Sent back: Discover what the Corps found

What a treat to live at the whirlwind epicenter of the national bicentennial celebration of that extraordinary journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Because of this frenzy, families have an exceptional opportunity to hike in the footsteps of history and make some terrific discoveries of their own.
One of President Thomas Jefferson’s major reasons for commissioning this expedition was to find out about the plants and animals in his new territory. The Virginia Museum of Natural History at UVA opens an exhibit January 16 exploring this very topic. Entitled “Natural History Pioneers: The Flora and Fauna of the Lewis & Clark Expedition,” the exhibit features specimens of a grizzly bear and prairie dog, interactive displays of western plants and flowers, and other hands-on activities to delight modern explorers.
Trekking into the great northwest, adventurers can stop at the Virginia Discovery Museum and hang out with the Mandan Indians of North Dakota as the expedition did during the winter of 1804-05. This new Back Gallery exhibit, which opened January 11, lets kids climb around in an authentic earth lodge, use a “travois” (a device constructed of long poles used to transport a load), communicate with pictograms and American Indian sign language, and play games like native American children did.
Travelers can also stop at VDM’s Discovery Corner and see artifacts on loan from the Ilwaco Heritage Museum in Washington State where the Corps of Discovery spent the winter of 1805-06. The display includes a three-point trading blanket, a model of the tree stump in which the explorers carved their initials, photos of significant sites in the area, and casts of elk tracks and their, uh, droppings. Ooh!
Wandering around in the wilderness was no guided tour. The Children’s Museum of Richmond hosts an exhibit that helps kids learn some of the wilderness skills the Corps’ crew needed to make it through the journey… things like navigating by the stars, building forts, and tracking animals for food. Interactive displays help modern adventurers record their observations and identify unknown animals. A replica of a Sioux tipi is displayed, and Native Americans will drop by to share their skills.
Returning to Monticello, folks can view original artifacts and historically accurate reproductions of natural history specimens and Native American objects sent back by the Corps of Discovery. The exhibition, entitled “Framing the West at Monticello,” opens January 16 and attempts to approximate the appearance of Monticello’s entrance hall as it might have looked from 1807 to 1809.
With all these bicentennial events at our doorstep, we can, like Mr. Jefferson did, explore the northwest without ever leaving home.

The Virginia Museum of Natural History is at 104 Emmet St.  982-44605. The Virginia Discovery Museum is at the east end of the Downtown Mall. 977-1025. The Children’s Museum of Richmond is at 2626 W. Broad St. 804-474-2667. Monticello is on Rt. 53. 984-9822.