Sunday, July 19, 2009
TENDOY – The biggest surprise during our three-hour tour of the Lewis and Clark Byway was catching a flash of cinnamon on the hillside above our truck and watching the black bear scamper away through the trees.
The deer we saw later were more or less expected, as were the incredible views from the top of the Lemhi Pass. The wet spring had also delivered a bumper crop of wildflowers and green carpet on the forest floor. Even the high sage desert was lush and dotted by wildflowers.
In August of 1805, Meriwether Lewis and three other members of the Corps of Discovery came upon the Lemhi Pass, one of the few relatively low spots in the Beaverhead Mountains. To his deep disappointment, Lewis looked west and saw only more and higher mountain peaks that would eventually prove to be the expedition’s sternest test as it made for the Pacific.
“After refreshing ourselves,” Lewis wrote in his journal, “we proceeded on to the top of the dividing ridge from which I discovered immense ranges of high mountains still to the West of us with their tops partially covered with snow.”
Today the 39-mile loop road up to the pass beginning and ending in Tendoy, 20 miles southeast of Salmon in the Lemhi Valley, is an easy three-hour drive suitable for most passenger cars in good weather. Pack a lunch to eat at the beautiful picnic area just below the pass near the spot Lewis called the “Most Distant Fountain,” a spring that is the westernmost source of the Missouri River. There, you can do as Hugh McNeal of Lewis’ party did – stand astride the Missouri River.
There are interpretive signs all along the road, but you’ll do yourself a favor by studying up on this leg of the Lewis and Clark expedition to get a better appreciation for the profound history of this section of Idaho and Montana mountains.
If you’re really up for a road adventure, continue over the Lemhi pass into Montana and you’ll eventually find your way onto I-15 south of Dillon.
We took the western part of the loop first, which covers about 10 miles in sage and grassland as it climbs into the Beaverheads. It’s a steep but good dirt road, with a little washboard and the occasional pothole. The road narrowed when we enter the forested area, and that’s where we spotted the bear.
Eventually the road turns east and parallels the ridgeline on the Idaho side through high meadows and forest before dropping down to the Lemhi Pass. The west side of the loop back to Tendoy is a much shorter, more direct route.