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Go west with the expedition. Just click the campfires to kindle “seens of visionary inchantment.”

woolly mammoths  
  giant ground sloths
erupting volcanoes  
  a mountain of pure salt

This is what Thomas Jefferson expected to find west of the Mississippi River.

He also expected to find the fabled Northwest Passage, an Atlantic-to-Pacific water route that would ease trade with the Orient and make the United States a superpower before its time. But—as always with Jefferson—there was more: At a time when two-thirds of all Americans lived within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Atlantic, the President dared to imagine a coast-to-coast “Empire of Liberty.” In fact, he planned on it.

In 1803 Jefferson commissioned a “Corps of Volunteers on an Expedition of North Western Discovery” to find the passage and explore the uncharted West, including the Louisiana Purchase, by which he had recently doubled the size of the U.S. Led by Jefferson’s secretary and protégé, Meriwether Lewis, and Lewis’s former commanding officer in the Army, William Clark, the Corps of Discovery would dispel many myths of the West—and create a new legend in the process.

Photographs by NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC veteran Sam Abell from the book Lewis & Clark: Voyage of Discovery

Map by Carl Mehler

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