Journal of A New Nation's Journey West
July 8-25, 2001

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Saturday, July 14, 2001 (Pierre to Bismarck) - When we told our family and friends we were taking a bus trip for 17 days from St. Charles, MO to Astoria, OR most of them thought we had lost our marbles - but were kind enough to just say: "Have fun." This trip makes us appreciate the vastness of this country, and the words of "America the Beautiful" are indelibly impressed on our minds: "Oh beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain. For purple mountain majesties, above a fruited plain..." Each day our bus is a moving classroom with lectures, special reports, guest lectures, weather report, thoughts for the day, map routing, and great re-enactments relating to Lewis and Clark by Tom Laidlaw & Don Popejoy. Believe me our luxury bus is a far cry from the keelboats & pirogues of Lewis and Clark. Mage Wasch (Sid & Maje at Sitting Bull's grave)

From S.K. - For all of my 'new' family (just seven days old) this is to remind you of what these past seven days have meant to us.  When we started out in St. Louis we were all strangers, wondering what the trip would be like.  Did any of us ever imagine that we would be such a close-knit family, and so soon!  The credit for all this has to go to the efforts of both Tom Laidlaw and Don Popejoy.  Don's cool headedness and Tom's acting ability  when they act out a bit between the two Captains, and knowledge of the history which he is teaching us so well has really kept the ball rolling.  Just as the devil is in the details, so is the mirth and the camaraderie in the details that we would never even have thought of... like the constant surprise snacks , whether it is a box of raisins or an individual serving of applesauce and cookies, or the great pit stops at the cleanest bathrooms, or how Tom manages to get us all involved with the daily lessons.  This is what today was like.  Each day just gets better and better.  . Its amazing how we really care for each other, now that we know who we are and what we are doing on this trip.  Its a great group of people we are (we sure are) and that's because we have these two to show us the way.  And don't we just love the way Phil handles that bus?  This  is as good as it could possibly get.  We are a lucky group, and we can thank our leaders for this because I don't really believe luck has anything to do with it.  I believe it is the good planning and the personalities of these two. S.K.  (Leonard & Sonya at Custer's House.)

From Augusta and Helen - At the end of each day we say: "This has been the best." Well, we said it again when we returned to our room tonight after Sacagawea's spectacular historical presentation. And to think we had dinner with Don and Tom, our leaders.

From Lew Miller - One of the interesting aspects of our trip through North and South Dakota is the presence of casinos run by the Native Americans.  The Prairie Knights Casino, our lunch stop for the day, was a real oasis!  Not content with their past success, the proprietors of this establishment embarked on an ambitious building program which is near fruition.  The buildings sit, like a monument, overlooking the Missouri River near the final resting place of Sitting Bull. Actually, Sitting Bull was buried in Fort Yates but the remains were kidnapped(?) by relatives and reburied on a high hill outside Mobridge, North Dakota.  Anyhow, in addition to the ubiquitous slot machines and their siren calls, we enjoyed murals and paintings and exhibits relating to Native American life in the Dakotas.  To put frosting on the cake (so to speak), the buffet lunch was great.  Our chili content was badly depleted, and the many Mexican offerings helped keep us going until we reached Bismarck and our promised buffalo stew dinner.

Sunday, July 15 (Bismarck to Medora) - Today was a fabulous day, starting with a visit to the great L&C Interpretive Center at Washburn, ND followed by a visit to their re-created Fort Mandan. Gary Anderson met us there in the garb of the day and gave us the lowdown on the building and use of that fort in the winter of 1804-1805. Gary is extremely well-informed and easily handled our many questions. We then had lunch and Jim Wheeler became the first of our group to light fire by flint and steel. The staff of the fort was even thoughtful to provide mosquitoes - "troublesome, very troublesome, immensely numerous and troublesome." Pictured are Helen Kovitz, Augusta Allen, Gary Anderson, and Helen Vogt carrying our colors.

At the NPS Knife River Village site we had a marvelous tour in a fully furnished earth lodge, as well as a great video. Our hosts were Dorothy Cook and her staff: Kaylene, Angela, Ella, and Karrie, who took me for a special ride in the rain in a golf cart down to the Knife River. The Mandan and Hidatsas who lived here 200 years ago impressed the land forever. Their villages can still be seen on the ground by the circular depressions which once contained their earth lodges.

