1805–July 19–evening. Location–north of present day Helena, Montana. The Lewis and Clark expedition pole their boats upstream in search of the headwaters of the Missouri River. They enter into a limestone canyon whose walls soar 1200 feet above the surface of the river. The depth of the river requires them to row against the current. “In many places,” wrote Merriwether Lewis, “the rocks seem ready to tumble upon us.” Great stone walls seem to block the rivers passage at each bend like giant gates, only to slide quietly open as the expedition draws near. In his journal, Merriwether wrote, “I shall call this place—–Gates of the Mountains.”
We went on a two-hour tour ( had it been a three-hour tour, we might have worried, although I did check around to see if the Professor was on board) that starts in a marina formed by one of the dams built on the Missouri.
The tour boat starts at the south end of the “Gates” and proceeds north through the canyon. Lewis and Clark entered at the north end of the canyon and went south against the flow of the river. Yes, the river flows north. Back on the East Coast, all the rivers we were familiar with flowed south and it was quite a jolt to our brains to accept that a lot of the rivers in the west flow northward.
The Mann Gulch fire occurred in 1949 and resulted in the deaths of 13 smoke jumpers. A good book too read for more information on this fire is “Young Men and Fire” written by Norman Maclean who also wrote “A River Runs Through It.”
Except for the water level of the river being 16 feet higher than when Lewis and Clark came through and a few added campgrounds, the area is still the same. Land on both sides of the river has been protected from development. There are so many areas out here where you can pull off the road, look off into the distance, mentally remove the one fence line visible, and the scene in front of you is close to being as it was when the Expedition came through. One of the thousand reasons we love it out here!!