On the Lewis and CLark Expedition Today and 200 Years Ago

     The questions I constantly ask myself as I work my way up the Missouri
are: How do the river and landscape look today compared to 200 years 
ago, and how does my effort compare to that of the Corps of Discovery?
     The river looks much different today.  Levees, wing dikes, dredging
and channeling and of course the dams I will encounter much further 
upstream, have significantly changed the shape of the river.  The current 
on the river so far is only slightly stronger than what Lewis and Clark 
encountered - 7 mph compared to the 5 1/2-6 mph they measured - but
the dikes and dredging have for the most part controlled bank erosion and
cleared most of the more troublesome sandbars.  I don't have to face 
many of the obstacles faced by Lewis and Clark, who had to contend with 
collapsing river banks, countless snags, and unpredictable sandbars.
Occasionally I will encounter a section of collapsed bank, a stretch of 
downed trees jutting out into the river, or a nettlesome sandbar, giving 
me an inkling of what Lewis and Clark found, but in a kayak these are 
more a nuisance than the major obstruction they posed for the Corps of 
Discovery.  Paddling upstream is difficult, especially when I have to 
circumvent all the dikes that are now exposed because of the low level of 
the river, but it is nothing compared to the effort it must have taken to
haul three heavy and unwieldy boats (a keel boat and two large pirogues),
loaded with a couple of tons of supplies upstream against a stiff current.
What I find so remarkable about the Lewis and CLark journals is that there 
is so little mention of how arduous a task it must have been for them to 
make any headway at all.
     I have been surprised to find as many similarities along the river today, 
compared to what Lewis and Clark encountered.  True, the area has been 
settled.  Barge and dredging activity continues as far north as Sioux City.
Coal-burning power plants, with their huge smoke stacks, periodically
occupy the banks.  The huge metropolis of Kansas City, and several
lesser cities, break the even plane of the horizon.  But sections of the 
river, even in Missouri, retain some of the characteristics described in the
Lewis and Clark journals.  The bluffs along the banks in eastern Missouri
gradually give way to rolling bottomland and the flatter plains of Kansas.
Much of this land is farmed today, but along the riverbanks it has been left
alone, and the cottonwoods, poplars, and willows described in the journals 
remain.  There are no longer bear and elk here, but wildlife abounds.  The 
river is teeming with catfish and waterfowl, and the banks are alive with
deer, beaver, and wild turkeys.  I have had several days already where I
haven't seen a soul - it's just me, the splash of my paddle in the water,
and the sounds of the birds as I pass by.