Discover the legacy of Lewis and Clark with UnCruise
Tracing Lewis and Clark with UnCruise, via their Expedition of Discovery cruise, was a great way to appreciate the natural beauty and the difficulties the men experienced. Doing so with expert guides, air conditioning and good wines at dinner may have contributed to our degree of difficulty being somewhat less than Lewis’ and Clark’s.
Prior to our UnCruise on the Columbia and Snake Rivers Blonde read Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose. The book isn’t a quick, lighthearted read but it is a very detailed and interesting one. Ambrose documents the book extensively from the journals of the two captains. That technique made the book a very immersive experience and revealed what atrocious spellers Lewis and Clark were. Egad!
The first stop we shared (although we got there later) with Lewis and Clark was Multnomah Falls. The Falls are the #1 tourist attraction in Oregon. It seems unlikely that when Lewis and Clark passed them by in 1805 and on the way home in 1806 they foresaw that development.
Multnomah Falls is a two-tiered falls that stands 620 feet high. If you’re ambitious you can do the slightly over a mile paved hiking trail to the top of the falls from the base. (You can get back down a lot faster if you don’t mind getting a little wet.) The falls originates from springs above it.
Lewis and Clark were probably some of the first white people to see the falls. For once they didn’t name it after someone they wanted to honor. The Chinook Indians had already named it. Lewis, on the return trip, wrote in his journal : “… we passed several beautifull cascades which fell from a great hight over the stupendious rocks which cloles the river on both sides nearly … the most remarkable of these casscades falls about 300 feet perpendicularly over a solid rock into a narrow bottom of the river on the south side. it is a large creek, situated about 5 miles above our encampment of the last evening. several small streams fall from a much greater hight, and in their decent become a perfect mist which collecting on the rocks below again become visible and decend a second time in the same manner before they reach the base of the rocks. …” [Lewis, April 9, 1806]
You were warned about the spelling.
The Bonneville Dam
By the time Lewis and Clark got to the site of today’s Bonneville Dam they were keenly aware that the smooth rivers of the Northwest Passage to the Pacific were a fantasy, not reality. This was one of several areas where they had to portage their canoes to get through.
When Lewis and Clark got to this point they wrote about “a half-mile-long chute 150 paces wide, “water passing with great velocity forming [foaming] & boiling in a most horriable manner.”
They men hauled their (considerable) baggage in the rain around the chute, struggling along slippery riverbanks and through swarms of fleas and lice.
Our experience with UnCruise was considerably more comfortable. We had a very informative and fascinating tour of the facility led by a guide from the Army Corps of Engineers.
The dam was completed in 1938 and permanently obliterated one of Lewis’ and Clark’s trouble spots. In addition to improving river navigation, the dam created jobs for 3,000 people during the Great Depression and is an ongoing source of hydroelectric power .
UnCruise brought a Nez Perce storyteller to the ship
If you read the journals of Lewis and Clark you are likely to be horrified by their paternalistic and condescending (yet enlightened for the times) treatment of Native Americans. One tribe they developed a good relationship with was the Nez Perce who provided them with food and shelter in both directions of the expedition.
We heard from J.R. Spencer, aka White Bull, one evening. We were told he is a storyteller but we didn’t realize he is also a comedian. He told some Indian myths (at least we’re willing to believe that they were), explained some of the tribe’s customs and willingly answered a lot of nosey questions about himself.
The Dalles is located at the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge. When we arrived some enthusiastic residents in old-timer costumes showed up at our ship handing out flyers saying they were recruiting floozies. (This forced Blonde to admit that she doesn’t even want a job where she has impeccable credentials.)
The Dalles is at the end of Lewis and Clark’s journey. We went to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum where a man fired a musket like the ones Lewis and Clark carried. We didn’t hear the rest of the presentation.
On the one day of the cruise when we had cold rainy weather we were, quite fittingly, visiting Fort Clatsop. This is the spot where Lewis and Clark and their expedition spent 4 rainy miserable months from December 1805 to March 1806. We probably complained more about the rain than they did and they complained a lot.
It’s hard to imagine how 30+ people lived in such cramped, more basic than IKEA, space for so long. They definitely didn’t enjoy it and bemoaned the fact that they thought the local Indians were tough negotiators and thieves. Somehow they maintained an uneasy peace. We’re sure everyone was very relieved to see the first hints of spring.
The Columbia Bar
The point where Lewis and Clark saw the Pacific Ocean is called The Columbia Bar. It’s an exceptionally treacherous passage.
This confluence of waters is known as the “graveyard of the Pacific” and Lewis and Clark were very smart not to consider venturing into it. In early days Chief Concomly, of the Chinook Indians, made certain that he or one of his emissaries (usually a wife) met inbounders inside the bar and directed them to an anchorage close to his village.
That may qualify him as the first Columbia River Pilot.
Since 1792 more than 2,000 large ships have wrecked at the Columbia Bar so since the mid-1800s there has been a requirement that ships entering hire a guide from the Columbia River Pilots association. The guys (and one woman) are major bad-ass pilots and the captain of our Uncruise ship was once one of them. Very impressive.
Rex Ziak – Lewis and Clark historian
On our last full day on ship Uncruise made sure we learned even more about Lewis and Clark. They had Rex Ziak, a Lewis and Clark scholar who closely studied how they ended up at Fort Clatsop speak to us.
Mr. Ziak had recently been on the show CBS Sunday Morning and we were all suitably impressed and found his talk and presentation style to be very engaging. The man is a Post-it note master showman!
The legacy of Lewis and Clark with UnCruise
If you have even a vague interest in American history we think you would enjoy the Legacy of Discovery cruise. UnCruise brings the history to life and actually leaves you wanting to learn more.
You also realize that Lewis and Clark dealt with worse things than long TSA lines.
Disclosure: We were comped on our UnCruise but we bought the Stephen Ambrose book out of our own funds.