Ocean in view!

View of the mouth of the Columbia River from the Astoria column high above Astoria, OR.

“Ocian in view!  O! the joy,”  were the words ( and spelling) that Clark penned in his journal on November 7, 1805. He was a bit premature – what he had seen was the Columbia River estuary – not the ocean. Never-the-less he was near the end of his trek to reach the Pacific Ocean.

I think I experienced at least a sense of that joy as I followed the river through the Cascade Mountains just hours from my destination. A sudden downpour made for poor visibility, and then a full rainbow appeared in front of me from one side of the canyon to the other.  It was the first of many mental images that I will remember from this trip.

That drive through the Cascades and arrival at Fort Stevens State Park capped a three day journey from Montana which was where I left off in my last column.

Two days before I left Missoula, Montana and followed the Lewis and Clark trail through the Lolo Pass and the dense and rugged Bitterroot Mountains to the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake rivers and then on to the Columbia.

Along the way I made a brief stop at Canoe Camp near Orofino, Idaho where The Corps of Discovery, abandoned their horses and,  with help from the Nez Perce Indians,  burned and carved out dugout canoes for the last leg of their journey to the Pacific.

After a long day on the road, I spent a pleasant night at Hells Gate State Park at Lewiston Idaho. Idaho and Oregon have many excellent state parks with clean, modern restrooms and shower facilities as well as hiking trails.

My next stop was a Corps of Engineer campsite at the Dalles on the Columbia River.  There is generally no charge to camp at  Corp of Engineer campsites.  There are also few or no amenities.

Dalles is a French word for rapids through a narrow gorge.  Celilo falls near where I camped was just one of a series of rapids through the Dalles.   Lewis and Clark portaged their dugouts or eased them through the rocks with ropes. The Celilo Falls  are now submerged beneath the waters of a reservoir behind the Dalles Dam.

My Campsite at the Dalles on the Columbia river.

My base of operations on the Oregon coast was Fort Stevens State Park.  Fort Stevens was established as a military earthwork battery in 1863-64  to guard the entrance to the Columbia river.  The park is located at the south shore of the Pacific Ocean at the Columbia River. Park attractions include bay and ocean beaches and wildlife viewing areas.  A number of people have responded to my Facebook posts saying how much they love this park.  One friend even commented that he became engaged to his wife here.

I originally planned to spend two days  at Fort Stevens, but I ended up staying  four days because the facilities are excellent, and there is so much to do and see in the area.

Fort Clatsop, the Corps of Discovery encampment during the winter of 1805-06,  is located just a few miles from Fort Stevens. After arriving at the Pacific, the explorers retreated to the south side of the Columbia river and inland for protection from from harsh weather and the promise of better hunting.

Fort Clatsop Lewis and Clark National Historical Park features a replica of the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s winter quarters.

The best place to get literally a bird’s eye view of the mouth of the Columbia River and many of the Lewis and Clark historic sites is the Astoria Column on Coxcomb Hill high above Astoria, Oregon.

Visitors climb the column not only for the panoramic vistas of Astoria and the Columbia River valley, but to fly balsa wood gliders that can be purchased at the park gift shop. I didn’t fly any gliders myself, but I did enjoy watching the kids in one family launch maybe a dozen gliders into the air.  It was fascinating watching the balsa wood planes circle and catch updrafts and float in the breeze.

Astoria was founded  in 1811 by John Jacob Astor as a fur trading center.  It is the oldest city in the United States west of the Rocky Mountains.

View of the mouth of the Columbia River from the Astoria column high above Astoria, OR.

One of the attractions that kept me at Fort Stevens longer than I had planned is the Oregon coast.  The rusting remains of an English sailing ship that ran aground during a storm in 1906 is a popular attraction at  Fort Stevens ocean beach.

The Peter Iredale shipwreck on the beach at Fort Stevens State Park. The English sailing ship ran aground during a storm in 1906.

Just south of Fort Stevens is the beach town of Seaside where the Corps set up salt works to collect salt to season and preserve meat for the voyage home.

Waves roll in to Cannon Beach, OR.

South of Seaside are Ecola State Park and Cannon Beach. Members of the Corps hiked over Tillmook Head to seek the remains of a beached whale, and to purchase whale oil and blubber from the local Indians.

