Mini-Update from Lemhi Pass

Hi folks.  It’s been a few weeks since I last posted anything because I’ve been pretty busy traveling around the West.  I don’t have time now to post full updates with maps and photos but I wanted to post this mini-update, summarizing my recent travels.  When I have time, I’ll post full updates, so please check back.

I’m writing this at a place called Lemhi Pass, which is on the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains between Montana and Idaho.  I’m not even sure which state I’m in right now.  I think I’m in Montana as I write this, though my truck, which is 20 yards away, is probably in Idaho.  I’ve been wanting to come up here to Lemhi Pass ever since 1998, when I read the book “Undaunted Courage” by the noted historian, Stephen Ambrose.  It’s the story of Meriwether Lewis of “Lewis and Clark” fame, and the book made a big impact on me.  In fact, that summer, after reading “Undaunted Courage,” I decided to follow the Lewis & Clark trail from St. Louis to Oregon. 

Lemhi Pass was the place where, in August 1805, Lewis & Clark crossed over the Continental Divide and therefore was one of the most climatic events of their entire trip, and I wanted to do the same and hopefully experience a bit of what they did.  However, on that day back in 1998 when I drove up the dirt road to Lemhi Pass, a nasty thunderstorm struck and the road turned into a slippery mess.  I couldn’t even walk on it, so a few miles short of Lemhi Pass, I had to turn around.  And so, unlike Meriwether Lewis, my courage was daunted – but I vowed that someday I’d get up to Lemhi Pass and see the same view that Lewis, Clark and the rest of the “Corps of Discovery” did.  And yesterday afternoon I did.

I got to Lemhi Pass yesterday around 6 p.m. and the weather was beautiful.  I decided to camp here at the top of the pass, since there was no one around except a group of curious cows.  In his book, Stephen Ambrose mentioned that for quite a while, he and his family camped on top of Lemhi Pass each year on the Fourth of July.  Well, I found what must have been his campsite – indeed, it’s the only campsite anywhere around here – and so I camped in the same spot where I’m sure Steven camped many years ago, while overlooking the valley that Lewis & Clark traveled through back in 1805.  It’s a real honor to be here and, even though it got pretty chilly last night – definitely a “two sleeping bag” night – it was the most special night of my trip so far.  So in honor of Lewis, Clark and Stephen Ambrose, here’s a quick summary of what I’ve been up to.

Since I Last Wrote...

After leaving Montrose, Colorado, I headed south to Silverton, Colorado and spent a couple hours there.  I’d worked in Silverton as a BLM ranger in 1984 but hadn’t been back since then, so it was nice to see it again.  I spent a few nights in nearby Durango, Colorado, working in the library during the days, trying to get my website caught up.  From there it was on to Mesa Verde National Park, where I spent three days in the nearby town of Cortez, working in their library, finally (!) getting my website all caught up.  I posted my July and August entries from Cortez.  But yes, I did have time to explore Mesa Verde a bit and took a great ranger-led tour of the ruins. 

From Mesa Verde, it was on to the Four Corners monument where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet (a must-see for any Extreme Geographer!), then I drove up to Arches National Park that evening, where I was fortunate to have made a campsite reservation a few days earlier.  The campground at Arches is booked well in advance and is filled every night from March through October, so I was really lucky because someone must’ve cancelled.  Not only that, but it turned out to be the best campsite in the entire campground.

I spent the next day at Arches, then camped about 15 miles south of Moab, Utah at what used to be my favorite campsite in the world, a place called Looking Glass Rock, which is a huge arch out in the middle of the Utah desert.  I say “what used to be” because back in the 1980’s, I could camp at Looking Glass Rock for several days and not see another person.  But alas, as I learned this past week, southern Utah has gotten discovered, just like the San Juan Mountains of Colorado have.  In fact, six cars (six!) stopped by Looking Glass Rock the morning I was camping there.  In places where I might have seen one or two people back in the 1980s, now I see dozens or even hundreds.  Darn it.  Edward Abbey, we need you!

I spent the next day south of Moab, moving farther into the backcountry and away from the ridiculous crowds.  And that evening, at the end of a five-mile 4WD road, I discovered the most amazing campsite I’ve ever camped at.  I’ll post pictures and directions in my next entry but for now, I’ll just say that it provides the most spectacular view of the Colorado River and the Utah sandstone desert that I’ve ever seen – and believe me, I’ve seen a lot of southern Utah!  And the best part was that I was there by myself.

The next couple days I explored Canyonlands National Park a bit, then it was back to Arches, then I drove 400 miles to Grand Teton National Park in northwestern Wyoming.  The whole reason I came up to this part of the country, though, wasn’t to see the Grand Tetons or even Yellowstone.  Nope, those places are nice but they’re also overrun with throngs of visitors – and you know how much I hate crowds.  No, the main reason I came up here was to visit Lemhi Pass because of the historical significance (Lewis & Clark) and geographic importance (the headwaters of the Missouri River). 

From here, I’m heading down to Yellowstone for a day, then it’s on to Laramie, Wyoming to see some friends, then on to Kansas, where I’m going to visit the geographic center of the 48 states.  From there I’ll drive up to South Dakota to see the geographic center of the 50 states, and then to North Dakota to see the geographic center of North America and some family history things.  Then I’ll head back east for more geographic and historic adventures.

So that’s it from Lemhi Pass.  Again, I’ll post photos, maps and videos of Lemhi Pass and southern Utah when I get a chance, so be sure to check back.  But for now, I just wanted to let folks know what I’m up to.  See you soon.