click to enlarge Outcrops of Madison Limestone flanking the Missouri River at Gates of the Mountains.

Richard I. Gibson

Outcrops of Madison Limestone flanking the Missouri River at Gates of the Mountains.

“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 1200 feet. ... the river appears to have forced its way through this immense body of solid rock for the distance of 5-3/4 Miles ... I called it the gates of the rocky mountains.” —Captain Meriwether Lewis, July 19, 1805

The Gates of the Mountains Wilderness was created concurrent with the Wilderness Act of 1964. The 28,562-acre wilderness includes just 53 miles of trails, most branching off the Beaver Creek drainage near the former town of Nelson, Montana—the self-declared "cribbage capital of the world." The high terrain is bordered on the west by the Missouri River, which geologists say predates the uplifted limestone of the cliffs that hem it in.

Gates of the Mountains Wilderness encompasses Mann Gulch, site of a 1949 fire that claimed 13 firefighter lives and served as the basis for writer Norman Maclean's Young Men and Fire.

In 2007, another fire, named Meriwether, burned 20,000 acres of the wilderness, changing the landscape's character yet again.

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