55. Citadel Rock

Landmark Among the White Cliffs

25 miles northeast of Geraldine, Montana
(view southwest, upstream)

Aerial photo of a tall, pointing rock jutting above the Missouri River

© 2000 Airphoto—Jim Wark

To gain a sense of the scale of the land and river in this scene, find the speck in the water directly to the right of the rock's shadow, about one-quarter of the way across the river. That speck is two people in separate kayaks, side-by-side.

Steep Black Rock"

Clark remarked on this "high Steep black rock riseing from the waters edge" as they passed it on 31 May 1805, but he did not give it a name. Citadel Rock, so called during the steamboat era for its fortresslike presence, was an igneous intrusion into a layer of sandstone that had washed away, leaving the harder basalt pillar standing.

The ill-fated white pirogue logged another narrow escape that day when the tow rope broke and the boat struck a rock, nearly turning over. "I fear," Lewis lamented, "her evil gennii will play so many pranks with her that she will go to the bottomm some of those days." Against expectations, it would survive to haul the explorers all the way back to St. Louis from the Falls of the Missouri, where it would spend the winter hidden in the willows.

That tow rope was their last remaining hemp rope, "and that on which we most depended." Considering the importance of rope to any expedition in those days, whether on water or on land, it is surprising that within scarcely more than a month after leaving Camp Dubois on 14 May 1804, they had had to stop and make rope out of animal skins. Fortunately, somewhere between Philadelphia and St. Louis, Lewis had bought the equipment necessary for a rope walk.

On the return trip in the summer of 1806, Lewis and his party raced through "that very interesting part of the Missouri where the natural walls appear" on July 30. They were to have met Clark and his contingent at the mouth of the Yellowstone on 1 August, but at the end of this day they still had four hundred miles to go. Averaging sixty miles per day, they made it to the meeting point by 7 August and caught up with Clark on the twelfth.


From Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air
Photography by Jim Wark

Text by Joseph Mussulman
Reproduced by permission of Mountain Press