We thought that would get your attention. Yes, there was an earthquake in this area of Montana but it happened 55 years ago next month. The quake was so strong that it was felt in towns 200-300 miles away. We had a couple come to Red Rock Lakes who remembered feeling the tremors in the Livingston and Flathead areas of Montana. Today Quake Lake is the only reminder of this incident. The lake was formed when a hillside along the Madison River collapsed and choked off the river’s exit from the valley near Rt. 287 in the Gallatin National Forest. A new Visitors Center has a movie and multiple exhibits detailing the story from personal recollection and geological displays.
A week ago we had two geologists come into the Visitors center at Red Rock Lakes. They were looking for data about earthquakes. They said “this area is due for a big quake.” With my usual sense of humor I asked “Can you tell me if it will happen before 8/14/14 as that’s when we leave the refuge?” Of course we are only going about 50 miles away! If you want to look at the map more closely, click twice over the picture to bring it up full screen. Other photos of the incident used here are from the Quake Lake Visitor Center. Wonderful sketches at the Center are by the same artist who created Smokey The Bear.
Imagine it is 8/17/59 and you are spending a glorious summer weekend camping along Hebgen Lake. You go to bed and just before midnight you are awakened by your trailer bouncing like a ball. The earth is moving and before you know it trees, dirt, tents and buildings are hurled down the hill. The quake caused the Hebgen and Red Canyon blocks to subside and tilt, a process called block faulting. There were places where the height difference between the blocks was 12 feet. In response huge waves in Hebgen Lake crested the dam while destabilized shorelines demolished buildings and caused Rt. 287 to collapse. As Quake Lake rose rapidly, campers rushed to tend the injured, rescue stranded campers and head for high ground convinced Hebgen Dam would collapse soon.
With roads out of the campground cut off the Forest Service sent in smokejumpers to assist the trapped campers. Over the next 18 hours search and rescue operations continued, seriously injured people were evacuated and an emergency road was built so survivors could leave. In all 28 people perished in the quake. Personal stories from survivors displayed at the Visitor Center made you feel as if you’d watched it happen all over again. For instance, Grace Miller who ran a lodge had to jump across a widening fissure with her dog just before her house fell into Hebgen Lake. Another story was the recollection of a young child who watched her mother being carried away by the Madison River.
Fearing that the Madison River backup would cause Hebgen Dam to collapse the US Army Corp of Engineers began construction of an emergency spillway around the slide. The spillway was completed two months to the day after the quake. It still carries the river around the slide today. Time is causing the river to eat into the slide debs. An estimate by the USCAE is that in one hundred years the river will cut a new channel and Quake Lake will be no more.
While at the Visitor Center we spoke with a Ranger about their use of volunteers. We’ll keep this in mind for future reference as a work camp possibility. It certainly would be an interesting place to work.
Following time at the Visitors Center we took the Auto Route around Quake Lake. There are planned stops with kiosk displays detailing that awful scene. Walking to the overlook we went through a wonderful wildflower field. Many of the flowers have been noted in other posts but here are three new ones.
OK, now for some earthquake trivia….
1) Where was the strongest earthquake located?
A) Chile B) California C) Japan D) Ireland
2) How many times stronger is an earthquake measured at 6 on the Richter Scale than one at 5?
A) 10 B) 20 C) 30 D) 50
3) How many seismograph stations are required to locate the epicenter of an earthquake?
A) 1 B) 3 C) 4 D) 6
4) What reading on the Richter Scale is required in order to feel an earthquake?
A) 1.5 B) 3.0 C) 4.0 D) 5.5
5) Which two states have the fewest earthquakes?
A) Montana and Idaho B) Alaska and California C) Nevada and New York D) Florida and North Dakota
6) How fast do tectonic plates move?
A) As fast as a turtle walks? B) As fast as an ant walks? C) As fast as your fingernails grow? D) As fast as the world turns?
So how did you do?