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Driving Highway 12, on the Trail of Lewis & Clark

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Learn About Lewis & Clark

Starting in Lewiston, Highway 12 traverses the state from west to east, through Indian reservations, along the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers, and into some of the state’s wildest country, until finally arriving at the Lolo Pass, where Lewis and Clark crossed over from Montana and became the first white men to step foot in Idaho.

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The Selway Falls

By starting in Lewiston, we were following Lewis & Clark’s trail in the wrong direction. They had reached Lewiston in 1805, when the Nez Perce were at their cultural height. In honor of the region’s original settlers, a beautiful statue by the name of Tsceminicum sits at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers. A Nez Perce woman kneels on the ground, while the legends and symbols of her people appear to flow out of her like a river.

Today, the 202-mile journey from Lewiston to Lolo Pass requires about three hours in a car, but it took Lewis, Clark and their Corps of Discovery well over a month to complete. Highway 12 doesn’t follow the exact trail: the much rougher Lolo Trail, just to the north, is the path the expedition party actually used; it’s still open to traffic, but expect to go about 15 miles per hour.

After passing through the reservation towns of Orofino, Kamsiah and Kooskia, we reached the tiny community of Syringa, where Scott Swearingen and his family welcomed us into their Lewis & Clark Trail Cabin. We arrived just before dusk, tired and ready to relax. As though he’d read our minds, Scott started a campfire, and we sat around chatting with him until it was dark. The next morning, he had a hearty breakfast waiting for us — just what we needed before another long day on the road. The cabin was rustic and comfortable, and well-situated for a trip along Highway 12. To book a night, contact Scott and Pam via Air BnB.

The next day of driving was completely different. Whereas we’d encountered a number of towns on the first day, the road cut through remote territory on the second. Just outside of Kooskia, we saw a sign warning us that there’d be no petrol for 88 miles. And after the road entered the Clearwater National Forest, we didn’t see another town for hours. This was untamed wilderness of river and forest, with little other traffic.

Lewis & Clark’s expedition took place so long ago, and the landscape of America has altered so drastically, that it’s difficult to put ourselves in their shoes; to truly appreciate how dangerous and rough their adventure must have been. But along Highway 12, you can journey through the same wilderness as they did, over 200 years ago. Besides the cement of the road and a few interpretive signs set up along the side, not much has changed.

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The Tsceminicum Statue in Lewiston
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Fake Deer
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November 5, 2012 at 2:48 am Comments (4)

Reliving the Big Blowup of 1910 on the Pulaski Trail

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Smokey The Bear

Big Ed Pulaski was probably as famous as it’s possible for a firefighter to be. He invented the Pulaski: the hatchet/pick-axe tool which has become the fireman’s most important weapon. And as a young man, Big Ed’s accomplishments were even more notable; unless you’re unimpressed by something like saving 40 men during the biggest wildfire in North American history.


The “Big Blowup” of 1910 wiped out much of northern Idaho, with especially devastating effects in the Silver Valley. The fire burned over three million acres (about the size of Connecticut) and did so with terrifying fury. In August of 1910, Ed was supervising firefighting crews, when the winds suddenly shifted, placing him and his men in immediate, mortal danger.

Pulaski was familiar with the terrain and remembered an abandoned mine in the vicinity. With trees falling down around them and panicked wildlife, including a bear, pushing by them on the trail, Big Ed led his men to the mine. All 45 made it safely inside, and laid on the ground while the fire roaring outside sucked the oxygen out of the air. Suffocating and in the grip of panic, some men wanted to escape the relative safety of the mine — but cool Ed Pulaski trained his pistol on them. “The first one who tries to leave, gets shot”.

Due to the scarce oxygen, all 45 men lost consciousness. When the fire passed, 40 woke back up. The loss of five men was tragic, but without Big Ed’s knowledge and level-headedness, the toll would have been much worse.

A two-mile interpretive trail just south of Wallace leads to the location of the old mine which saved the lives of 40 men. Along the way, placards recreate the hellish nightmare of the Big Blowup, showing the extent of the devastation and sharing quotes from Pulaski’s memoirs. At the trail’s end, you can see the mine. It’s closed off and rather small, but the weight of history makes it improbably dramatic.

Location of the Trailhead on our Map

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October 17, 2012 at 11:54 pm Comment (1)

Obscuring the Sky – Idaho’s Devastating 2012 Wildfires

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Smokey The Bear

The month that we arrived in Idaho was a month of fire: August 2012 saw the state’s worst wildfires in more than a decade. Thankfully, we were never directly affected by the flames, but their smoke was a constant companion, obscuring the normally clear blue skies of the Northwest behind a heavy screen of haze.


The smoke was at its worst during our days in Riggins and Lewiston, due to the proximity of the fires burning in the Nez Perce National Forest. But although we couldn’t see as far as normal, the skies were entrancing; everything tinted red as the sun fought to shine through the smoke. Beautiful, but I’m not sure it was the most healthy air to be breathing during our hike in the Rapid River.

Of course, bad air and spoiled views were petulant things to complain about while hundreds of thousands of acres were burning and people were fleeing their homes. Even losing their lives. 20-year-old Anne Veseth was among the brave firefighters battling the blazes near Orofino when, on August 12th, a tree fell on top of her. A tragic reminder that the costs of these fires are incalculable.

A useful website for the current state of wildfires is InciWeb – The Incident Information System. Well worth checking out, if your trip to Idaho coincides with wildfire season.

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October 1, 2012 at 4:36 pm Comment (1)
Driving Highway 12, on the Trail of Lewis & Clark Starting in Lewiston, Highway 12 traverses the state from west to east, through Indian reservations, along the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers, and into some of the state's wildest country, until finally arriving at the Lolo Pass, where Lewis and Clark crossed over from Montana and became the first white men to step foot in Idaho.
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