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Our Lewis and Clark Journal – Day 19

September 3, 2013

Day 19: Rafting the Upper Missouri River and the Great Falls Portage    (August 14)

We realized today that EVERY day on this trip is beginning to feel like a such a BIG DAY that it can’t be topped.

Well today was a BIG DAY.

A few days ago I contacted Montana River Outfitters to arrange for a half-day float down the Upper Missouri River. What a dream. The Wolf Creek Canyon is little changed from the time of Lewis and Clark, so we could imagine ourselves into heir story.


It’s didn’t take long for us to break into our lunch, and then to break the cardinal rule about swimming after eating. All I can say is that when August wanted to go into the river, I felt I needed to go first. It took me a long time to get the courage to jump in. IT WAS COLD. It was SO COLD that after jumping in I couldn’t breathe. LITERALLY knocked the air out of me. This water used to be ICE.


So we spent a long time in the river. Why not! It was beautiful, powerful, and somewhat romantic. Here we were, floating in the swiftly moving current of a river we have been tracking for a couple of weeks and which filled the dreams of Native Americans, French fur trappers, President Thomas Jefferson, and the Corps of Discovery. It held for the later the promise of uniting a nation, for better or for worse. Our vacation is largely defined by the Missouri River, as reaching it’s most distant source will likely be as far as we can go on this trip before needing to begin our return journey.

It was possible to stand up for nearly half of the river length we covered. At one point we got out and August shot down the river on the current. I was waiting a few hundred few down-current in order to catch him. We have stunning video of August trying to walk up against the current, demonstrating the challenge this river provided to the Corps who were not only walking upstream but dragging boats and provisions behind them. So easy to give up and let the current carry you away. (I’ll post the video on facebook when I post this blog).


August and I even had the chance to row for a while, something he was a natural at.


Truly a beautiful day outdoors.

As if rafting the Upper Missouri were not enough, we then visited the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls, Montana. This is the premier exhibit on the trail. The museum is laid out chronologically, wandering through several floors as participants re-live the expedition. A central display re-creates the portage over the Great Falls, half-naked, near-barefoot men dragging tons of gear up steep inclines over prickly-pear cactus. A couple of days from now, August will intentionally, and cautiously, step on a prickly pear cactus – just for the experience. The pain caused a shout and the “scratch” lasted for weeks. (I love this kid!).


And what child-friendly museum doesn’t include dress-up. Without exaggeration, our son is in a different costume every day at home. Our vacation has required creativity on his part, and he has been creative. But this Center provided this costumes today, including buckskin, robes, and formal military wear.


And when dress up was not enough, he could strap on a native-american baby-board and carry a replica “Pomp” around for a while. [This opportunity appeared next to the “portage” display, and allowed us to carry “Pomp” up a flight of stairs as if we were the fifteen year old Sacagawea, sick-unto-death from the storm a few days ago, and still caring for our baby. “Piecing Together a Woman’s Journey” indeed.]


Well, we’re wiped out. Noelle and I, that is. Back at the KOA August wants to go to the water-park and spends the twilight hours swimming with the other children and enjoying the water slides. Noelle “geeks out” by shouting at an older guy “I like your shirt.” It read SCIENCE.

Turns out he is a biologist and has travelled the Lewis and Clark Trail a number of times: this is no longer a surprise to us. We have a fun and rambling conversation before heading home for showers and sleep.

Recommended Reading: For our money, the best guide available today is the Falcon Guide by Julie Fanselow, Traveling the Lewis and Clark Trail. It is currently out in a Fourth Edition, though we used the Third, Bicentennial Edition. It includes a two week driving tour with significant stops, though we wandered far off this itinerary. It had the most useful maps and very specific directions to historic sites, as well as phone numbers, websites, and interpretive pop-outs. If you pick up only one guide for a trip along the trail, let it be this one.

The INDEX of blogs from Our Lewis and Clark Journey can be found here.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 3, 2013 11:57 pm

    The river float sounds fabulous!


  1. Our Lewis and Clark Journal – Index | revgeary

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