Thursday, May 3, 2018

home from Montana

I've been gone for a while ... away from home for a week, followed on my return by three days non-stop of clean-up editing for Tolkien Studies, which should be going to press very soon. Now that I have literally an hour between other pressing engagements, I can take part of it to begin recounting my trip.

Those who've been reading me for a while know that I'm a fan of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-6. At various times, I've been to many of the sites they visited on their transcontinental journey, but not since childhood had I seen the territories in the central and most interesting part of their travels, in Montana and Idaho.

I finally decided to do that, and some months ago set last week as the time. It's early in the season, some areas might still be snowbound and some of the sites still closed, but: no crowds, no summer heat, and no mosquitoes. I gathered my collection of guidebooks to L&C sites, none of them very recent (see, I have been thinking about this for a long time), supplemented them with current tourbooks, and made a list, in geographic order by where I'd be going, of some 100 sites in the area, from large museums down to roadside informational markers.

In the end I got to about 70 of these, the rest omitted mostly for time. Having a week for the trip - which was about as long as I found tolerable for such mile-spanning driving - I confined myself to western Montana and a bit of Idaho (from the mouth of the Maria's on the outward and Lewis's return journeys, and reaching the Yellowstone at Livingston on Clark's return, through the Lemhi and Bitterroot Valleys up to the Lolo Pass), and had enough time to do just about everything I'd planned.

I rented an SUV because I'd be traveling on a lot of dirt and gravel roads through back countryside, and while it wasn't very muddy - I caught a distinct dry spot in the weather, and somehow avoided the flooding in the north counties - got pretty caked, though as I kept seeing other similar vehicles with a lot more dried mud than mine, I didn't worry about that too much.

There was plenty of snow in the highlands, but all the roads I needed were plowed ... save one, and that was the important one. L&C crossed the Continental Divide on the way out by Lemhi Pass, a now obscure crossing between Montana and Idaho. I'd been told the road was closed, and my original thought was to skip it. But on the way out to the vicinity, I decided I couldn't neglect this most important moment. So I drove up the dirt road on the pass as far as I could, to just above the last ranchstead where the snow and ice closed the road. Then I went back down, crossed the Divide on another dirt road a few miles away, came back along the Idaho side, and went up the pass on that road, again until snow and ice blocked it. It was OK: I saw almost everything I wanted to see and got a real sense of the locality. It took all day, but I'd allotted all day to the effort. It was a satisfying day of a satisfactory journey.

As for what I did see and what I thought of it, that'll be another post.

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