I particularly enjoyed the magnificent views of the surf surging through rocks at Indian Beach at Ecola State Park with the Tillamook Head lighthouse in the distance. “Terrible Tilly”  – so nicknamed because of its exposure to  massive storms waves was commissioned  in 1881 to guide ships entering the Columbia River and was replaced by a whistle buoy in in 1957

Leaving the Columbia River and Oregon, I followed along the coast to Olympic National Park and then began my journey back home by way of Glacier National Park.




Northwest Adventure: Following the Lewis and Clark Trail

On May 28, 2019 – The Day after Memorial Day – I departed from my home in Blair, Nebraska on a month- long adventure through the Northwest United States.  My goal was to  visit significant historical landmarks along the Lewis and Clark Trail and  spend time in Olympic and Glacier National Parks.

Grave markers
Headstones mark the location where soldiers and Plains Indians fell during the Battle of the Little Bighorn, or Battle of the Greasy Grass.

My first stop in Montana was Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument which preserves the site of the June 25 and 26 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, known to the plains Indians as the Battle of Greasy Grass.  While this battlefield has no direct relationship to Lewis and Clark, it was a site that I have always wanted to visit.  The site is beautiful, and it recognizes and honors fallen Lakota, Northern Cheyenne Arapaho as well as Seventh Cavalry soldiers and Civilians. What I found most surprising is that there was only about 70 years between Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the western frontier and the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

After leaving Little Bighorn Battlefield I found a camping spot along the Bighorn river near the confluence with the Yellowstone River. The next morning I stopped along I 90 to spend an hour or two at Pompey’s Pillar National Monument. Pompey’s Pillar is a rock formation with a commanding view of the Yellowstone River and its surroundings.  While descending the Yellowstone on the return to St. Louis, William Clark described the formation in his journal and carved his name in the soft sandstone.  Clark named the landmark after Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, Sacagawea’s son, whom he had given the nickname “Pomp.”

Pompey's Pillar National Monument
Pompey’s Pillar National Monument

Leaving Pompey’s Pillar I followed I 90 southwest to Bozeman and then a short distance to Missouri River Headwaters State Park.   The park is located at the confluence of the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin rivers which flow together to  become the Missouri River.  Lewis  named the rivers after President Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State James Madison, and Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin.

View of the headwaters of the Missouri River.
Headwaters of the Missouri River at the confluence of the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin rivers at Missouri River Headwaters State Park in Montana.

The next stop on my journey was Fort Benton, Montana which was the starting point for my three day canoe trip into Missouri Breaks National Monument. I booked the tour through  Missouri River Outfitters and could not have been more pleased with the experience. Except for some hazy skies due to the fires in Alberta, Canada the weather could not have been better.

The roughly 50 miles of vertical white cliffs and eroded white sandstone columns, spires, toadstools and hoodoos are still much as Lewis describes in his journal.

Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery entered the White Cliff area of the river on May 31,1805. In a lengthy and poetic journal entry Lewis described the effect of water as,

“Breaking down the soft sand clifts and woarn it into a thousand  grotesque figures…”

He describes the workmanship as, “So perfect, indeed are those walls that, I should have thought that nature had attempted here to rival the human art of masonry had I not recollected that she had first begun the work.”

On my evening in Fort Benton before my departure and the day following my canoe trip I enjoyed walking along the picturesque historic river front viewing the displays about the history of the town as a fur trading post and later as a major steamboat destination point on the upper Missouri.

There are also a number of bronze sculptures dedicated to significant and colorful local characters including Lewis and Clark at one end of the river front and Shep at the other. It is the larger than life Shep Memorial that draws visitors from across the country to the rivefront.

Statue of dog
Statue to Old Shep who followed the body of his dead master to the railroad station and then for five and a half years met every day and night train waiting for his master to return. The restored Grand Union Hotel in the background.

As the story is told, in 1936 a sheepherder fell ill while tending his sheep and was brought to the St. Clair Hospital in Fort Benton. His sheep dog followed him to town and remained near the hospital door where a kind hearted nun would feed the dog.  The sheep herder died, and his family requested that the man’s body be sent back to his home in the East.  The dog watched as the casket was loaded into the baggage car and whined as the door shut and the engine pulled away from the station.  The dog that the locals named Shep followed the train for a short way and then returned to the station.  Until the dog’s death, Old Shep would return to the station each day to meet the four trains waiting for his master to return. Old Shep was buried on a hill overlooking the depot.

