The Lewis & Clark Trail: Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks, Jeff Arpin, Kayla Cavaliere

It’s July 4, 1804, and the Corps of Discovery is celebrating Independence Day on the 
Missouri River near present-day Atchison, KS. Their location is close to the starting point of Part 2 of our journey. Before they can build their winter quarters in modern-day North Dakota, the expedition still has more than a thousand miles of Missouri River to navigate. Our Can-Ams should have us there in a week.

Into the Glacial Prairie

It’s mid-afternoon as Jeff Arpin (on the brown Can-Am), my granddaughter Kayla Cavaliere, and I (on the white Can-Am) motor across the bridge into Kansas. There we pick up the Glacial Hills Scenic Byway and continue our journey north.

Graceful sweeping curves follow the meandering course of the Missouri. The geological handiwork of receding glaciers is clearly evident in the gently rolling landscape. About 50 years after Lewis and Clark came through here, the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened up the Kansas Territory for settlement. The land’s rich soil virtually begged for cultivation.

The byway connects many of the state’s oldest towns. The high bluff (and future site of White Cloud, KS), is believed to have been a vantage point and resting place for Lewis and Clark. White Cloud, once a grand riverboat town of some 2,000 people, is now a virtual ghost town. Vacant buildings are slowly disintegrating into dust to be blown away by the relentless prairie wind.

As we travel into southeast Nebraska, another fertile scene emerges. This one resembles huge green swells on an agitated ocean. Up and down we go until reaching our overnight safe harbor at the Lied Lodge in Nebraska City.

The Cornhusker State

When Lewis and Clark traveled the Missouri River, corn wasn’t the dominant food source for the Plains Indians. They were mostly hunter-gatherers, following herds of bison. Exhibits at the Missouri River Basin Lewis & Clark Interpretive Trail & Visitor Center in Nebraska City open a window into life in the early 19th century.

A full-scale model of a keelboat is parked outside the visitor center. Jeff mans one of the oars and pretends to row while Kayla looks away feigning embarrassment. Inside the visitor center are displays of bison and other fauna in their simulated historical habitats. One of the most interesting exhibits outside is a reconstructed Plains Indian earth lodge. These structures provided protection from extreme heat and cold.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2013 back issue.