Then on to Medora and the Teddy Roosevelt musical. Awe-inspiring, heart-rending, tear-jerking magic. The setting was the magnificent Badlands of North Dakota, which restored Teddy Roosevelt's spirits after his mother died. Teddy himself greeted us at the gate and I personally thanked him for his contribution to preserving America's geographic treasures. All the men wore shorts today and the ladies judged their legs. Ralph Jentsch won hairiest legs, Big Lew for most artistic; most leg shown, Don Popejoy; best overall, Bernie Kovitz. And Dick Wood won for most coveted legs. Film at 11

Monday, July 16 -- Medora to Billings - Came to for lunch at a little wooded area on the S.S. of the Yellowstone River and the group photo which now heads our website. Our guide, Smooth Rider ( Phil Buchanan) found the spot for us and we all loved it, and so I call it Phil's Beach. After lunch Running Sunrise (Jean Rubin) found a snake skin. we decided it was Jo Fields snakeskin.  We left in time to be early for our next stop, but fate was against us. After just a few miles a great cry of anguish went up from Princess Head in Clouds. She had left her possibles bag back at the luncheon stop. After returning, we found the bag on a stump, still undisturbed by savages. A great sigh of relief was heard from all and we called it Recovery Stump. We still arrived on time at Pompey's Pillar. "Harriette is extremely grateful for the support and extra time that it took to recover the precious possibles."

From OJ & Lois Thompto - We have studied the various Indian Tribes and their customs along the way. Each of us on the bus now has an Indian name and Lois is Little Island Girl. while having a picnic lunch on the bank of the Yellowstone River at Forsythe, MT we stretched the imagination a little - taking Indian sign language to Hawaiian song and dance, where the story is told with the hands. Lois showed the group how to dance "Little Brown Gal." OJ is now Tonto - wonder if he will do an Indian dance? Lois and OJ

From Lew Miller  - It’s funny how much you appreciate the luxuries of our good life after spending a week and a half on the trail.  We arrived in Billings, Montana this afternoon after a long (330 miles) drive.  Our major stopping point today was Pompey’s Pillar, and most of the group made the trek (200 steps) to the top. There, we had a great view of the scenery and the benefit of commentary by Howard Boggess, a Crow Indian.  For those of you who are not familiar with the expedition, William Clark stopped there on the way back to St. Louis and carved his name and the date in the stone. Anyhow, back to the luxury theme.  Our lodgings this evening are in the Billings Sheraton located in the tallest (23 stories) building in Montana.  We marveled at the huge bathroom and the faucet that gave forth water which actually tasted like water and not softening chemicals.  But, best of all….better than the big beds and the view from the 20th floor restaurant and the friendly staff…..is the coffee.  After a week and a half, I finally get to enjoy a decent cup of coffee!  I am in awe of the brew as they drag me out of the restaurant on Tuesday morning and onto the bus to continue our trip to the Pacific. - Lew Miller

Tuesday, July 17 -- Billings to Helena - Some rain (which we have mostly avoided so far) greeted us this afternoon after we rolled into the Montana state capital for the night, our eighth encampment since leaving St. Charles a week ago in our pursuit of Lewis and Clark.  We're gaining on the redoubtable explorers and their hearty band, even though they had a nearly 200-year head start!   We tried to visit a prairie dog settlement this morning, but the little critters ducked into their burrows as our bus entered their front yard.  Not exactly hospitable hosts.  A short time later, we encountered a wagon train from Fort Laramie, Wyoming on the Bozeman Trail.  What a joy to greet those fellow travelers.  We lunched today in the shadow of the Clark rock at the arguable headwaters of the Missouri River, where the waters of the Jefferson and Madison rivers feed the Missouri and where the Gallatin River also adds to the Missouri flow.  As we coursed through scenic Montana, we were in awe of the majestic mountains and gained an even greater appreciation of the difficulties Lewis and Clark encountered on their expedition, with no maps or highways to guide them. From the Swiss Chief (Don Rosselet).

From Don Popejoy  - What a great group of people we have with us! Each day is a "Magical" day and every hour brings a new experience, whether it's all for fun or for knowledge. Everyone on board this "Corp of Personal Discovery" contributes to the success of our cross country pursuit of Lewis and Clark. 

From Tom Laidlaw - Not only did we stand where they stood, we traveled their road, and we even saw a prairie dog town. We also met Ben Kern and his re-enactment of a Bozeman Trail wagon train. The historical connection is that Clark, guided by Sacagawea, took his return party east over the Bozeman Pass, which later became part of the Bozeman Trail to the Montana gold fields. In a sense we saw 1806 and 1860 meet today at Big Timber, MT. History Lives!

