Cathedral of Saint Helena to Gates of the Mountains

Missouri River, Helena, MT

For our final day in Helena, Montana, we moved from an early mass in Cathedral of Saint Helena to Gates of the Mountains Boat tour on the Missouri River. In a way, the architecture of a Gothic cathedral with the nave and transept below soaring arches and columns appears similar to the placidly flowing Missouri River bounded by rocky mountains rising on either side. Don’t you think? At any rate, I’ll remember the day for its beauty and for resonances of the soul inspired both by human artistry and by forces of nature.

Cathedral organ

I had read that the Cathedral of Saint Helena holds a 40-rank Wicks pipe organ, which is the same company who makes the smaller version at the church where I play. I really wanted to hear what the instrument would sound like when amplified by marble pillars resonating in a large space. Our AirBnB host had made inquiries to confirm that the organ would be used for the early Mass, which I consider to be entirely above and beyond any host requirement!

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As it turned out, our visit on August 15th coincided with the celebration of Saint Mary’s Feast Day and both the music and the message were beautiful. I’ll long remember the clear soprano voice that rang above the congregation. The brief service of New Testament readings and a short sermon concluded with a full and lovely organ postlude. The organist immediately turned to a keyboard in the choir loft controlling the carillon, which consists of fifteen hand-cast bells in the north tower. Hymn melodies floated in the air above us as the congregation left.

Built in the Gothic Revival style, the Cathedral of Saint Helena closely copies the Vienna Votive Church. The story told to us about the final shipment of stained glass from Germany, stated that the precious cargo couldn’t safely be transported across the Atlantic until the end of WWI, when the Atlantic once again became a shipping zone and not a war zone. Now it shines in jewel colors above our heads.

Gates of the Mountains Boat Tour

Gates of the Mountains Wilderness area

Gates of the Mountains Wilderness area

We headed north on I-15 to the well-marked turn-off to the Gates of the Mountains Boat Tour launch site. At 10 AM we set off with a full boat-load of passengers for a 2-hour narrated boat trip down the Missouri River.

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I enjoyed hearing the captain’s version of the history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition through the area. He pointed out the animal shapes in the rocks as identified by one of the early tour boat operators in the canyon as we floated along.

Mann Gulch Fire Memorial

Mann Gulch Fire Memorial

We stopped on the way back to stretch our legs at a little campground area, where he told us the story of Mann Gulch and its 1949 devastation by forest fire.

Lewis and Clark Journal signage

Lewis and Clark Journal signage

The mountains on either side of the river are a beautiful focus. The river runs unobstructed by rocks or sudden declines, so the float is quite silent except for the sound of the motor on the launch itself. The day we visited we saw various birds such as young and mature eagles in flight, osprey, and some turkey vultures, but no large mammals. The heavily laden choke-cherry bushes, however, are irresistible bear-bait.

Chokecherries are bear-bait

Chokecherries are bear-bait

The captain pointed out a rare kind of miniature rose with a bush shaped like a large green cauliflower that flourishes in several points along the route, but rarely anywhere else. He kindly showed me a close-up photo of the rose-bush in the wild on his smart phone and I wished I’d asked him for a copy. Although I’ve tried to hunt for it in Online indexes, I haven’t found it. If any of my readers know its name, I’d appreciate hearing from you.

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