Day One: Carthage to Lewis and Clark State Park, Iowa
Our first night was spent at Louis and Clark State Park in Iowa, which claims to have the only historically accurate keelboat replica in the nation.
We got our usual, hit-the-ground running, crack of noon start. The Toyota RAV-4 was heavily loaded, it at right down on its struts without even pretending otherwise. Yet it drove pretty well. We proceeded on.
We intersected the Lewis and Clark trail in Kansas City. In honor of the Francophone half of the Corps of discovery, we hit Napoleon’s French bakery for lunch. KC, and the rest of Missouri, is home ground for us, so we did not look for Lewis and Clark footprints there. Our thought was to drive efficiently past anything we could reasonably daytrip and get out west as fast as possible.
The sun burst out north of KC, and we glided alongside the Missouri River into Iowa. Though in truth you rarely see the river from the interstate. One of the big revelations of our first few days is that, along the lower Missouri the landscape of 1804 is lost forever. The prairie grasses are plowed under and replaced with commercial crops laid out in regular rectangles and nourished with chemical fertilizer. The forest that has grown up between the fields where it is too rough to plow is a new development as well. Trees were few and far between in 1804, the Indians practiced seasonal burning that kept the forests in check and favored the growth of native grasses, which in turn provided browse for the bison, elk, deer, and other game animals. Even the river is far different now than it was 200 years ago. The Missouri River of 1804 was wider, shallower, and slower than today. Lewis and Clark polled their boats up the shallow waters, and sometimes even got out and walked in the shallows, pulling the keelboat with ropes. You could not do that today. The Army Corps of engineers has turned almost the entire 2000 mile river into a series of slack water lakes connected by drainage ditches.
The first night was spend at the very buggy Lewis and Clark State Park in Iowa. We enjoyed climbing on the replica keelboat. This summer they will actually have programs where visitors can push and pole the boat around the lake. The only dark spot was when, as we made camp, I discovered I forgot to pack the tent fly! Fortunately, we have a huge tarp.