Wednesday, July 18 -- Helena to Great Falls - The July 2001 Corps of Discovery "proceeded on" to the Falls of the Missouri today, still within the territory of President Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase and at the point where Lewis and Clark were forced to portage to continue their journey west.  We surveyed the rivers and highways of Great Falls from a windy bluff before entering the city.  Our bus journey from Helena, where we toured the state capitol and the Montana Historical Society's museum, was interrupted  in midmorning when, for only the second time, our 21st Century party took to a boat to trace Lewis and Clark's epic journey (Our first onboard experience was aboard a model keelboat docked in Onawa Iowa, several moons ago..  Today, we cruised the Missouri for about six miles through a majestic valley at the Gates of the (Rocky) Mountains, just as Lewis and Clark did in 1805.  Not only did we view the spectacular rocky cliffs that rose hundreds of feet from both banks of the river, but we spotted eagles, turkey vultures and other birds flying through the passage in the mountains as well as other wildlife onshore.  Particularly did we enjoy and flock 20 or more of bighorn sheep that descended the stony embankment almost to the water's edge.  They looked curiously at us intruders in their domain, but they were mor interested in feeding on the foliage they found.  It was truly amazing to watch them deftly descend almost sheer walls, occasionally freeing a rock that went tumbling into the water.   From the Swiss Chief (Don Rosselet)     

From Rich Fee - No matter how many pictures you've seen of the beautiful scenery we saw today at the Gates of the Rocky Mountains and Wolf Creek Canyon, you have to see it for yourself to truly appreciate it. One Elderhostel is worth 1,000 pictures.

From Lew Miller - Today, we had flapjacks on the breakfast menu...not pancakes, but flapjacks.  They seemed so "right" as I thought of those who had cooked and eaten them while on the trails across this great country.  Maybe it was an omen of the experiences we were to undergo. Think about life on the trail during the 1800's.  The big sky above you....the open plains that stretch for miles and miles.....the natural beauty of an unspoiled river...the rugged beauty of the mountain passes.  That's what we are seeing as we wend our way West.  And, today, as we took a boat ride through the Gates of the Rockies on the Missouri River, we had a gold mine of memories to file away.  Not only did we see geographic structures that are older than mans existence by a million years, but we saw birds and animals in their habitat state that few are privileged to see in this day and age. We were rewarded with bald eagle and pronghorn sightings and, to top things off, a large herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.  What a great way to spend the day! - From Lew Miller (Petit Louis)

Thursday, July 19 -- Great Falls - From being immersed in the early 1800's, I went back to the future for a brief visit today. You may not be aware of this, but the Great Falls area is home to some 200 Minuteman missiles, each hidden away 40 meters underground in this beautiful country.   A few of us journeyed to Malmstrom Air Force Base on "free time" for a look at a little piece of modern history.  The Air Force permits access to their museum with its interesting displays and the largest  collection of military aircraft models in the Northwest.  During WW II, this AFB served as a staging ground for U.S. airplanes that were painted in the camouflage colors of Soviet Russia and then flown by Russian pilots to their country in a program called Lend Lease. Today, it serves as the home of the 341st Strategic Space Wing.  These Air Force people service, secure and maintain the 200 missile sites in an area that is roughly the size of West Virginia.  In doing this, they drive 12 million miles each year.  If you're interested in learning more, try to find a video titled Forbidden Places which aired on network television some years ago.  If you can't find the video, stop by the museum here in Great Falls.  SSgt. Curtis Shannon, the curator/manager, will be happy to welcome you.  Lew Miller

From the Swiss Chief (Don Rosselet) -- A day of rest and recuperation in Great Falls today is an appropriate moment for one of the privates on the expedition to offer praise for the two captains who have kept our travels on track across more than 2,100 miles so far. Capt. Grizz (Don Popejoy), having to accommodate 44 different individuals, has made sure every one of us is happy and comfortable, while Capt. Keeper of the  Keys (Tom Laidlaw), with a bit of wit and a ton of wisdom, has kept us educated about the perils and progress of Lewis and Clark 200 years ago.  We must also tip our hat to Smooth Rider (Phil Buchanan), whose steady hands have kept our motor coach humming.

Actually, the past few days have been somewhat confusing, because as we sped across Montana we followed the Yellowstone River rather than the Missouri that had been the course for Lewis and Clark.  The Yellowstone was Clark's path eastward on the return journey from the Pacific after he and Lewis had agreed to split, with Lewis taking a more northerly route.  Because the Missouri, after coursing generally northwest from Missouri, suddenly bends south in Montana, we visited the headwaters of the river near Butte before we observed the first of the five falls of the Missouri that blocked Lewis and Clark's water passage, forcing an 18-mile portage near Great Falls.  But from now on, we'll be heading mostly westward overland until we contact the Columbia River, just as Lewis and Clark did in 1805.  As we "proceed on," we'll be camping in Missoula, crossing the Continental Divide, skipping across mountainous Idaho and on to the Pacific.  What a ride ahead! 

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