An academic weblog exploring the interpretation of the Lewis and Clark expedition and bicentennial in museums, historic sites, interpretive centers, and popular media.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A New Discovery Center at Hells Gate State Park

On the Snake River a few miles south of Lewiston, Idaho, is Hells Gate State Park just north of Hell's Canyon. The Lewis and Clark expedition did not spend much time here--they were very anxious about moving on downriver in advance of the approaching winter--but there is a new interpretive center in Hells Gate State Park that I found quite impressive. It is not one of the big "stars" in the interpretive universe, but well worth a visit.

The graceful interior of the Lewis and Clark Discovery Center at Hells Gate SP. There are additional exhibits outdoors right on the Snake River. The Center's grand opening was earlier this month.

This is Nez Perce country, historically and culturally, and many of the exhibits focus on expedition-Nez Perce interactions. One text panel describes how the Nez Perce discovered the expedition as they entered the area. This is the only site I've seen so far with a specific display about Weetxuwiis, the Nez Perce woman who possibly saved the expedition from an untimely death. When native leaders and warriors were debating what to do about the expedition and contemplated killing them as one of the options, Weetxuwiis (variously spelled in the literature) stepped forward and said that her previous experience with non-Indians had been positive and that it was unwarranted to kill these strange intruders.

A rare exhibit about Weetxuwiis, the "Woman Who Was Captured and Returned," the only one I've seen in my travels. The text mentions that she died the day after the Nez Perce discovered the expedition.

Part of the exterior of the Discovery Center, where visitors can explore gardens, sculptures, and outdoor interpretive exhibits.

The Center has both indoor and outdoor exhibits, a gift shop, and a film about Lewis and Clark's experiences in Idaho. It replaces an earlier interpretive center located nearby which I had visited when attending an L&C bicentennial planning workshop a few years ago.

An outdoor interpretive sign about the expedition's ordeal in crossing Lolo Pass over the Bitterroot Mountains. There are several of these signs with text, photos, and paintings, alongside artifacts and items of material culture.

Part of a display about the dugout canoes that the expedition, assisted by the Nez Perce, made on the Clearwater River in preparation for the remainder of their journey to the coast.

Also in the Lewiston-Clarkston area are the Nez Perce County Museum in Lewiston and Chief Timothy Park on the Snake River a short distance west of Clarkston (see photo in previous entry). The County Museum has revised exhibits about local culture and history, with a section on Lewis and Clark, including a display about William Clark's possible Nez Perce son. I will be discussing that issue at a later date.

[All photos by K. Dahl, copyright 2005.]