“It was late in the evening before I entered this place and was obliged to continue my rout untill sometime after dark before I found a place suffieciently large to encamp my small party; at length such an one occurred on the lard. side where we found plenty of lightwood and pichpine. this rock is a black grannite below and appears to be of a much lighter colour above and from the fragments I take it to be flint of a yelloish brown and light creemcolourd yellow.from the singular appearance of this place I called it the gates of the rocky mountains.” –Meriwether Lewis 7.19.1805
It’s been a few years since Lewis and Clark passed through the Gates of the Mountains on the Missouri River, but the description still fits.
On this Field Trip Friday we were joined by my sister-in-law and her family, and Big Henry. We caught a boat about 15 miles north of Helena and cruised through rugged cliffs while listening to our tour guide tell us all about the canyon, Lewis and Clark and the Mann Gulch Fire.
The Missouri River is dammed in a bunch of places. The closest dam is about six miles north (downstream) of here. We started out on Holter Lake. The canyon is so narrow that it feels more like a river than a lake when you get in there.
The boat used to stop at Mann Gulch and you could get out and hike around. Apparently it flooded this year and the Forest Service won’t let anyone get out here. When I was planning this trip (you know, the ten minutes the day before) I thought it would be perfect because we could get out and run around half way through the two hour boat ride. We did have four little boys with us afterall. Fortunately, they all did great, despite the lack of Terra Firma on which to run.
The Mann Gulch Fire burned through here on August 5, 1949. It was caused my lightening. Smoke jumpers (those dudes who jump out of airplanes with tools and fight fires) from Missoula were sent over to put it out. The fire exploded unexpectedly and the crew started running up a steep slope. When it was clear they weren’t going to make it, the crew boss set a fire and then laid down in the burnt ashes. The fire went right over the top of him, lifting him and dropping him three times. Despite his pleas, no one else would jump into the ashes with him. Thirteen men died and 5,000 acres burned.
After the boat ride we drove back to Helena and had to stop at the Great Northern Carousel. They have ice cream and a carousel, so how could we not?
Plan Your Own Trip
Boat tours run the end of May through September. During the summer they are daily, but after Labor Day they are weekend-only. Check out the schedule and rates here. We didn’t reserve tickets, but if it had been during a busier time, I would have. There is nothing else up there, so it would be a bummer to drive to the marina and not get a ticket.
The ride is two hours, which may be a little long for kids. The tour guide talks the whole time. I found it very interesting, but the boys–ages 3-7–didn’t. I had to repeat some of the things and point out animals, sights etc to grab their attention. The new boat is big enough that kids can move around, but the older boats (still in use) are space-limited.
Bring binoculars, camera and snacks and water. They sell water and soda on the boat.
The Great Northern Carousel is in the Great Northern Town Center across from Carroll College, in Helena. There is also a hotel, shops, Lewis and Clark Trail and kids’ science museum–ExplorationWorks!.
I wrote an article about fun in Helena, including the fun mentioned above, and you can check it out in my “clips” section.
Want to know more about bobcats as pets in Montana? Who doesn’t? Watch this video my superstar husband made in grad school.