Exploring the West with Lewis & Clark

 

When the Corps crossed the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass, they left behind the lands of the Louisiana Purchase and entered uncharted territory. The plains had given way to "dry and parched sandy desert in which no food at this season for either man or horse, and in which we must suffer if not perish for the want of water" (Lewis, August 20, 1805). Before them lay the Rocky Mountains. Beyond those snowcapped peaks, they knew not what awaited them.

 

After 11 days and 160 grueling miles, braving mountain passes clogged with snow, cold, wet, and without adequate food, the team left the Rockies behind. Now the waterways were open to them once again. They built canoes and were underway-first the Clearwater to the Snake and then the Columbia River, described by the men as "agitated gut swelling, boiling and whorling" waters. In November, they reached the Pacific.

 

It had taken them 18 months to travel over 4,000 miles. But they had reached their goal, "the grandest and most pleasing prospect which my eyes ever surveyed," exulted Clark.

 

The legacy of Lewis & Clark

 

Lewis and Clark were human, with flaws and failures, but they also demonstrated incredible character, courage and commitment. They understood the importance of their mission, embraced duty and danger wholeheartedly, and inspired their team members to commit their lives to the cause.

 

Although they failed to find the much-hoped for "Northwest Passage" to the Pacific by water, they left a legacy for future generations. They made a United States presence known on the west coast (territory already being eyed by several European nations), established diplomatic ties with numerous Native American nations, and documented the vast resources of the land beyond the Mississippi.

 

Lewis and Clark's courageous journey laid the foundation for further exploration and settlement, and for what we today know as the United States of America – a unified nation stretching from the shores of the Atlantic to the rocky Pacific coast.

 

Opportunities for exploration

 

On Jan. 18, 2003, the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's secret letter to Congress requesting funds for the trip, Charlottesville, Va., will kick off a series of commemoration events across the nation.

 

The bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's expedition provides unlimited topics to explore and events to experience. Studying history sparks the imagination-here are a few suggestions to get you started:

 

--Recruiting the Corps of Discovery members.

--Building the keelboats and preparing supplies for the three-year trip.