Lewis and Clark's exploration of the western United States is the stuff of legend. The trip to an unknown destination through an unknown land seems dangerous and daunting in an era where everyone's safety seems paramount. But it certainly appeals to my imagination and that of others as well. For example, did you know that President Thomas Jefferson (who commissioned their journey) was hopeful Lewis and Clark would find dinosaurs living on the western slopes of these mountains? It was a journey of hardship, perseverance and the joys of exploring a country never seen by European descendants.
When possible, I like to visit the territory Lewis and Clark traveled through on their way to and from the Pacific Ocean. -- so easy to do in modern times. Among the prettiest and most difficult part s of their journey is the land they traversed from Montana into North-Central Idaho, where they crossed the rugged Bitterroot mountains on both legs of their trip.
Today there's a good quality modern road, Highway 12, that follows the path of the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers, which roared with meltwater when we visited. We enjoyed the wonderful mountain scenery as we drove from our rented cabin, our destination for the day being a chance to see a stand of ancient trees.
The DeVoto Memorial Cedar Grove in Idaho is about 9 miles from the Montana border, just west of Lolo Pass. It's situated just over 4,000 feet above sea level. There's lots of roadside parking here and it's worth stopping to see these huge western red cedars, which can live up to 3,000 years. Some of the trees in this grove are more than 1,000 years old.
There's an easy trail to walk on both sides of the highway. The ancient forest is remarkable to see. While not as tall or massive as California's redwood or sequoia groves, these ancient cedars still impress, being well over 100 feet tall and up to 6 feet in diameter. Sunlight filters through the trees. The air is cool and smells of cedar.
While it is difficult to be certain, Lewis and Clark described stopping at a cedar grove, so they may have visited the very spot we've come to see.
Besides taking in the majesty of the grove, we also enjoyed seeing the wildflowers growing in the shaded understory. I'm not a master of botany by any stretch of the imagination, but knew a few of their names.
The most common flower was trillium...
There were some calypso orchids....
These next flowers I'm not sure about. This might be goosefoot violet....
?? A species of wild rose perhaps
Looks like a lily, but what kind? Not sure.
Lots of young ferns were sprouting, with their coiled rounded tips Canadians call "fiddleheads" -- a delicacy when harvested in early spring.
There is something magical about being in a stand of gigantic ancient trees that crystalizes what a wilderness experience is all about to me.