Index Inside the Corps The Native Americans The Archive Living History Into the Unknown Forum with Ken Burns Classroom Resources Related Products Interactive Trail Map Search Lewis and Clark navigation Introduction Lessons Lewis and Clark navigation

Lesson 2
The Challenges Ahead

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Explore physical obstacles the Lewis and Clark expedition encountered on its journey;
  • Assess the team’s approach to overcoming difficulties in order to reach its goals;
  • Determine whether the obstacles the expedition faced still exist.


This lesson correlates to the national McREL standards located online at

Standard 1. Understands the characteristics and uses of maps, globes, and other geographic tools and technologies
Standard 2. Knows the location of places, geographic features, and patterns of the environment
Standard 3. Understands the physical and human characteristics of place
Standard 5. Understands the concept of regions
Standard 6. Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions


  • A copy of Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (To order, visit Shop PBS
  • A reproducible U.S. map that includes rivers
  • A U.S. road atlas that includes topographical features and/or a U.S. topographical map that includes political boundaries
  • A television and VCR or DVD player
  • Computers with Internet access
  • Lesson 2 Student Activity Sheet, Sections 1 and 2 )
    (Adobe Acrobat needed)

Time Needed

8-10 hours of class time

Teaching Strategy

  1. Ask students to brainstorm the types of obstacles the Lewis and Clark journey may have encountered during its journey, guiding their responses towards the physical challenges associated with terrain, climate, nature (animals, plants), etc.

  2. Divide the class into cooperative learning groups of 3-4 students. Instruct each group to examine expedition maps and list topographical features that represented potential travel obstacles or challenges; for example, the direction of river flows, type of geographical terrain, and hazardous flora and fauna. (Students may refer to the questions in Section 1 of the activity sheet to guide their thinking.)

  3. For each obstacle identified, have the groups speculate about related difficulties these challenges might have posed. For example, if the terrain seemed unlikely to produce food, the expedition might have had to struggle with hunger or locating other food sources. If the area had disease-bearing insects, members of the expedition might have become seriously ill.

  4. Show students Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, instructing them to list the actual geographic obstacles—and related challenges—the expedition faced on its journey. They may complete Section 2 of the activity sheet. Invite the class to share and compare identified obstacles. Which of the obstacles was the most difficult to overcome? Which did the expedition handle best? Why? For which were they least prepared?

  5. Divide students into small groups. Instruct them to select and conduct more in-depth research on one or two obstacles the expedition faced, including how the expedition handled the challenge. (Ensure that each group researches different obstacles to avoid overlap. It might be helpful to list obstacles identified in Step 4, which should include grizzly bears, buffalo, mosquitoes, difficult terrain, prickly pear, weather, and Native American groups Teton Sioux, Lakota, Blackfeet with whom the expedition had conflict.)

  6. Invite each group to prepare and present a report that discusses its selected obstacles--why it was an obstacle (with specific examples of what the generic elements of the obstacle might be; for example, what dangers would a grizzly bear present), the challenges it posed for the expedition, and when and where it occurred. The groups may also discuss how they would have negotiated the obstacles had they been expedition members.

  7. Have students review modern-day U.S. topographical maps, with a particular focus on the areas the expedition visited. Are the physical obstacles the team faced still in existence? If they are, are they easier to maneuver? If yes, what makes this possible? What amenities do travelers have these days that would reduce or eliminate challenges associated with any physical obstacles?

The following highlights several research sources (some found at the Web site’s Archives section).

Grizzly bears

Video clip (grizzly bears): Well into Part I, after the snow and the buffalo, and medicine bottles; under the 5th subtitle, "The Real Unknown," and following a view of Fort Mandan on a map and many views of a blue, meandering river, you will see a tent next to a campfire. Begin viewing. Soon you will see a painting of men with rifles and a grizzly bear. Duration - about 1 minute.

Excerpts from the Journals: Ordway (4/24/05); Clark (5/5/05); Ordway (5/5/05); Whitehouse (5/5/05); Lewis (5/6/05); Lewis (5/14/05); Gass (5/14/05); Lewis (6/2/05); Lewis (6/25/05); Lewis (6/27/05); Lewis (6/28/05)


Journal excerpts: Lewis (5/29/05); Ordway (5/29/05); Whitehouse (5/29/05); Lewis (6/14/05)

The American Bison section of the Oakland Zoo Web site:

Mosquitoes and other insects

Video clip (mosquitoes): Part I, 00:24:10-00:25:00.

Journal excerpts:

Mosquitoes: Lewis (7/2/05); Ordway (8/10/06)

Fleas: Gass (1/1/06); Lewis (1/2/06); Clark (1/2/06)


Video clip (fork in the river): Part I, 1:18:20-1:20:50

Video clip (Great Falls and the portage): Part I, 1:21:10-1:23:25

Video clips (river terrain): Part I, 00:19:50-00:22:21

Another clip is found after the explanation of the portage (see above) and the second 4th of July celebration. You will see a red sky and mountains in the sunset. Duration - about 5 minutes.

Video clip (first ridge of mountains): Part I, 1:37:45-1:43:10

Video clip (Bitterroot Mountains): Part II, 00:15:02-00:23:48

Journal excerpts:

Fork in the river: Lewis (6/3/05); Ordway (6/3/05); Lewis (6/8/05); Gass (6/8/05); Ordway (6/8/05)

Great Falls: Lewis (6/13/05)

River terrain: Lewis (5/31/05); Clark (5/31/05); Ordway (5/31/05)

Bitterroot Mountains: all entries from 9/10/05 to 9/21/05

Prickly Pear

Video clip (Great Falls and the portage): Part I, 1:23:45-1:25:20

.Journal Excerpts: Lewis (6/4/05); Lewis (6/23/05); Ordway (6/23/05)


Video clip (Great Falls and the portage): Part I, 1:25:25-1:26:20

Journal excerpts:

Hail: Ordway (6/27/05); Lewis (6/29/05); Clark (6/29/05); Ordway (6/29/05); Whitehouse (6/29/05);

Ordway (7/1/05)

Rain at Ft. Clatsop: Gass (12/5/05); Clark (12/16/05); Clark (12/17/05); Clark (12/18/05)

Native Americans

Video clip (Teton Sioux or Lakota encounter): Part I, 00:42:30-00:48:45.

Video clip (Blackfeet encounter): Part II, 1:04:50-1:09:55

Journal excerpts:

Sioux: all entries from 9/24/04 to 9/30/04; Ordway (2/15/05); Ordway (2/28/05)

Blackfeet: Lewis (7/27/06)

Online Resources

    Journey to the Planet Earth: Rivers of Destiny

    Learning Adventures in Citizenship: Rivers and Roads

    The West

    NOVA: Shackleton’s Voyage of Endurance

Assessment Recommendations

Evaluate students on the following aspects of performance. The student worked cooperatively and efficiently in a group and on group projects and participated in classroom discussion.


  • Have students research the equipment that the Corps of Discovery took along (see To Equip an Expedition) and compare that supply list, particularly the clothing, to the expedition gear that is now available for outdoor adventurers. Could modern equipment have prevented some of the hardships that the Corps of Discovery encountered?

  • Have students make mock preparations for a present-day reenactment of the Lewis and Clark journey—equipment and staples to bring, map routes, etc. Students may speculate about how long the trip might take and the challenges they expect to face in modern times.