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A Side Trip to Pompeys Pillar National Monument

A 150-foot-high sandstone butte 29 miles east of Billings holds the only concrete evidence left along the way of the famous journey of Lewis and Clark through the Louisiana Purchase. On July 25, 1806, Capt. William Clark carved his name and the date on the side of the rock. He noted in his famous journals for that day, "The nativs [sic] have ingraved [sic] on the face of this rock figures of animals & near which I marked my name and the day of the month and year." Clark then walked to the top and described the panoramic view of the river and plains that can be captured from that vantage. Clark had to scramble up through the yucca and sagebrush, but visitors now are aided by stairways and enthusiastic and informative volunteer guides who will point out the historic sites and wildlife -- from ant lions to eagles' nests.

Halfway up a 120-foot stairway, Clark's name is now locked under a protective glass cabinet, but many others have added their names. The pillar was originally called Pompy's Tower by Clark, using the nickname he'd given the youngest member of their expedition, little Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacajawea and Touissaint Charbonneau, the expedition guides. The boy traveled in Clark's dugout, and the captain called him "my boy Pomp." Continue up to the top of the stairway for incredible views and photo opportunities.

The monument, operated by the Bureau of Land Management, is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, daily from 8am to 8pm; then into late September (and sometimes later, weather permitting) from 9am to 4pm; after that you have to park a half-mile away and walk in. The fee is $7 per carload during the season, free at other times. The interactive multimedia exhibits at the modern visitor center are worth an hour of your time. There is also a film on Lewis and Clark regularly playing in the visitor center's theater. For more information, call the visitor center (tel. 406/875-2400), or visit www.pompeyspillar.org. To get there, go 29 miles east of Billings to I-94 exit 23. The signage is somewhat confusing: Don't turn right to go to the town of Pompeys Pillar; go straight over the bridge to Pompeys Pillar National Monument.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.