Idaho, Washington, and Oregon: The Lewis & Clark Trail

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks, Jeff Arpin

By fall 1805, the Corps of Discovery was following Lolo Pass through the snow-covered Bitterroot Mountains. The men were near starvation when 
Sergeant John Ordway recorded in his journal: “We followed down the main creek about 4 miles had nothing to eat but Some portable Soup we being hungry for meat as the Soup did not Satisfy we killed a fat colt which eat verry well at this time …” — September 14, 1805

Off the Grid

The men of the expedition were suffering through early winter-like conditions and negotiating steep mountain terrain. They were in serious trouble when they made camp near present-day Powell Ranger Station and slaughtered the colt. Jeff Arpin and I are also feeling famished when we pull off U.S. 12 at the station entrance. Our nostrils sting from a nearby forest fire’s acrid smoke; a restaurant waiter says the uncontrolled fire is only a few miles away. After a hasty lunch, we remount the Can-Ams and push on, hoping the fire doesn’t block our path.

Clinging to the serpentine course of the Lochsa River, U.S. 12 writhes through steep canyon walls, topped off by the pine-
blanketed Bitterroot Mountains. A prominent yellow sign warns “Winding Road Next 99 Miles.” Swaying through seemingly endless curves with unobstructed river views and dramatic vistas makes for an intoxicating brew, and we’re drinking it all in. The contrast, though, between our navigation of the Bitterroots and that of the Corps of Discovery couldn’t be more different: They were struggling to survive, and we’re zipping along in a rider’s Seventh Heaven.

With no scent of smoke, our day’s journey ends at a log cabin perched on the banks of the Clearwater River in a beautiful, rustic landscape. With day turning to evening in the narrow gorge, sounds of laughter echo from a couple rafting down the river. They wave, and I wave back.

Columbia River Bound

“Set out this morning a little after sun rise and continued our rout about the same course of yesterday or S. 20 W. for 6 miles when the ridge terminated and we to our inexpressable joy discovered a large tract of Prairie country lying to the S. W. and widening as it appeared to extend to the W. through that plain the Indian informed us that the Columbia river, in which we were in surch run.”

— Meriwether Lewis, September 18, 1805

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2014 back issue.