Explorer Meriwether Lewis was chagrined when he learned from the Nez Perce Indians that the Lewis and Clark Expedition could have crossed the Rockies directly from what is now modern-day Missoula to Lewiston, Idaho, without too much trouble. Likely he didn’t appreciate the gorgeous scenery of the Salmon River country through which he struggled on horseback, after deviating far south, then over the Continental Divide and north. Following his route by car on mostly paved roads is a different story.
Central Idaho still is remote, with few towns. Near Horse Prairie Ranch southwest of Dillon, Mont., where Lewis fi rst sighted a terrifi ed Nez Perce youth, you’ll cross the Divide and wound through country still so rugged that it could be deemed wilderness. Single-lane at times, the roads (purchase a local map) can be claustrophobic, flanked
by sheer cliffs and timber.
The Salmon River today is known for rafting trips that raise your hair. Poor Lewis tried to run the river at first, thinking it was the Snake that led to the Columbia River. He is quoted as abandoning river travel in favor of horses, because the river was “rapid and sholey.” The Nez Perce and modern fi shermen know it to be teeming with salmon and steelhead. Then and now the country is so wild and roadless that animals are pretty safe.
Lewis was almost right. The justly named Hell’s Canyon of the Snake River forms the north-south border with Oregon, west of the Salmon River wilderness. A tourist boat out of Lewiston thrills visitors through part of Hell’s Canyon. The scenic trip will make you wonder how the few ranches along the Snake managed to get cattle to market.
For more info:
NATIVE CULTURE: Twelve miles east of Lewiston, the Nez Perce National Historical Park houses artifacts, clothing, and lore, and off ers fi lm showings of Nez Perce history. Lewis and Clark historians should visit the Sacajawea Fountain in Lewiston and travel up the Clearwater River.
WILD THINGS: To spot a wolf pack travel to small town Winchester, about 25 miles southeast of the Salmon River.