Three Days on the Missouri
by Howard Lawrence


I have long been drawn to the story and adventure of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Their accomplishments represent a seminal event in US history and helps shape our world today. My interest in Lewis and Clark was increased by my daughter and her husband.

In 2001 Matt and Elizabeth retraced much of the expedition's route on their honeymoon trip. Looking at their pictures and hearing their descriptions of the Missouri River in Montana made me want to see some of this for myself. The bicentennial of the "Voyage of Discovery" increased my focus and interest. I did more reading, some internet research and daydreamed about retracing the Lewis and Clark trail.

Then, out of the blue, my fishing and lunch buddy Ted asked me if I would be interested in a canoe trip on the Missouri. We set a time for late August 2005 and began our research in earnest. Before long, we selected an outfitter and made our reservations for three days on the Missouri.

Our adventure began in Great Falls Montana. We met up in town Saturday afternoon. We explored the town that afternoon found a great place for dinner and prepared for our adventure.

Sunday morning we found a Lewis and Clark Monument overlooking the Missouri River. A short time later we saw the first of the 5 "Great Falls" of the Missouri. As you can see, the dam dramatically changes the appearance of the falls. All of the falls have been impacted by a series of dams, but you can still get some idea of what the expedition saw by exploring a little.

After looking at the river, we visited the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center. It was well worth seeing and we spent several hours browsing, learning and enjoying the Center. We then traveled across Montana wheat fields to the little town of Fort Benton which is located on the banks of the river. We spend the night in some luxury at the Grand Union Hotel in Fort Benton. This, as things turn out was a wise choice. The changeable Montana weather impacted our camping on the river as things turned out, so we came to appreciate our night at the hotel.

Due to some last minute cancellations, we found out that my friend Ted and I would be the only clients for our outfitter, The Lewis & Clark Trail Adventures. So, early Monday morning we met up with our outfitter's staff and the four of us headed for out launching point, Coal Banks Landing. Soon our canoes were loaded and we were ready for our morning paddle. We traveled down the river about 6 miles to Big Sandy Creek which was our lunch spot. Before lunch we hiked about a half mile to the site of some teepee rings. On the trail up to the rings we encountered our first rattlesnake of the trip. We were able to watch him cross the trail several feet in front of us. The view of the river from the rings was a real payoff for our short walk.


After lunch we paddled down the river for about another 7 miles. We now were well into the "Wild and Scenic" section of the Missouri. We traveled to Eagle Creek and set up camp for the night. About 200 yards up river from our site is an actual "Voyage of Discovery" camp site. We hiked to the Lewis and Clark site and then on to see some of the adjacent canyons. We were able to see some petroglyphs and other sights of interest.

Eagle Creek campground is in the heart of the white cliffs of the Missouri that Meriwether Lewis described so eloquently in his journal. Lewis wrote, "The hills and river Clifts [sic] which we passed today exhibit a most romantic appearance. They were two to three hundred feet high, nearly perpendicular, shining pure white in the sun. The water in the course of time in decending [sic] from those hills has trickled down the soft sand clifts [sic] and woran [sic] it into a thousand grotesque figures " Sunset brought out another view of beauty.

Shortly after dinner, the evening zephyrs began to blow. The winds hit gusts of 40 to 60 miles per hour for much of the night making sleep somewhat difficult. The good news was that it didn't rain our first night on the river. The next night would make up for that however. As Lewis and Clark would say, we proceeded on.

In the morning, the wind was calm and we traveled some 22 miles down the river. Many interesting scenes came into view. After about 10 miles we reached the Hole in the Wall rock formation. We landed about a mile and a half from the base of the formation and hiked to the top before returning to the river for lunch. The view from the top was spectacular.

After lunch we paddled some 11 or 12 miles to our evening camp site, Slaughter River. The site was given this name due to the number of dead Bison in the river when Lewis and Clark arrived. We did not, however, see any dead buffalo. As we traveled down the river the weather became more and more threatening. Shortly after we arrived at the camp site we started a short hike up river to another actual Lewis and Clark camp site. We didn't make it. About 200 yards from camp lightning and thunder broke all around us and the rain began coming down in what appeared to almost be sheets of water.

We were able to erect a tarp cover over the kitchen site and we all huddled under the tarp eating our dinner and pushing water off the top of the tarp with our canoe paddles. The rain stopped about 10 pm and then the coyotes began to howl. We hit the sleeping bags about 11 pm. Shortly after then, the rain returned. It rained very hard almost all night - I estimate about 4 or 5 inches fell. I woke up in the midst of a small lake Wednesday morning - so did the rest of the camp.

However, the rain had stopped. We had coffee, pancakes and broke camp for our last day on the river. It took us about 3 hours to paddle from Slaughter River to our take out point at the Judith River. The river was running faster due to the rain and we were motivated by the thoughts of hot showers and clean sheets.

My friend Ted and I now have our own Lewis and Clark adventure stories to tell. Our three days on the Missouri gave us a different and deeper perspective on the courage and endurance for the folks on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

 

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