is in the same age range...you get the idea, I'm not buying a lot of gear. Backpacking stuff holds up, and even when it doesn't you can improvise because it's not a safety issue. The biggest problem with old gear is that it's heavy.
I am all over the place here and I really just wanted to show you pictures of our trip. Grab a beer, because there are a lot of them!
Plan Your Own Trip
Why: Spectacular scenery, lack of people, great fishing
Where: The Yellowstone River Trail in Yellowstone National Park. We started at the Hellroaring Trailhead and ended at USFS Eagle Creek Campground. Night one was at 1R1 Cottonwood Creek and night two at 1Y2 Knowles Falls. Each day was about six miles.
Who: Anyone who wants to walk up and down six miles for each of three days with a lot of weight on their backs. Also, backcountry lovers, solitude seekers, and mother-son teams.
How: Reserve a permit through the mail after downloading a reservation form and sending in $25. The permit is free (the reservation has a fee) and you can chance it and get a permit from any backcountry office in the park the day before or the day of your trip. I want a guaranteed reservation, so I always pay the money-- it would be a bummer to show up all packed and ready to go and then not get a permit.
My favorite guidebook for hiking or backpacking in Yellowstone is Hiking Yellowstone National Park: A Guide to More than 100 Great Hikes. However the western two miles of trail has changed since he wrote this, so talk to a Park Service person about the new detour. I couldn't find the new trail on any maps, either. It's hard to miss, though. Keep walking to Bear Creek, then another few minutes until a trail sign points you uphill. It's a slog for a couple miles before reaching a Forest Service campground where you left your car.
We brought this Trails Illustrated Topographic Map. You'd be hard pressed to get lost on this trail (follow the river!), but it's nice to see distances and the names of surrounding creeks and mountains. Plus, you should always have a map.
Our kids keep having birthdays every year, and that’s a good thing. But the impact of all those birthday parties isn’t good for the environment. As hikers, skiers, and nature-lovers, we decided to do something about that and make our kids’ parties a little more eco-groovy.
We start by choosing an outdoor setting and playing games that help the kids get to know this amazing place we call home. Then, we serve food that doesn’t require a lot of packaging. We tried instituting a no-gift policy, but that did not go over well with the party-recipients after the age of four.
Here’s what did work.
Choose a location
Whether it’s a Forest Service pavilion, a picnic table in a local park, a blanket alongside a pond, lake or river, or your own backyard, the first step is to reserve a place in a natural setting. Because Montana weather always keeps us guessing, we like pavilions or other structures with roofs. Finn's third birthday was at the Pine Creek Pavilion in the rain, and it was a big success.
Play natural games
As long as you have a group of kids out in nature, play a few games to hone their senses to their surroundings. Then give them plenty of time to discover what’s out there on their own.
Blind walk: Before the guests arrive, wind string between trees, over logs, and through the forest at kid-height. Blindfold each child, place his or her hand on the string, and have them follow it to the end, paying special attention to the sounds, odors, and feel of the place. If the kids are young, have an un-blindfolded adult travel with them.
Camouflage: One child stands in the trail or in an open area, eyes shut, and counts to 20. The other kids hide. The hiders must be able to see the counter’s head throughout the game. The counter tries to find all the hiders without moving, but he or she can pivot in a circle. The last person found is “it” next time.
Andrew Goldsworthy-inspired art: Goldsworthy is a British artist and sculptor who creates huge pieces of landscape art using all natural objects such as pebbles, twigs, branches, pine cones, mud, leaves and petals. Ask the party-goers to create their own natural art installations with found (not picked) objects.
Campfire: Of course you are going to have a campfire if you are in a location that’s appropriate. Gather round, roast marshmallows, tells stories, and sing Kumbaya.
To keep with the theme of “nature-inspired” try to minimize the trash your party generates.
• Skip the plastic-lined juice boxes and ask guests to bring their own reusable cups, which you fill from gallon-size, glass juice containers.
• Serve food on skewers. Fruit kabobs, caprese sticks (cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil leaves), meat and veggie kabobs, make eating fun and low-trash. The skewers can be composted or tossed into the campfire.
• Roast weenies and marshmallows over a campfire. Finding the right sticks is a game in itself.
• Grill up veggie burgers and dogs and serve on buns—no plates required.
• Cupcakes don’t require plates or plastic forks, and the wrappers can the burned in the fire if they aren’t plastic-coated.
• Stock up on cloth napkins from a thrift store. You can reuse them at every party and backyard barbeque you host for the next twenty years.
We’ve decided to forgo goody bags altogether. No one needs a plastic bag filled with candy and plastic junk. It all ends up in a landfill within a week, or a turtle’s stomach not long after. The goody is the games, cupcakes, campfire, and camaraderie.
Henry and I share a lot of tasks around our house, but there are some jobs we've divided between us. I plant and maintain the gardens, he mows the lawn. I do most of the cooking, he gets things out of the high cabinets. I'm in charge of adventure planning, he loads the car. When never talked about it, it's just how it worked out.
There are a few other things that are decidedly his purview. Right now he is camped on an ice floe in the Arctic (this is not a metaphor) and those tasks have fallen to me. I wish they hadn't.
Henry is in charge of tech in our house. My email stopped working last Wednesday and it still hasn't spontaneously fixed itself. I may have to look beyond the marital bed for help.
Even more distressing is one of our chickens died. It was Ninja. She just croaked and I have no idea why. We (I) always said I would take care of beginning of life--raising the cute chicks-- and H would take care of end of life. I was really missing my sweet husband as I was pulling a stiff chicken out of the coop, in the rain.
Anyway, that's not all that's going on around here.
Stuff I did when I wasn't here
I am stealing this idea from the Bloggess who writes a weekly round-up of her non-blog writing. I'm not prolific enough to do that, but I have a few stories to share.
We have a growing trail system in our little town, and I love getting out and exploring it. I wrote about six local trails here on the blog, and reworked it just a bit for Outside Bozeman. Don't read the title or you'll have that song stuck in your head for hours.
We might be losing westslope cutthroat trout forever and I wrote about it's hybridization with rainbow trout (another casualty of global warming) on Daniel J. Cox's Natural Exposures website. It brought one climate change denier out of the wood work and into the comment section.
You'll need a drink after reading about trout, so here's a piece about a new cider house in Bozeman, penned for the Great Falls Tribune. Cheers.