Go East, young man: Discovery mania sweeps the town

Vast hordes of history buffs have descended upon the bucolic hills of Albemarle. They've come from all parts West to tramp about the homesteads and talk of keelboats and Indian relations.

One gung-ho pilgrim left Nebraska last October in order to reach Charlottesville in time for the official kick-off. He planned to travel by Calistoga wagon, and couldn't be sure of the roads.

For those who've been living under a rock or some other uncharted locale, January 18 marks the 200th anniversary of secret Congressional approval of an expedition through the Louisiana Purchase to find a Northwest Passage. While the expedition did not actually get under way until the following year (and then from St. Louis), Charlottesville has nonetheless become headquarters for the gala opening of the official Lewis and Clark Bicentennial.

What did we do to deserve the honor?

We have Lewis and we have Clark, which puts us way out ahead. York, the only slave to make the cut as a member of the expeditionary force, was also a local, though he chose freedom in St Louis at the end of the trip. James Monroe negotiated the terms of the Louisiana Purchase, through which the Discovery Corps would scramble for two years. But the ace in the hole is Mr. Jefferson, who dreamed and bought the American West and then dispatched the melancholy Lewis and the gregarious Clark to explore it.

And so the Commencement of the Commemoration (as it really is called) will be held at Jefferson's Monticello. It's a sold-out event, featuring Tex G. Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians, and Robert Archibald, president of the National Council of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. Unfortunately absent will be George W. Bush, President of the United States, who about a month ago declined the offer to attend, apparently tied up with his own version of the Northwest Passage– the search for weapons of mass destruction.

For those who didn't register in time for the Monticello events, never fearthere's a wide array of symposia, concerts, and exhibits around town to choose from. Discovery Corps authors alone are making appearances at the rate of about 4.2 per day.

Among the many scholars, atlas designers, adventure writers, and preservationists are a Shawnee historian and a recipient of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame's Wrangler Award, as well as the editors of two separate editions of Lewis & Clark's journals. You be the judge– whose is the finest abridged version of two years worth of beaver spottings and pigeon roastings?

You re-enactors out there can help make a flat-bottom boat at Darden Towe Park or sample portions of tongue grass salad and palatable paste at Michie Tavern. The former is a project of the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center, and the latter is the work of a renowned "paleocuisineologist" whose recipe book is the Official Cookbook for the National Council Lewis & Clark Bicentennial.

There's singing, there's dancing. There are fifes, tom-toms, and exhibits devoted to the flora and fauna of the trail. There's an 80-foot piece of chainsaw art depicting Seaman, the first bi-coastal Newfoundland. The sculpture came even farther than the Calistoga wagon guy to make it for the opening.

It's Lewispalooza out there, in your own back yard. So strap on your Powder Guns and Rifle Frocks, and explore the goings-on. Or just go virtual at www.monticello.org/jefferson/lewisandclark/schedule.html and stay under your rock.