Montana Earth Science Picture of the Week

Crimson Bluffs on the Upper Missouri near Townsend

Photo by Troy Helmick, Courtesy of The Crimson Bluffs Chapter
Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation

On the morning of July 24th, 1805 the Lewis and Clark Expedition passed by these "Crimson Bluffs" near Townsend as they traveled along the Missouri River. They were only about 30 miles north of the place where the Gallatin, the Madison, and the Jefferson Rivers merge to form the Missouri.
"Set out at sunrise; the current very strong; passed a remarkable bluff of crimson coloured earth on Stard (starboard side). Intermixed with stratas of black and brick red slate." Capt. Meriwether Lewis
Although the bluffs exhibit some interesting geology, they provide an even better example of a successful grass roots effort to preserve a special place for future generations. Several years ago a group of people from Townsend (the Crimson Bluffs Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Heritage Foundation) recognized that the bluffs were becoming a target for development. According to member, Troy Helmick, "The land above the bluffs, sage brush and sparse grass, is very fragile. Nonetheless, property in the area began to change hands, prices climbed and it was subdivided into smaller parcels and put on the market." Slowly, Crimson Bluffs Chapter members rounded up support in their drive to purchase the land and save it (50 acres) from development. "We really have Steve Ambrose to thank," Helmick said. "He was here in 1997 talking about the Lewis and Clark Trail, and the potential interest the Crimson Bluffs would attract."

The February 2002 agreement includes the Crimson Bluff and about 200 yards of land on either side of the bluff, Helmick said. The Chapter also received support from the county, the national Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, The Conservation Fund, The River Network and Montana's Congressional Delegation. The site will be managed by the BLM from its field office in Butte.

Montana is full of such places that are worth preserving . . . some for their natural beauty, others for their history, and still others for their importance as wildlife habitat. The view of the Crimson Bluffs described by Capt. Meriwether Lewis has changed very little since 1805. Thanks to the group from Townsend, future generations should be able to enjoy that same view, uncluttered by roads, buildings, or fences.

Fortuantely, there are many other organizations, large and small, that recognize the importance of preserving wild places. One such organization, The Nature Conservancy of Montana, used to provide financial support for this web site. Click on the Hot Link below to learn about their efforts to preserve some of Montana's special places.

Term: preservation


List of past pictures of the week
*More about the Crimson Bluffs Chapter
*Montana places protected by The Nature Conservancy
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More about Lewis and Clark in the Townsend Area

By Rod Benson
Earth Science Teacher at Helena High School