Page 18 - HC Relocation Guide 2021
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(Rick and Susie Graetz)
The town’s location just off the east slope of the Continental Divide provides a vista for sunsets that can set fire to the sky. One evening a couple years ago, the atmosphere seemed to be preparing itself for a grand spectacle... As the sun made its exit, bits of orange, yellow, red and purple tinted the western horizon; but the anticipated flame
of color didn’t spread. Instead, a soft brilliance of gold illuminated the clouds and washed over the town and surrounding mountains and hills. The richness and warmth intensified, filled the air and held. No cameras at hand, the vision etched in our memories, we sat in awe ... what a beautiful place, this town called Helena.
On July 19, 1805, Captain William Clark of the Corps of Discovery wrote in his journal “... my feet are verry much brused & cut walking over the flint, & constantly stuck full of Prickley pear thorns, I puled out seventeen by the light of the fire tonight ...” From this miserable happening came the name Prickly Pear Valley, sometimes called the Helena Valley.
In Lewis’s words, “... this evening we entered much the most remarkable clifts that we have yet seen. these clifts rise from the waters edge on either side perpendicularly to the hight of about 1200 feet ... for the distance of 5 3/4 miles ... the river appears to have woarn a passage just the width of it’s channel or 150 yds. it is deep from side to side ... from the singular appearance of this place I called it the gates of the rocky mountains.”
Two of the most distinctive manmade landmarks, Carroll College, built on Mount Saint Charles, and
the St. Helena Cathedral stand out. The incredible church, with its 230-foot-high twin spires, is a lasting legacy from Thomas Cruse. Built as a tribute and a thank you for answered prayers for his success in gold mining, it is one of the town’s most visible and cherished buildings.
At the start of the 1900s, Carroll College was
the dream of Bishop John Patrick Carroll. The desire became a reality in 1909 when William Howard Taft, the nation’s president, helped lay the cornerstone of St. Charles Hall. Because of the school’s position on the hill, it was at first called Mount Saint Charles College after St. Charles Borromeo. In 1932, the school became Carroll College in honor of the good Bishop.
To the east, behind the cathedral, is the prominent sandstone capitol building. Construction on
the edifice began in 1899 and it was ready for occupancy in 1902. Also located in the capitol complex is the treasure box of Montana’s archives and the people’s museum - the Montana Historical Society building.
A climb to any altitude on Mount Helena will convince you that this Helena is a place where time and space meld together well.
(Tom Palmer)
In 1863, the power of gold lured people west, away from the republic to an unknown wilderness.
If they didn’t find gold, they would at least find some solace in the beauty of the valley before finally admitting failure. The prospecting was
dim, the men desperate and they had begun to call that gulch in the Prickly Pear Valley their “last chance.”
Last Chance, a placer strike, is thought to have produced $170,000 in gold its first year and $10 to $35 million before it played out.
(Rick and Susie Graetz)
Looking toward Helena’s northern horizon, foothills and mountains seem to blend in a continuously forested belt separating the valley from the prairie farther north. This distant view is deceiving. Out there in those hills, the legendary Missouri has carved its path through soft limestone, leaving towering walls that Lewis and Clark called The Gates of the Mountains.
From Wolf Creek via a road that follows the
Holter Lake shoreline to the Beartooth Game Ranch, northern segments of the wilderness are reached. With the aid of a compass and map, you can hike to Mann Gulch and an overlook of the Missouri River. Mann Gulch is the sight of the disastrous 1949 forest fire that took the lives of 13 firefighters.
Owing to its lower elevation and the semi-arid climate of the surrounding landscape, The Gates offers perhaps the longest visiting season of Montana’s wilderness areas. Snow is often gone by mid--May and usually holds off returning until October. The flowers are at their best in June and July. Early autumn displays beautiful color in the lower elevations and up in the meadows.
A Little Helena History
Search ‘Helena Walking Tour’ to download

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