In the spring of 1990 I traveled up the Columbia River aboard a small vessel named Sea Lion on a trip the cruise company titled “In the Wake of Lewis and Clark.” Along the way, probably in a local museum, I noticed a sign bearing a logo featuring the explorers. It marked the hundredth anniversary, in 1904, of their great adventure. I bet people are starting to work on the two hundredth, I thought at the time. It seemed very near and yet very far away.
Planning for the anniversary of this seminal event has indeed been years in the making. In fact, the bicentennial is beginning right now, because every state —from Missouri to Oregon—that grew from the Corps of Discovery’s journey is jump-starting the process and dating it from 1803, the year of the Louisiana Purchase. And why should Virginia’s Monticello, home to Thomas Jefferson, be left out? It, too, is providing a lively calendar of seminars and exhibits. Montpelier, James Madison’s Virginia estate, is also joining the party, on the grounds that as Secretary of State from 1801 to 1809 that President played a behind-thescenes role in securing the Purchase and that Dolley Madison joined in a drive to outfit the explorers. No map of the trek West includes Arkansas, yet that state doesn’t want to be ignored. Its year of celebrations is tied to the somewhat arcane fact that a monument at its Louisiana Purchase Historic State Park marks “the initial point, established in 1815, from which land surveys for all or parts of the Louisiana Purchase states west of the Mississippi were measured.”
Wait a minute, what about Louisiana itself? After all, the purchase that bears its name was what doubled the size of the new nation and inspired Jefferson to send Lewis and Clark across uncharted territory to find out just what his millions had bought. New Orleans of course looms large, with a major exhibit at its Museum of Art titled “Jefferson’s America & Napoleon’s France” that aims to “illuminate the characters of the two nations, the two men, and how their ideals were given concrete expression in art and culture.” Less visited places in Louisiana won’t be left out; a yearlong calendar of events is planned throughout the state. The small central city of Alexandria, for instance, is opening an elaborate show in September that will examine great Spanish art, harking back to the 1800 deal in which Spain returned the territory to France. Juan Carlos, Spain’s king, is expected to attend the gala opening.
So everyone who possibly can be is in the game. And why not? Perhaps more than at any other time in recent memory, Americans are looking at the vast jigsaw puzzle that makes up this country and trying to put the pieces together in order to see what the picture reveals about our lives here and now. In this issue devoted to travel, we take you to the Missouri Breaks, a section of the Upper Missouri River traversed by Lewis and Clark. Leslie Alien, who canoed its rugged length in two separate trips, explains that today this stretch of wilderness, more than any other, resembles the landscape the explorers saw. (It so appealed to Stephen Ambrose that he made 10 trips there.) We also visit Monticello’s newly opened Indian Hall, an artful reconstruction of Jefferson’s assembly of the artifacts Lewis and Clark sent back to him as they made their way West.
Because 2003 is chock-full of dates that resonate, expect future articles on the centenary of the Ford Motor Company —which soon gave birth to the world-changing Model T—and on the great spectacles planned in Ohio and North Carolina in observance of 100 years of flight.
Interesting. It’s all about movement and seeking and—in the end—travel.