Undaunted Courage

(G) Sure, you could read the full 592 pages of Stephen Ambrose’s biography of Merriweather Lewis and the Corps of Discovery, or you could just skim this blog. Either way, the information content is staggering. Sure, Stephen Ambrose’s book is a New York Times bestseller, but hey, Lillian and I have already received $12 in royalties from the sale of our first book. Sometimes fame is long overdue.

Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery began their epic journey in the Spring of 1804. Commissioned by Thomas Jefferson, the Corps were to explore and map the lands west of the Mississippi gained by the Louisiana Purchase. The goals were to find a practical (water) route to the west and establish an “American” presence in the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. Encompassing 828,000 sq. miles, the entire territory cost $15 Million. A bargain, just like our book.

The journey of Lewis in Clark mapped the uncharted territory, cataloged new species of flora and fauna, and opened the American West. Their trek took two years to complete and cost a whopping $38,000. Ok, ok, Stephan Ambrose’s book might contain a few more interesting tidbits.

I point for dramatic effect

Looking down river from “Great Falls”

The Dam at Great Falls

A year into their journey, after surviving a bitter winter, the Corps encountered Great Falls, Montana. Not a single fall but rather a series of five falls (Great, Crooked, Rainbow, Colter, and Black Eagle). To portage around the falls, the Corps fashioned carts made from Cottonwood trees to carry their dugout canoes eighteen hard fought miles. A staggering accomplishment indeed. Pulling and dragging their canoes was put in perspective for us by meeting Thomas Elpel. Tom is leading a 2,341-mile, six-month expedition of rediscovery by paddling the dugout canoe he fashioned with the help of Churchill Clark, the Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandson of William Clark. Together with a party of 3-6 other canoes, they will put in at Three Forks Montana and paddle to where the Missouri meets the Mississippi in St. Louis. Tom is president of the Jefferson River Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation and a wilderness survival instructor. The Douglas Fir that Tom selected for his dugout began at 10,000 lbs and was whittled down to a floating weight of 500 lbs.

Tom Elpel
Wilderness Survival Instructor
Rainbow Falls and Dam
Still worth Discovering
Free admission to the visitor center for anyone who can make it to the top

So here we sit for a bit, on the bluffs of those same Great Falls. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive center rivals the best National Park Visitor Center (sorry Lisa). The story told of their journey, and the land and people who inhabited it, are brought to life in two floors of displays and the knowledgeable commentary of the docents.

Black Eagle Dam and Falls
The bridge to Ryan Island below Great Falls
Forget the Women and Children – Save ME!

Next we’ll leave Great Falls Montana on July 5th, and spend a few days in Glacier National Park. From there we head to Calgary, Alberta Canada and the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. The Calgary Stampede.

Until then, Hope for Eight when they open the Gate.


  1. Need help understanding “Hope for Eight when they open the Gate.” What Eight? What Gate? Who is they?
    Happy trails,
    George & Jane


    • George you Win!
      As we are head to the largest rodeo in the world, I thought I would provide a little jargon. In Bronc riding, you need to hold on for eight seconds after they open the gate. Careful not to touch the horse with your free hand.


  2. Love reading your blog and experiencing this through your eyes. Continue the path and safe travels. We miss you guys, especially on trivia night!! Mitch and Lori


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.