Wednesday was another nice day for a drive. We had been to the Lolo Pass in 2008 but wanted to drive the route again. It is just a nice drive along the Lochsa River and then up into the mountains. The Bitterroot Mountains are part of the Bitterroot Range, part of the Rocky Mountains, located in the panhandle of Idaho and westernmost Montana. The mountains encompass an area of 4,862 square miles, are bordered on the north by Lolo Creek, to the northeast by the Clark Fork, on the south by the Salmon River, on the east by the Bitterroot River and Valley, and on the west by the Selway and Lochsa Rivers. Its highest summit is Trapper Peak, at 10,157 feet. Lolo Pass, elevation, 5,233 feet, is on the border between Montana and Idaho, approximately 40 miles west-southwest of Missoula, MT.
There are vey few overlooks. The pass is the highest point of the historic Lolo Trail, between the Bitterrroot Valley in Montana and the Weippe Prairie in Idaho. The trail, known as the "Nez Perce Trail", was used by Nez Perce in the 18th century, and by the Lewis and Clark Expedition on their westward snowbound journey in September 1805. The visitor’s center at the pass has a small interpretive museum and shows history films about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. There is also a trail to the expedition’s camp site. Can you imagine what Lewis and Clark thought when they reached a ridge sand aw the mountains in the picture above as far as the eye could see? I can only guess how daunted they must have felt. But one of the most amazing things about the story of the expedition is their determination to complete their task and never once thought of turning back. It was a rough and hard journey over these mountains trying to get through such thick trees, brush, and snow.
To get to the actual ridge trail the expedition took, you have to take a forest service dirt road that connects to the main original larger trail, which is still a rough road. It is too steep and narrow for a large vehicle like our truck. There are all kinds of forest service roads for public use and hiking. Highway 12 goes all the way from Missoula to the Weippe Prairie but that would have been a 350 mile round trip, so we decided not to go that far.
After a winter at Fort Clatsop in present-day northwestern Oregon, the Corps of Discovery returned the following June. The Lolo Trail is a now a National Landmark. Lolo Hot Springs is 7 miles east in Montana. The Lewis and Clark Expedition camped by these springs. The springs are now a public swimming pool area with a few gift shops and camping area. After crossing the pass the first time on the way west, and getting lost, the expedition came out onto the Weippe Prairie. There they met the Nez Perce, many who had never seen a white man. The Nez Perce showed the expedition the way to the Clearwater River, which led to the Snake River, which led to the Columbia River, which led the expedition to the Pacific ocean.
When camped in Lewiston, ID, in 2008, we drove to the Weippe Prairie from the west side of the Bitterroot Mountains. It is one of my favorite spots. There is hardly anything there except a very tiny area you can hardly call a town. The area is mostly just farmland. But the drive up switchbacks from the Clearwater River brings you to the open prairie and it so beautiful with the big sky, a breeze lightly blowing the grass, the Bitterroot Mountains in the background, and above all, just the quiet and serenity of the place. It felt like a place that time forgot.
When we leave Missoula on Tuesday, we are driving south down the Bitterroot Valley. That will also take us close to more Lewis and Clark areas talked about in their journals.