Thursday, September 1, 2011

August 17, 1959: Earthquake!

On August 17, 1959, a beautiful moonlit night in Gallatin National Forest was interrupted by one of the most powerful earthquakes recorded on the North American continent. It was in the Madison Canyon, Montana area. The epicenter of the quake was at what's known as the Duck Creek "Y".

I would have been a child then but oddly enough I have never even heard about this deadly earthquake. 

The 7.5 Richter scale quake triggered a massive landslide that sent 80 million tons of rock crashing down the Madison River Canyon in Montana.  High velocity winds and a gigantic wall of water swept through the area. The Madison River was blocked -- water backed up behind the rocks.

In a matter of seconds, the earth's crust dropped 19 feet. The land under nearby Hebgen Lake tilted upward. There were cabins on the north shore -- they were all consumed by the water.  Meanwhile, the south shore lay high and dry.  Water sloshed -- waves crashed. Waves crested over nearby Hebgen Dam. The earthen dam cracked but did not break.

Three sections of US Highway 287 fell apart, Hundreds of vacationers were trapped. Twenty-eight lives were lost. A new lake was formed.  Fittingly, it became Quake Lake. The lake itself filled in three weeks. It is 190 feet deep and 6 miles long.

Our campground at Island Park, Idaho is less than 20 miles from this specatcular natural disaster. We learned about the occurance from a tourist brochure in the campground office. 

Surprisingly, from my group, nobody wanted to see Quake Lake except me so I didn't see it.


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