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Helena Travel Guide, Montana

Set neatly near Montana Rockies in the foothills of two rounded mountains, with a fine view over the golden-brown Prickly Pear Valley, Helena is a small Montana city, a place of great diversity and culture, a city of charm and grace.

Built by a lust for gold in Helena was in its early days, a wild boomtown. It all happened when four miners working over the present site of HELENA decided to have one last chance to hit it big in the West -- and they had one final dig along a likely-looking ravine. The much wanted gold was found in the place where now the town's attractive main street stands and because the decision to dig was considered a last chance they decided to call the street Last Chance Gulch. It actually had so much gold that it was considered one of the richest gold-producing areas in the world and remains one of Helena's main streets The strike changed the history of the place forever and the town boomed in the gold rush of 1865. More than $20 million of gold was extracted and during the period of this prosperity, only Manhattan had more millionaires than Helena.

The rich town attracted not only millionaires, but also those who wanted to get rich the easy way by robbing them. Many millionaires still remained in town and their residences in the west side of town enhance the city’s atmosphere.

The city’s future looked even more promising when in 1875 it became the state’s capital after Virginia City. But the rights to the state’s capital would have been short lived, had the Butte copper king, Marcus Daly, succeeded to steal them for Anaconda. Luckily for Helena, he didn’t but the political war he started echoes through the state even today.

Among the famous personalities to call Helena their home were Hollywood star Gary Cooper and actress Myrna Loy the silver-screen legend who was one of Helena's most famous residents. She lived here as a child and Myrna Loy Center for the Performing and Media Arts commemorates her presence.

Formerly the Lewis and Clark County Jail, the multidisciplinary cultural center with a castle like facade is well worth visiting. It boasts a 250-seat performance hall, a 55-seat cinema and a gallery with exhibits on regional art.

Downtown you will find, as in many towns, the city’s historic area, a mix of Helena's colorful past and thriving present. Other parts of the city will also give you a glimpse into the history of the Old West.

Highlights of the city include the massive Neoclassical State Capitol, located on a small hill surrounded by lawns. Here you can some scenes from Montana's history in huge murals, the work of "cowboy artist" C. M. Russell. If your interest is art, you shouldn't miss the excellent Montana Historical Society Museum where exhibits depict the city's history. There are early photographs of pioneer life and you can also see more examples of Russell’s art. Also worth a visit is the Holter Museum of Art, which boasts an excellent collection of paintings, sculptures, photographs and ceramics. For world-renowned ceramic, head towards the Archie Bray Foundation.

But maybe one of the most appreciated buildings for its architecture is the 230ft Cathedral of St Helena with its marvelous red-tiled spires, elaborate Bavarian stained glass, and gold leaf and white-marble altars. Many of these buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Besides history and art the city reveals many espresso shops and boutiques, a great place to play chess or checkers with concrete tables and checkerboard tile, a selection of several days' worth of outdoor activities at the nearby lakes and mountains and endless recreational opportunities in the millions of acres of public land including trout streams and downhill ski areas.

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