Four long years passed between Meriwether Lewis' farewell to President Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, and his return, with William Clark, to St. Louis. The explorers had paddled down the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers in the shade of giant hardwood trees; pushed up the Missouri River through vast prairies teeming with immense herds of bison; climbed the steep, snow-covered Rocky Mountains; rafted to the Pacific Ocean through boiling rapids filled with salmon on the Columbia River; and returned to the city from which they had departed.
Lewis and Clark set out in search of the Northwest Passage. They found instead a well-populated land already connected by timeworn trade routes. Aided by Indian guides, the Corps of Discovery battled terrain and weather, collected plant and animal specimens, charted mountains and rivers, and wrote it all down, for their president and for posterity.
Two years into this journey, Captain Lewis had already seen unbelievable sights. Despite the daily wonders, on June 13, 1805, he gazed upon a scene that left him frustrated, unable to describe what his eyes saw and his heart felt. "that I might be enabled to give to the enlightened world some just idea of this truly magnifficent and sublimely grand object, . . ."
Lewis was expressing his awe at seeing the Great Falls of the Missouri for the first time. This excitement of discovery keeps us yearning for the next horizon, for the next revelation of the unknown, for a new taste of the wild. the Corps of Discovery described an important point in history for native peoples, wildlife and the West.Their journals left us a legacy of scientific inquiry and stories that inspire and inform us still.While we cannot relive their journey, we can recreate their adventure by visiting the dynamic landscapes they saw on National Forests and Grasslands along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.