The story of Old Shep was featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and years later the story was retold by Paul Harvey. In 1994 the town unveiled the larger than life Shep bronze

On Tuesday I drove from Fort Benton to the Gates of the Mountains Recreation Area and the Gates of the Mountains boat tour near Helena Montana.

Lewis’ river party arrived at the location he christened the “gates of the rocky mountains,”  on July 19, 1805. Visitors can take a two hour excursion boat tour from Gates of the Mountains Recreation Area through the narrow gorge where the high mountain cliffs tower above the river to the location to view the location Lewis describes.

Below the “Gates” the river widens, and as our excursion boat crossed from one side of the river to the other, the high cliffs do indeed appear to part before us.


Blair High School Class of 2019

Family and friends filled the Blair High School gymnasium Sunday, May 19 to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of the Blair High School Class of 2019.
Blair Community Schools Superintendant Randall Gilson commended the class members for their many accomplishments in academics, athletics fine arts and extra -curricular activities.  He then told the graduates that they are entering a world of unprecedented challenges, but the class of 2019 has the ability to deliver the hard to find solutions.
“Class of 2019, we’re counting on your enthusiasm to pursue your passion and change the world”

Washington County athletes compete in State Track and Field Championships

Blair, Fort Calhoun and Arlington track teams qualified 27 athletes for State Track and Field Championship competition at Omaha Burke Stadium on Friday and Saturday, May  17 and 18.  Fort Calhoun runners Zack Marshall and Taya Skelton earned state track gold.  Arlington freshman Kailynn Gubbels and junior Milee Young each took home two state medals.

Fort Atkinson Living History Days

On the first weekend of each month from May until October, visitors to Fort Atkinson Historical Park near Fort Calhoun can experience how life might have been lived at the first U.S. military post west of the Missouri River. The fort was established in 1820 and was active until 1827.


Fort Calhoun graduates ready to pursue success

During her commencement address, salutatorian Avery McKennan told her classmates,  “ The real world is ahead of us, but I know that our class is full of individuals ready to pursue their own successful futures.”  Congratulations to the Fort Calhoun class of 2019 and best wishes in your pursuit of success.



Crane migration nears peak along Platte

Row Sanctuary reported Thursday that the sandhill crane migration along the Platte River between Grand Island and Kearney is at or near its peak this weekend. Estimates are that 680,000 cranes – plus or minus 70,000 are roosting on the river.

While the waterfowl may be enjoying the weather, the extremely wet conditions have restricted access to visitors – sometimes referred to as “craniacs” who are looking to view the spectacle.

Last Saturday night and Sunday, viewing experiences were cancelled due to vehicles getting stuck in the mud along Elm Island road which is the only access to the refuge. Reports are that the road east of the refuge is now open, but possibly problematic for some two-wheel drive vehicles. The refuge is offering refunds to those who are not able to get to the refuge due to road conditions.

Prairie chickens dance at Switzer Ranch

In making my reservation  for the Audubon Crane Fest this year I signed up for the Calamus Outfitters Prairie Chicken Tour on the Switzer Ranch at  Calamus, NE.  On a gray morning my tour companions and I boarded an old school bus to travel to the prairie chicken lek, or “booming grounds.”  We sat quietly in the converted school bus blinds listening to the sounds of the prairie coming to life on this grey morning.

As the scene slightly brightened,  a couple dozen male greater prairie chickens not very gracefully flew into the lek or mating area.  The booming and calling commenced as rival birds strutted and challenged to establish dominance.   As two and then three hens arrived the activity increased as the males danced, boomed and strutted in a frenzy to gain the attention of the females.

All in all I highly recommend a stay at Calamus Outfitters and tours to the prairie chicken and  Sharp-tailed Grouse leks.




Sandhill crane migration

Harsh weather throughout Nebraska has made conditions along the Platte river between Grand Island and Kearney less than ideal for both cranes and humans who flock to see them.

Blair Fine Arts Soup and Salad Supper

The annual Soup and Salad Supper is a show case for talented sixth to twelfth grade instrumental groups and talented musicians. There were also some fun surprises during the Otte Middle School eighth grade performance of a Star Wars medley.