Beaverhead Rock - Aerial View

The Beaverhead River at Beaverhead Rock:
"amazeing crooked"

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Beaverhead Rock and River

Jim Wark shot this photo in May of 1999, when crops, mostly hay, had begun to green up, and the river was high with spring runoff from mountain snow. The brown areas are fallow fields. The Beaverhead River, which Lewis and Clark thought of as a continuation of the Jefferson, is flowing northeast, toward the top of the picture. The prominent outcrop just above center is Beaverhead Rock, the base of which lies at approximately 4,900 feet above mean sea level. The snow-capped mountains in the background are the Tobacco Root Mountains, topped by 10,590-foot Granite Peak near the left edge of the photo.

Several times the journalists remarked on the "circuitous rout" and the "meandering course" of the river they called Jefferson's. It was, as Ordway complained, "small and amazeing crooked." Moreover, as Lewis said, "in many places they were obliged to double man the canoes and drag them over the stone and gravel."

Clark and the main party, with the eight dugout canoes, reached Beaverhead Rock on August 10, 1805, which Lewis had passed two days earlier.1 Meanwhile, Lewis covered 60 miles via a well-traveled Indian road, reaching the forks of Red Rock and Horse Prairie creeks, and camping five miles up the latter, headed toward Lemhi Pass.

It took 18 days for the main party to wrestle their canoes the 163 miles (by modern measurement) from the Three Forks to Camp Fortunate. No wonder the men "complain verry much of the emence labour they are obliged to undergo," as Clark wrote on August 12th, "& wish much to leave the river." On the other hand, in July of 1806, his 22-person contingent covered the same distance in the six remaining canoes, in just four days. Today, it's only 110 highway miles from Missouri Headwaters State Park at the Three Forks, to Clark Canyon Dam near the site of Camp Fortunate—an easy two-hour drive, and at highway speeds the silhouette of the beaver's head that cheered the Corps of Discovery eludes most passers-by.

1. Since their supplies had become "a little exorsted" by August 7, they left one canoe at the confluence of the Big Hole and the Jefferson, just above today's town of Twin Bridges. On their return, July 11, 1806, they salvaged all the nails they could, and made paddles of her sides.