WHAT IS IT? A sprawling 38-Site Park that attempts to encapsulate the entirety of the Nez Perce experience on the American continent. If your aim is to see all 38 Sites you will have traveled over 1,500 miles through four states. 15 of the Sites are located in the present-day Nez Perce Indian Reservation, the same lands that were controversially treatied to the Indians in 1863. This review will focus on those 15 Sites.
BEAUTY (4/10) Our first stop along the Nez Perce NHP trail was at the Heart of the Monster, the spot where, by legend, the Nez Perce people were created. For a Christian it is the equivalent of traveling to the Garden of Eden. Pretty heady stuff. The volcanic mound would have packed a much bigger punch had there not been a billboard for a casino perched just over its horizon replete with a giddy attractive blonde and a large cursive YES! How does something like that happen?
Our second stop was at Lewis and Clark’s Canoe Camp, purportedly the place where they camped, built canoes, and narrowly escaped death because of the kind hearted spirit of a Nez Perce woman. In the background of this Site was the monstrous Dworshak Dam.
The non-descript Visitor Center sits further down the road in Spalding, its surroundings hardly indicative of the immense beauty of northern Idaho.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (6/10) Administration of the Nez Perce NHP must be a daunting task because the Park’s goal is to cover so much territory, both geographically and historically. Everything about the Site is overwhelming. As far as history here are some of the topics covered:
1) legends of the creation of the Nez Perce people; 2) 9,000 years of oral history; 3) culture and historical way of life; 4) Lewis and Clark; 5) Missionary years; 6) Government Treaties; 7) War of 1877; 8) Nez Perce Trail; 9) Current problems and adaptations.
For us, there was just too much. We preferred the more focused and better funded Big Hole NB Site, which is a part of the Nez Perce NHP.
CROWDS (2/10) It would be nice to believe that the crowd we encountered was unlike the majority of visitors to Nez Perce NHP Visitor’s Center in Spalding, Idaho. Nothing in the registry book and nothing in the many people at the site would make us think differently.
Michael had to leave the film early because of the many snide, insensitive and disgusting Indian-related comments coming from the person sitting behind him. Another family’s grandfather encouraged his grandson to, “go look at the Ranger, I think she’s a real-life Indian.” He then guffawed to he son, “She smells like one, you know.”
Yet another woman was purchasing a book on the Battle at White Bird. When the Ranger politely told her that it was a good book but it was written in the fifties prior to the period of historical revisions that attempted to look at the Nez Perce side. The book, she added, was based entirely on military records. The woman’s response was, “then it is probably a lot truer than the rest of the stuff in here.”
Why do people come to this Site if they have such abhorrence and disrespect for the Nez Perce people? The Site is dedicated to their history. The answer is that the Spalding Visitor Center lies along the Lewis and Clark Trail.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5) 38 Nez Perce NHP Sites spread over 1,500 miles and through four states. None of the 38 sites is within 75 miles of an Interstate. Northern Idaho is a very difficult place to get to.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5) The usual collection of nature, bird, and state-specific titles are here. What makes the bookstore unique is its wide range of books on the Nez Perce people, culture and land and their struggle to keep it. The Northwest Interpretive Association works in partnership with NPS to supply the bookstore with volumes of material representing varied points of view throughout history. Some are dated, such as the 1950s history book based solely on military records. Several offer a more pluralistic view of historical events. Others surprise, such as the legal analysis of the federal government’s land acquisition, the validity of treaties and bibliographies of pending litigation which restate the Nez Perce ownership of their territory.
COSTS (4/5) Admittance to the Idaho sites of the Nez Perce NHP is free. Only the Big Hole NB in Wisdom, Mont. charges a fee.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5) At Spalding, there was one Ranger operating the front desk and one assisting a worker replacing a display in the small museum. We found our time spent with the Ranger before the crowds came to be very helpful. We were lucky to have some quiet time with her. The Ranger and the Nez Perce NHP would have been better served had she had more assistance. Once the tour buses arrived, she was swamped. And from the comments we heard during the movie, very underappreciated.
No Rangers were present at any of the other sites we visited.
TOURS/CLASSES (4/10) The breadth of the subject matter this national historical park tries to teach is overwhelming. Add to the mix one overworked Ranger and a reluctant crowd there for one reason and little concern for the larger, deeper history of the Nez Perce and learning becomes almost impossible. We left Spalding angry and disappointed, hoping that this group of tourists was different than ones the resilient Ranger usually had to face.
It took time to remember the quiet walk to the Heart of the Monster and the oral history we heard at that site. The site, the simplest we had seen, was probably the one where we learned the most.
The Lewis and Clark Canoe Camp looked more like an interstate picnic area than a piece of a larger historic park. Audio displays like the one at Heart of the Monster may have helped us better understand the significance of that site.
We lost our desire to explore more sites after our experience in the movie theatre. The movie itself was dated but informative. It stressed that Nez Perce were, above all tribal distinctions, people and that the Nez Perce NHP was a park about a people for all people. This message went unheard by several in the audience.
FUN (3/10) Had we left the Spalding Visitor Center before the movie, this rating may have been higher. We enjoyed our visit to the Heart of the Monster and wish we had tried to find more of the “legends” sites in the park.
Exploring the Nez Perce NHP felt like a scavenger hunt without a map or adequate clues. More direction would have been appreciated.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (3/10) Although the idea of such a sprawling historical site with no central axis point intrigues us, it is a logistical nightmare. Particularly since new park brochures do not include the detailed area map supplied in earlier versions. The Nez Perce NHP is far more complex than just a stop on the Lewis and Clark Trail. If you go, you must be willing to spend some time (and miles) experiencing the numerous sites and subjects. It is not an easy day trip.
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