The Gates of the Rocky Mountains and on to Glacier National Park

Miles Driven Today: 297  Miles Driven in Total 1891

A really good day today. After our free 😊 Residence Inn breakfast, we drove about 30 minutes to the Gates of the Mountains. This is an area of the Missouri River, just north of Helena made famous by Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition of 1805. They were rowing up the Missouri and came upon a narrow gorge with cliffs as high as 1200 feet on either side. The opening of the gorge seemed closed and then as they approached, it opened to their view as though it was a gate. They named it the Gates of the Mountains, imagining it to be the entrance to the Rocky Mountains.
This gorge is still part of a protected area and in many ways just as they saw it in 1805. What is different is the height of the water, due to the dams that have been built on the Missouri in an effort to tame and control its waters. The Missouri is now 20 feet higher than it was in 1805 and rather wider. The area where the marina is, which is outside the gorge, is now a lake, which was not there in Lewis and Clark’s time.
We boarded at 10am. The first tour of the day. It was about $14 each for the two hour tour. An absolute bargain. The boat was full so we were glad we’d booked online. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. The captain gave an excellent commentary and he obviously knew the area like the back of his hand. He told us so many stories, pointed out so many things…. And he was funny. It was slightly reminiscent at times of the Jungle Cruise at Walt Disney.
We saw Bald Eagles which was quite a thrill. Some were sitting in the trees but we also saw them in flight and we saw a massive nest. There were also ospreys. Apparently there are Bighorn sheep but we didn’t see any. We did see deer down at the water’s edge. Honestly this gorge – about 8 miles long – was just beautiful. The water reflecting the massive limestone cliffs on either side. We could only imagine and echo the awe that Lewis and Clark must have felt 200 years ago. I could have spent much longer than two hours exploring the river. What a great trip.
After that, we drove north to our lunch stop, another Lewis and Clark place: The Great Falls of the Missouri. These do not look like they did 200 years ago. The Missouri has been dammed at Great Falls and there is a hydro-electric plant there. You can still see the amazing rocks and drops of the cascade though and the dam spills constantly just behind it. There is an island just in front of the falls in the middle of the river and we picnicked there. To get to it, you walk across a little cable suspension bridge. It only takes 6 people at a time and wobbles around a bit. The river at this point is more like the river described by Lewis and Clark. In those days the current was raging. It was a beast of a river, muddy with the silt it picked up as it overflowed its banks on its way downstream, carrying trees and all manner of debris in its path. It was a dangerous river, with sand banks, islets and many hazards for those travelling on it. The overflow from the dam here creates a current which was not evident further upstream at the Gates of the Mountain.
The boat captain told us a story of the first man who established a boat business at the Gates, to ferry goods from Helena to Great Falls. He invested in a small paddle steamer and was thrilled when he made the downstream trip in 12 hours. His fortune would be made, he believed. He loaded up with goods and passengers to make the return trip to Helena, upstream. That trip took him 14 days!!! Such was the force of the current against him. He had to adjust his business plan to run the boat only downstream and then bring return goods and passengers by road – including the boat!
We had an interesting meeting at the picnic park. A large group of Hassonite people arrived by bus for a big bbq party. They were celebrating a wedding party, all dressed in their traditional attire. The women in long cotton dresses, blouses under and checkered headscarves. The men in dark trousers, braces, check shirts, bearded.
After lunch we headed north and north west again towards Glacier National Park. We entered the park at Babb, with another 9 miles to go to our overnight stay at Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge in the Many Glacier area. The park is just magnificent. Huge mountains in every direction, snow on the tops of many of them. Also many lakes of all sizes.
We have a cabin tonight at Swift Current lodge. It’s much nicer than I expected. Quite spacious and with our own bathroom. Set in a little circle in the woods with other cabins and about a 2 minute walk from the main lodge. As we parked up, there were people in the parking lot looking up at the mountain slope behind the lodge with their scopes. There were grizzly bears!!!! Well…. This was an exciting start! After we settled in we went back to the parking lot and looked through the scope the Rangers had set up. The bears had disappeared but mountain goats were there. Curly horned ones.
We watched them for a while then went into the lodge restaurant, Nell’s, for dinner. This place has been getting bad reviews but we had a decent dinner. I had a burger with blue cheese and hot sauce topping. Bob had a bison burger with the same topping. They were nice and only about $11. Bob had a local IPA and I had some red wine.
After dinner we went back to the scopes and the bears were back!!! I could see them clearly moving around on the hill. It was amazing to see grizzly bears in the wild like that. Hoping they don’t visit our little cabin is all……
The internet is woeful and there is no phone service at all. I am writing this blog on Thursday night but I don’t know when I can publish it. Maybe tomorrow when we move to Many Glacier Lodge which apparently has better internet….
Anyway, an exciting day.