A sign shares history at Spirit Mound in South Dakota. 
A sign shares history at Spirit Mound in South Dakota. LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER

The explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark have become heroes of tourism and economic development directors everywhere – and I do mean everywhere – in the 21st century.

They trekked across a wild swath of the United States to the Pacific Northwest in the very early 1800s, leaving a trail that’s the subject of numerous websites. Adventuring tourists, historians and families can follow all or portions of the route today, spending money and supporting local businesses in the process. Kudos to your long-lasting efforts, Lewis and Clark.

And then there’s the finger pointing. But it’s a good thing in this case. They were – to our modern thinking and ways – always pointing.  Apparently, there was always an index finger at the end of an arm stuck out to denote some new wonder worth noting. I mean, just look at the signs marking the path of their Corps of Discovery entourage. You readily spot the pointing . . . and perhaps even take your own photo of someone pointing to mimic it.

Heading to northwest Nebraska to see the total solar eclipse this past August, my travel companion, Mark, and I visited two Lewis and Clark sites.

As we neared Sioux Falls, S.D., on Interstate 90, I said, “Umm, would you want to see Spirit Mound, a Lewis and Clark location north of Vermillion (S.D)? I’ve kind of always wanted to visit, but never have. And we can easily put it on our route, then heading across northern Nebraska, which is pretty and has the national Wild and Scenic Niobrara River, to get to our camping location near Crawford (Neb.)?” (Yeah, sometimes I speak like an encyclopedia – especially in articles after the fact, when needing to convey a lot of information, ha.)

I think I really sold the destination when noting Spirit Mound was a prairie. Mark’s degree and career has dealt with plants. He also likes taking reference photos of them. Yes, the temptation of prairie flowers won him over. Soon we skirted Sioux Falls on the interstate highway on its east side and headed south.

Spirit Mound stood out from the surrounding countryside because, as a mound, it has some elevation. A few cars were there. People were hiking a trail that I estimated at up to a half-mile long one way to reach and climb the mound. Since I walk pretty slowly these days with my cane and also tire easily, I did not attempt it. Plus, a thunderstorm was headed that way, which clinched the decision. I can report, happily, that no one got zapped by lightning on Spirit Mound – or at least we had left by the time the full-fledged storm arrived.

I took a bunch of photos of flowers on the prairie near the parking lot. It was a memorable place, Spirit Mound. Here are more details on it from its website, www.spiritmound.com/index.htm, such as the Native American Legends of spirits there:

“Long before white men came to what is now South Dakota, the little hill known by the Sioux as Paha Wakan was held in awe by tribes for miles around. The Omaha, the Sioux, and the Otoes believe that the mound was occupied by spirits that killed any human who came near.

“By the 1790s, when white traders came up the Missouri as far as the Vermillion River, reports of these ‘little spirits’ must have been well known. Although no written record earlier than the journals of Lewis and Clark has been found. On Aug. 24, 1804, the day before they reached the mouth of the Vermillion, which they called the White Stone River, Clark wrote:

“Capt Lewis and my Self Concluded to visit a High Hill Situated in an emence Plain three Leagues N. 20º W. from the mouth of White Stone river, this hill appear to be of a Conic form and by all the different Nations in this quater is Supposed to be a place of Deavels or that they are in human form with remarkable large heads and about 18 inches high; that they are very watchfull and ar armed with Sharp arrows with which they can kill at a great distance; they are said to kill all persons who are so hardy as to attemp to approach the hill; they state that tradition informs them than many indians have suffered by these little people and among others that three Maha men fell a sacrefice to their murcyless fury not meany years since- so much do the Mahas Souix Ottoes and other neibhbouring nations believe this fable that no consideration is sufficient to induce them to approach this hill.”

We inadvertently ran across another Lewis and Clark site at Nebraska’s Niobrara State Park, at the confluence of the Missouri and Niobrara rivers, nearly on the South Dakota-Nebraska border.

If you’d like to learn more or follow any part of the Lewis and Clark trail, here are two websites to check out, the first from the National Park Service, www.nps.gov/lecl/index.htm. Another site is www.lewisandclarktrail.com/

Lisa Brainard still enjoys lifelong pursuits of the outdoors, history and travel following a serious accident and stroke in September 2012. She’s written this column weekly for about 15 years.