The Road To Nowhere

Back on the east bank of the Missouri River, north of Washburn and two miles west of US-83, Fort Mandan is a reconstruction of Lewis and Clark’s winter quarters in 1804-1805. Arriving here at the end of October after a tediously difficult six-month slog upstream from St. Louis, the expedition set up camp, which consisted of rough-hewn log cabins arranged to form a triangular palisade surrounded by a 16-foot-high wall. Here the 33 men spent the winter, making friendly contact with nearby Native American communities, most significantly those of the Knife River site—where Lewis and Clark hired the French fur-trapper Charbonneau and his young wife, the legendary Sacagawea, who helped guide them across the Rockies.

The actual site of Lewis and Clark’s encampment, some 10 miles upstream across the river from the site of Fort Clark, was long ago washed away by the ever-shifting Missouri River, but this full-scale, historically accurate replica fort was built in the 1970s by local history buffs, and recently restored and expanded as part of the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn. Constructed and furnished, with some original pieces, to look how it did when Lewis and Clark camped here, the fort gives a good sense of the difficulties the explorers faced. History aside, the wild Missouri River frontage is a great place to play Tom Sawyer—on summer afternoons you’ll see barefoot kids, shirtless in overalls, fishing and mucking along the banks. Another insight into local life is provided by the visitors center, which is constructed almost entirely out of recycled by-products of the coal-mining industry.