49. Spillway, Fort Peck Dam

Missouri River, Montana

View northeast, downstream

Fort Peck Spillway

© 2000 Airphoto—Jim Wark

"Varied Landscape"

At the upper right of this photograph, the Milk River snakes through the floodplain to join the Missouri, perhaps two miles upstream from their confluence in 1805. "The countrey on the North Side of the Missouri is one of the handsomest plains we have yet Seen on the river," Clark declared. Lewis described the ragged badlands on the south side as "high broken hills, with much broken, grey black and brown granite scattered on the surface of the earth in a confused manner." There was no granite of any color in sight, really, but that didn't matter.

The spillway was built in 1940 to divert surplus water from Fort Peck Dam, three miles to the west on the Missouri. Up to 250,000 cubic feet of water per second can be eased down its tapered, mile-long concrete chute. Fort Peck Lake, the reservoir behind the dam and spillway, stretches 134 miles upstream. the Corps of Discovery spent fourteen days battling the river's swift current to cover that distance. The typically strong, gusty winds that scour the High Plains often slowed their progress, too. On the evening of 21 May, for instance, Lewis wrote, "we found ourselves to invelloped with clouds of dust and sand that we could neither cook, eat, nor sleep." They abandoned their camp on the sandbar they called "windy Island" and dashed for shelter in the lee of a nearby coulee.

Every delay, every frustration, elevated the party's stress level. "I begin to feel extreemly anxious to get in view of the rocky mountains," Lewis confessed.


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

Text by Joseph Mussulman
Reproduced by permission of Mountain Press