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Credit Bill Colley.
Credit Bill Colley.

The canyon walls were choked with smoke.  It drifted in from distant wildfires across the west.  I was on a tour of the Gates of the Mountain near Helena, Montana.  I had just finished visiting friends at a radio station when they told me about the tour a short drive to the north.

The smoke gave the long boat ride an eerie feeling.  Like I was going upriver in Apocalypse Now.  We passed what looked to be a carving of a human face along the walls of a cliff.  Our guide explained it occurred naturally.  Mother Nature created the face on the wall.  On the other side of the river, we saw a long and gently sloping field.  It’s where Lewis and Clark spent time as they navigated the Missouri River and searched for a route to the Pacific Ocean.

No one has ever excavated the site for historical artifacts.  Beneath the field are deposits of mercury.  It was used by members of the expedition who believed it could prevent diarrhea!  They swallowed it and then later, after leaving a deposit in a hastily prepared latrine, the poison was buried.

Not far from the campground is another field where more than a dozen firefighters gave their lives as a wildfire suddenly roared over their position.

A cave high above the river served as something like an ancient motel.  Passing tribesman would overnight there.  The river was their highway.  Remnants of their dinners have been found by archaeologists.  Some of the leftover bones are estimated to be nearly 1,500 years old.  I would highly recommend you visit the place.  Put it near the top of the bucket list and take the family.

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