Lewis and Clark's "Forgotten Trail"
Yesterday I drove up to a stretch of U.S. 12 in Washington state that approximates the overland shortcut that the expedition took on their return trip in May of 2006. Upon the advice of the Indians, they left the Columbia River at a point west of present-day Walla Walla and traveled overland to the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers at today's Clarkston and Lewiston.
This stretch of the L&C Trail has been dubbed the "forgotten trail" (especially by local communities hoping to attract visitors), but has been commemorated since 1935 by a state park on U.S. 12 near Dayton, Washington, that I have visited many times in the past while traveling through the area. It is called the Lewis and Clark Trail State Park to distinguish it from Washington's Lewis and Clark State Park on the west side of the state. The east-side park includes a rest and picnic area for day use, and a campground along a small river called the Touchet.
The state of Washington installed new interpretive signs for the bicentennial, but left up the older signs that I was more familiar with. I show several examples of these here.
Interpretive kiosk with new signs front and back. The topics include a general overview, details about this section of the trail, Lewis' botanical collections, and a description of the forest and wildlife. A separate sign (see next post) discusses the Cayuse, Walla Walla, and Umatilla tribes who populated this area.
Example of one of the new signs, featuring text, drawings, photos of plants and/or wildlife, and in this case, a portrait of the omnipresent Thomas Jefferson.
Some of the text from the above sign. Notice the phrase "new to Euro-American science." It's taken a long time to finally get the wording this accurate so as not to discount the Native Americans' own impressive knowledge about the natural environment.
Older interpretive signs along the L&C trail are almost always more "rustic" in design and materials, reflecting earlier generations' notions about what is appropriate and meaningful for presenting historical information to the public. I often wonder how people in the future will view the signs we produce today. I'm sure they will look equally old fashioned.
An earlier sign with some text and a map over a mural and under (plexi)glass.
Here's the text in the upper left corner of the mural-sign. The shortcut may have "reduced their journey by several weeks," but they still had to wait around for the snow to melt when they reached the high Rockies.
A grand old sign in the routed-letters tradition, now partially obscured by roses. I say "old," but actually this sign was installed in the 1970s. It provides an example of a style of interpretive sign that has been around for a long time.
You can almost be certain that a park was established in the 1930s or 40s when you spot one of these great Depression-era buildings. This one houses the rest rooms. There is another building that is a sort of picnic shelter or kitchen. It was closed this day, but can be reserved.
The towns along this stretch of U.S. 12 sport these banners. I first saw them in Clarkston. The URL goes to a promotional website for the town of Dayton.
I must say I enjoyed visiting the towns of Waitsburg and Dayton yesterday. I had not been through there for a few years and between then and now, I've become much more interested in Victorian architecture and beautiful old buildings. Both communities boast numerous houses and commercial buildings from the turn of the last century, and Dayton has an outstanding courthouse and restored historic railroad depot. I recommend a leisurely drive along this lesser-known portion of the L&C trail.
There is also a new and very interesting interpretive site located a couple miles from Dayton up a side road that follows Patit Creek, to be shown in the next post.
[All photos by K. Dahl, copyright 2007.]