I love to learn new things. It’s part of my personality. Just about the only thing I enjoy more than learning something new is finding a way to practically share it with someone. I guess that is part of what drives my writing and speaking.
Recently I learned something new while on a day trip with my wife to the Falls of the Ohio State Park. This is a lovely little part located on the Ohio River in Clarksville, Indiana. It had long been a destination on a bucket list of places I wanted to visit but had not yet been to. I know, you may be questioning how exciting my bucket list is, but as one who had often driven past the signage for this park, I usually thought, “Someday I’m going to stop there.” So we did. In fact we went there on purpose.
My attraction to the Falls of the Ohio was from having read about this place of geography and its alignment with the story of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery, and prior to them it’s association with George Rogers Clark, the Revolutionary War hero and frontiersman for whom the city of Clarksville is named. You see the Falls of the Ohio is the place George Rogers Clark called home, and where Merriweather Lewis met up with William Clark (George’s younger brother) to begin their excursion to the great Northwest, a commissioned expedition of the United States government to explore the land of the Louisiana Purchase.
Had I been alive around the year 1800 I would’ve loved to have been part of the Corps of Discovery. Just imagine setting out from the Falls of the Ohio on a 3 year round trip journey, looking for a water passage to the Pacific, and discovering instead a formidable land/water route across the Rockies! I am sure the expedition itself would have proven vigorous and challenging beyond belief, but what I have read of it (see Stephen Ambrose’ book Undaunted Courage) is exciting. So, any chance I’ve had to see the sites visited by Lewis and Clark and their crew, in person I have embraced. This has included listening to Ambrose’s book while we moved from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest, passing many of the landmarks along the way. I’ve imagined what it was like to set sail up the Mississippi to the Missouri River. I’ve envisioned the winter camp among the Mandan Indians, burying the cache of goods as they pared down their supplies to make an overland route. I’ve surmised what it was to discover and explore the Colorado River, to face the perils of the Northern Rockies in modern day Idaho, and to canoe the rapids of the majestic Columbia all the way to Fort Clatsop on the Oregon coast.
I’ve also thought about the mosquitos, the bitter cold and summer heat, the illnesses and injuries, the adventure and challenge each new turn in the journey brought. I’ve considered the human factors of traveling with people for that long, the different personalities, squabbles over authority and influence, and decisions that had to be made and followed. It’s a remarkable story, this story of the Corps of Discovery, with Lewis and Clark front and center – two friends and colleagues of very different skills and interests. And it all began at the Falls of the Ohio, which despite my proximity to – living just an hour north – I had never visited, until last week.
I knew there was an interpretive center at the State Park, the expected water views, and an obligatory statue of the sojourners (see picture). But I thought I was going to primarily visit the starting point of the Lewis and Clark story. Imagine my surprise to learn that the Falls of the Ohio is so much more. The interpretive center does a fabulous job of taking you through the history, geology and geography of this landmark – a roughly 26 foot drop in elevation over a series of rapids. It’s a unique place of geological preservation where fossils and artifacts of history can be found detailing a much longer story of the earth’s creation and evolution to present day.
We learned about ancient historic periods, including the ice age and it’s impact on the formation of the Ohio and its Falls. We learned of the natural human gathering place this landmark created, it’s influence on history, discovery and settlement of communities yesterday to today. Can I say I was both surprised and impressed? I was. It was the unpacking of a treasure trove of information that far exceeded the primary purpose of my visit. But it included information and imagination about that event in history as well. So there we were, at the very point of departure of Lewis and Clark, but also at a point of land where much, much more has been documented and studied and learned about.
Sometimes the best discoveries are those that are closest to home, or more than one hopes for. If you’ve not been, the next time you are about to cross over the Ohio river on I-65, take exit one on the Indiana side and give yourself permission to learn something new. I think you will be glad you did.