The Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass, Idaho
For the past couple of weeks, my wife and I took a road trip through much of the West and covered territory in Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and our good neighbor, Oklahoma. Visiting our superb National Parks, including Yellowstone and Arches, is the best possible way to fall in love with America all over again. We had a great time and I hope you'll be able to make a similar trip too.
I've been a fan and a casual student of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the American explorers, since boyhood, and this trip included a bit of fan-related activity. As an adult, I've made a point to travel the Lewis and Clark trail, beginning in Clarksville, Indiana and, when I finish, I'll end at Ilwaco-Chinook on the Washington State Pacific Coast. If you have an interest in Lewis and Clark you will certainly want to read Stephen Ambrose's masterful book, Undaunted Courage.
Along the way, we followed Lewis and Clark and completed "leg three" of the four legged journey of the Corps of Discovery Expedition. We ended this leg of the trip at Lemhi Pass, high up in the Beaverhead Mountains, which is part of the Bitterroot Range in the Rocky Mountains and within Salmon-Challis National Forest. The pass lies on the Montana-Idaho border on the continental divide, at an elevation of 7,373 feet above sea level.
Lemhi pass isn't easy to get to. As you exit Yellowstone National Park to the west, you enter Wyoming and then travel on a couple of secondary highways until you reach a very narrow and dusty gravel road. Get on the gravel road, drive straight up for 13 miles past lots of cattle and the occasional moose, until you arrive at a stone marker inscribed "The Continental Divide." Here, in 1805, Meriwether Lewis planted one foot in the east and one foot in the west, and set down the farthest west boundary of the Louisiana Purchase.
Of Lewis, President Thomas Jefferson wrote:
"Of courage undaunted, possessing a firmness and perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction, ... honest, disinterested, liberal, of sound understanding and a fidelity to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves, with all these qualifications as if selected and implanted by nature in one body for this express purpose, I could have no hesitation in confiding the enterprise to him."
Our current day corps of discovery required none of these sterling personal qualities. We made do with an air-conditioned Subaru, credit cards, and a little cash. Still, it felt amazing to stand in nearly the same place that Lewis stood, more than 200 years ago. Next year, we hope to make the fourth and final leg of that most astonishing of American adventures.