The Great Falls of the Missouri River

Saturday, May 31, 2008 -- Great Falls, MT

This was a marathon day of exploration. We visited three dams, two waterfalls, the largest freshwater spring in the United States, a tremendous Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, and still found time to fit in a good bike ride along the Missouri River here in Central Montana.

The best of the day was the visit to the Great Falls of the Missouri. The L&C Gang had been told by the Indians that their travel up the great river would be interrupted by a "great falls". When Lewis found the falls on June 13, 1805 he was in awe and found it hard to describe "this truly magnificent and sublimely grand object". He wrote his description as he stood on an island in the middle of the river just below the falls -- the same island we stood on today.

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All along the Lewis & Clark trail, so many sites and features have been inundated by water backed up behind dams. The Great Falls was different. Here, a dam was built just above the falls. When viewed from the island, it actually adds to the effect, the roar and churning spray from water angry with the disruption of it's steady path to the ocean -- especially in spring when the river is loaded with newly melted snow.

For Lewis, there was yet more to come. The Indians had told him of one great falls. What he found the next day were five -- a series of five falls and heavy rapids along a 12 miles stretch of the river. What was thought to have been a short portage around the expected single falls turned into a month-long ordeal to drag all their gear and heavy dugout canoes along an 18 mile portage through difficult terrain.

But this amazing group seemed to thrive on duty and challenge. They got the job done and were on their way again July 18th. The days were already growing shorter and they must have been thinking of the rugged mountains that lay ahead.

T
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