The stream the Lewis and Clark Expedition visited in 1805 and 1806, and called "Travelers' Rest Creek"—known as Lolo Creek since the mid-19th century(1)—flows eastward, from left to right, only a few yards beyond the line of cottonwoods in the background. The trees in the foreground have sprung up along some meanders of the creek that may have been flowing when the Expedition paused here in the fall of 1805 and spring of 1806.
Most of the trees in this stand range from 75 to 100 feet in height, and are from 20 to 60 years old, with a few between 60 and 100 years. They are distant offsprings of the cottonwoods that shaded the creek when the Corps of Discovery camped on the benchland behind the photographer.
This photo was taken on May 13, 2000. The group of apparently dead trees to the right sprang to leaf just one week later, illustrating that, as botanist Mark Behan puts it, "Nature backs its bets." They have been programmed to awaken—"break dormancy"—a little after the rest of the stand, in case a late hard frost nipped the others in the bud and prevented them from propagating.
The rancher who occupied much of the land in this vicinity for35 years before it became a state park fed his cattle on the grass, and kept the area cleared of brush and dead trees. Since this area had been a major crossroads on the Indians' intramontane transportation route for countless generations, subjecting it to heavy grazing by their huge herds of horses since the mid-18th century, and using its wood for campfires, it is conceivable that it looked pretty much like this to Lewis and Clark and their party.
Historic Cottonwood Trees
© 2000 by J. Agee
Before the Corps of Discovery camped here on September 9-11, 1805, and June 30-July 3, 1806, this place they called "Travelers' Rest" had been a heavily used campsite for many centuries. It continued to be used by both Indian and Euro-American travelers for at least 60 years afterward.
Snow covered North Lolo Peak (elevation 9,096 feet) is faintly visible against the high, thin clouds, to the right of the somewhat snowy lower mountain in center background.
The tall trees to right of center are Lombardy poplars (Populus nigra), which were cloned in northern Italy before 1750 and imported into North America later in the 18th century as ornamentals. All Lombardy poplars are males, and propagate only by root sprouts. It has been said they were planted by Mormon settlers because their distinctive shape would signal to travelers that the land was occupied by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints.