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Enter the Museum of the Rockies' front galley and you will be greeted by the striking green eyes of Steve McCurry's 1984 "Afghan Girl" portrait. Wrapped in her rust-colored headscarf, Sharbat Gula, the portrait's subject, stares out at the viewer in an image that became National Geographic's most recognized cover in the magazine's 127-year history.  

"50 Greatest Photographs by National Geographic," featuring McCurry's iconic photo, opens this weekend in the Museum of the Rockies' front gallery. At the same time, the back gallery will house "Across the Andes," a collection of photographs from the Andes trek that earned Deia Schlosberg and Gregg Treinish (Bozeman-based founder of Adventurers and Scientists for conservation) the title of National Geographic Adventurers of the Year. 

A preview of the exhibits for Museum of the Rockies members is Friday, Feb. 26, from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibits open to all museum visitors on Saturday, Feb. 27, and run through May 30. 

"50 Greatest Photographs" takes viewers around the globe, from the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa where Chris Johns captured a lion on patrol in 1996, to a lunch break for snow-covered explorers on Mount Rex in the Antarctic Peninsula in a 1989 photo by Will Steger. It explores the skies from a camera photographer Bruce Dale mounted on the tail of a Lockheed L-1101 in 1977 and the seas, diving 2 1/2 miles below the North Atlantic surface to the ruins of the Titanic in an image by Emory Kristof. 

"This is like a zillion little pieces of the world all captured on film," said Mark Robinson, MOR's marketing director. 

Each image in the exhibit features a "behind the photograph" description and a map where it was taken, although they lack the original captions from the magazine. For those and more information, two iPads are mounted on the walls, where visitors can explore National Geographic's accompanying app (it's also available for iPad from the App Store for $4.99). Click on an image within the app for additional frames taken by the photographers, accompanying video, photographer bios and more.  

You'll learn Michael Nichols stitched together 84 images of a 300-foot, 1,500-year old tree in California’s Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Dave Kinsey, MOR’s assistant director of exhibits, had the resulting photo enlarged to cover the gallery’s back wall.   

Other photos, such as one of a chimp reaching toward the bowed forehead of primatologist Jane Goodall and one of a plane crashing during landing at an airport in Guatemala, also feature additional frames. It's an interesting insight into the mind and the lens of National Geographic photographers, Robinson explained. 

"Out of 200 shots, one is just so brilliant that it sticks in everyone's mind," he said. 

Some of the photographs are striking because of the subjects, others are simple and artistic. Not all images, however, would be classified as beautiful.  

"This one is the saddest one, all the pieces of plastic," said Kinsey, pointing to a photo of a Laysan albatross chick by David Liitschwager, coupled with Susan Middleton's image of the contents of its stomach, 12 ounces of indigestible debris such as cigarette lighters and bottle caps.

For the museum, the point of the exhibits, like most of the programming, is to engage people with our world and possibly inspire the next generation to get out there and explore it for themselves.  

"Wow. Someone was there and did this and found that absolutely difficult shot," Robinson said, gesturing toward a dynamic image of a leopard seal by Paul Nicklen. "A younger person might look at this and say 'This is what I want to do – travel the wild and capture moments so unique to us.'"

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Rachel Hergett can be reached at rhergett@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2603. Hergett is on Twitter at @hergett.

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