Near the Site of Camp Fortunate


Clark Canyon Lake

Launch: - Leave I-15, a few miles south of Dillon, Montana, at Clark Canyon Dam exit. There is a ramp and campground on the east end of the dam, free but no amenities. There is another ramp and camp across the dam, a few miles south on the northwest side of the lake, with facilities and power for a nominal fee.

Nearby campsites: - Bureau of Reclamation campsites all around the lake. We prefer the one at the northwest corner of the lake.

Comments: - This is a cruise for those we enjoy the history of the American West.


CCIn 1986, El and I climbed into a double kayak to begin a two-month descent of the Missouri River. We carried the journal of her namesake, William Clark. We read the journal and camped on as many sites as possible where Lewis and Clark had camped, with their Corps of Discovery, in 1804. That downriver two-month long trip is another tale for another time. But it sets the stage of our deep interest in the Lewis and Clark epic.

CCCCThe expedition was one of the morst dramatic and significant episodes in our history. It carried the flag and the destiny of our young country westward to the Pacific Ocean, across thousands of miles of land known only to American Indians. Americans afterward could feel the full sweep of their continent.

CCIt began in 1803 when our government, under Thomas Jefferson, was negotiating with France for the purchase of New Orleans. Unexpectedly, we were sold all the Louisiana territory. Immediately the purchase doubled the size of the United States. It included the tributaries of the Mississippi River that drained easterly from the Continental Divide, from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.

CCIn 1792, Robert Gray discovered the mouth of the Columbia River and claimed the land known as "Oregon Territory" for the US. Now, twelve years later, Congress authorized the expedition to find a transportation link between the newly purchased Louisiana Territory and the Oregon Territory. Furthermore, on instruction from the President, Lewis and Clark were charged with observing, collecting and recording natural history, the cultures they observed, and all geographic features of significance. The result was one of the most thoroughly documented explorations yet undertaken anywhere.

CCThe expedition began August 30, 1803 with a specially designed keelboat, down the Ohio River. They winter camped on the Mississippi River, opposite the junction with the Missouri River. They set off up the Missouri May 14, 1804 "under a jentle brease." That winter, after a slow and difficult journey up the river, they camped at Ft. Mandan (North Dakota). During the winter they recruited the French-Canadian fur trapper, Toussaint Charbonneau and his Shoshoni wife Sacagawea who accompanied them to the Pacific and back to the Mandan villages. In April 1805 the keelboat returned to St. Louis and with two pirogues (smaller and more maneuverable) and six dugout canoes the expedition continued up the Missouri.

Dugout Canoe

CCOn May 8th they came to a divide in the river. One branch, entering from the north, was large as the other continuing to the west. They paused a week exploring both branches before determining that the westerly course was the Missouri. The other branch they named Maria's River, in honor of Lewis' cousin, Maria Wood. When El and I kayaked down the Missouri, we began our trip 100 miles up the Marias to avoid falls and dams on the main trunk of the Missouri.

CCLewis and Clark continued up the Missouri, after caching a pirogue and baggage for the return trip, at the mouth of the Marias. In mid-June they arrived at Great Falls. Instead of one falls, they soon realized there were five cascades and an 18-mile portage was required. After three weeks of back-breaking work they finished the portage of their heavy craft and supplies around the Great Falls. They stashed their pirogue and continued with the heavy dugout canoes.They dragged their canoes upstream to the headwaters of the Missouri.

CCThey were pestered by "our trio of pests still invade and obstruct us on all occasions, these are the musquetoes eye knats and prickly pear."

The Buggers are Still There

CCLewis went ahead of the boat party to try to contact the Shoshoni people in order to barter for horses so the expedition could cross the Divide on horseback. On August 13 he made contact, and convinced the Indians to return to where Clark was camped. They arrived on August 17th. Sacajawea heard the Indians singing as they approached camp. She immediately recognized the Indians as her people (the Aqaidika, or Salmon Eaters). In her excitement she began to dance and suck her fingers, indicating in sign language that these were her people. In fact, the chief of that band, Cameahwait, was her brother!

CCSuddenly an excited young woman in the band ran out and embraced Sacagawea. Five years earlier two young girls had been captured and kidnapped in a raid by a hostile band. One escaped and the other had been taken to the Mandan villages where she became a vital member of the Corps of Discovery.

CCThey named the site Camp Fortunate, since meeting Sacagawea's Shoshoni, the friendly Indians sold them horses and guided them over the mountains to the headwaters of the rivers flowing to the Pacific. The actual site of Camp Fortunate is buried under the water of Clark Canyon Reservoir.

CCAfter scouting routes westerly, on August 23rd Lewis hid the canoes and loaded supplies on horses purchased from the Shoshoni - then set out for Lost Trail Pass across the Bitterroot Mountains and the Great Divide.


CCWhat a statement - one dreaded by all who cruise - "end of navigation." Camp fortunate was the end of navigation for the Corps on the Missouri River system.


Plaque Honoring Sacajawea at Modern Campsite

CCSacajawea was indeed "invaluable' to the fate of the expedition. Without her there would likely have been no success.



CCThe geology of the American West had a profound influence on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The uplift of the Rockies created an almost unsurmountable barrier to the Corps of Discovery. Here, in the Bitterroots, much of the upthrust rock is limestone (the blue in the diagram below) which becomes fragmental and blocky during erosion. The horseback trip over the Bitterroots was difficult, dangerous, and several horses were lost when they slipped and fell.

Some of the Geology on the Route Over the Bitterroots

CCCMontana lay astride the Equator and was covered by a warm shallow sea during the time when the limestones were deposited, 360 million years ago. Abundant fossils can be found in the limestones.


CCWe don't take time to watch clouds. Since childhood, I have enjoyed lying on my back and watching clouds form, change shape, and move across the sky. Most of you enjoyed the same thing when you were a little tad, but have perhaps forgotten the immense joy that one derives from watching clouds. We're simply too busy and caught up with our lives, jobs, families, whatever to take the time.

CCThe Hopi have a belief that their ancestors reveal themselves to the living through the shapes of clouds. Many kachinas are decorated with cloud symbols to honor their ancestors. Clouds have a gift for all of us.





CCLong ago such an important camp; now an overnight for Halcyon and her crew.


Across the Ripples of Time - Camp Fortunate

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