The Long Hike: Lewis and Clark’s Great Adventure of Discovery

Marion Fernandez
 
Meriwether Lewis

As far as adventures go, the story of Lewis and Clark really does take the cake. Their tale of discovery has become one for the legends and this amazing story needs to be told, time and again so we remember their remarkable achievement. Here goes…

After the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, President Thomas Jefferson knew that the new land would need to be scoped out. The Corps of Discovery was made up of volunteers under the authority of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark. For more than two years, the Corps of Discovery faced harrowing adventures from unexpected weather to unfriendly Native tribes, all on their way to get to the Pacific Ocean.

Their journey was groundbreaking; they spanned 8,000 miles with a party of over 45, which included soldiers, a slave, an interpreter, and his wife, the well-known Sacagawea. Despite the rough conditions, the group only had one member die during the multi-year journey.

 

The Purpose

There wasn’t only one purpose of having the Corps of Discovery travel through the purchased land, but instead there were several objectives.

 

Reading maps and making new ones

Map the land: The purchase itself was a bit of a gamble for President Jefferson since the Louisiana land was not mapped out. There were many native tribes who had not been previously contacted and they needed to know who was located where throughout the space. In addition, they were able to record the topography of the land, including mountains, rivers, and settlements.

Searching for waterways: The hope was that they would find one continual river that would take them to the Pacific Ocean. While the Missouri River is long, it did not lead as far as they had expected it to. Instead, they did find out that there was a trail from the end of the Missouri River that lead to the Columbia River, which ends in the Pacific Ocean.

Establishing presence: While it is well and good to say that you own the land, the people who live on the land may not understand that the land has been purchased. Traveling through various tribes and settlements allowed Lewis and Clark to establish contact and show their presence to the Native people. They also were able to learn about the Native people as well as their customs.

 

Making notes of the amazing new discoveries they made along the journey.

Making notes of the amazing new discoveries they made along the journey.

Researching nature: One of the most interesting pieces on the journey was the discovery of new flora and fauna, which they took samples of back with them at the end of the journey.

The Discoveries

Not unlike hikers of today, Lewis and Clark were able to take note of things in nature they may not have paid much attention to otherwise. Lewis was the active field scientist and noted as many plant, animal, weather, and topographic information as he could. Some of the notable species that were described for the first time by Europeans include:

  • Swift fox
  • Grizzly bear
  • Blue catfish
  • Lewis’s woodpecker
  • Fringed sagebrush
  • Wild rice
  • Wild rose
  • Ponderosa pine

 

Grizzly bears seen along the journey…

There were hundreds of species noted along the way, but many had already been seen elsewhere. Noting known plants and animals, however, would help give insight about the different environments throughout the territory, allowing them to use information that they already had to better understand where things live.

What Can You Do?

While the great expedition was over two hundred years ago, you can still take yourself on a journey of discovery. Taking notes from Lewis and Clark, you can hike in the wilderness and see what kinds of plants and animals that you are able to spot within nature. As the expedition traveled so much, you are sure to find a Lewis and Clark trail on a journey from the East Coast to the West Coast.

 

Travel part or all of it…

Hiking along any of their trails will give you some insight for what the environment may have been like when the Corps of Discovery was passing through. Check out your local hiking guides and see if you live near a historic hiking location and go have an adventure.

 

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