Pompey's Pillar

William Clark’s signature on Pompey’s Pillar, Montana, is a priceless piece of history and one that should evoke the explorer in us all.

Pompey’s Pillar National Monument, 25 miles east of Billings, Montana contains the only remaining physical evidence of the passing of members of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery expedition of 1804-1806. I was staring at that evidence, trying to imagine the 211-year-old scene. William Clark, co-leader of the expedition, standing upon a rock and carving his name and the date, July 25, 1806, into the soft rock among Native American carvings up to thousands of years old. The future and the past colliding in rock art. 

I could hardly believe that I was actually looking at Clark’s name, carved by his own hand. His journal entry for that date reveals: “The nativs have ingraved on the face of this rock the figures of animals Ec. near which I marked my name and the day of the month and the year.”

Beyond his signature, I could witness little of what he saw. I walked a boardwalk to the top, following the boot prints of thousands before me. Clark followed no trail and only moccasins had preceded him.

Most of the petroglyphs he referred to have been savaged by time and humanity. It is still wide-open country, with the “extensive view in every direction” that Clark mentioned, but where he had to wait for bison to cross the river for several hours, the Bundy highway bridge now stands. Cattle have replaced the bison and elk, and wolves are verboten on the entire landscape. Unending prairie grass has been plowed and replaced with the even lines of irrigated fields full of alfalfa and grains.

In an interesting twist, in this area, large cottonwoods now line the river. In Clark’s day, they had a difficult time finding trees large enough for dugout canoes because the elk and the bison continually pruned the trees down.

Only the squadrons of mosquitoes seemed the same, although they were likely far worse in Clark’s day. He remarked that at the confluence of the Yellowstone with the Missouri River, he could not fire at a bison because the mosquitoes obscured his rifle sights.

From their writings, it seems Lewis and Clark were acutely aware of their role in history. I tried to imagine what Clark must have been thinking as he surveyed the vastness around him, and except for the petroglyphs, empty of any hint of humanity. The purpose of their expedition was to find a way to open this country to settlement and he may have envisioned it just as I was seeing it today, but I doubt he could imagine that the bison, elk and wolves could nearly be exterminated.   

Pompey’s Pillar became a national landmark in 1965 honoring William Clark who often resides in the shadow of Meriwether Lewis. In 1995, the BLM purchased 51 acres from a private individual and in 2001 it became a national monument, one of the smallest in the entire system.

I have seen a fair number of this nation’s historical sites from Gettysburg to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. But nothing has moved me as much as standing in the same place that Clark stood, feeling the same blustery wind, and looking over the vastness of the American West—it was humbling and inspiring. And in seeing the simple inscription, Wm. Clark July 25 1806, the history of this expedition came vividly alive for a moment.

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho