Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Day 11: Madison River Canyon Earthquake Area (Montana)

Today marks the halfway point in our journey, a bittersweet benchmark. Our first stop of the day was at Hebgen Lake Madison River Earthquake Area at Gallatin National Forest in Montana. The location is known for a catastrophic geological event that occurred on August 17, 1959. During that time there was not as much long distance traveling as there is today, so many locals camped here along the lake. Hebgen is a manmade reservoir, the result of a dam built for monitoring discharge of the Madison River because mass quantities of snow were causing floods.

The 1963 earthquake, 7.5 on the richter scale, triggered waves in the lake that continued for 24 hours, damaging houses along the shore. This was the 4th strongest earthquake ever recorded at that time. The quake was felt in 8 states across 500,000 square miles. Boaters were capsized and nearby parked cars were washed away. Campers, vacationers and residents fought for their lives to survive, and 28 people died in the earthquake. Traces of the destruction can still be seen on the landscape today, such as fault scarps on rocky ledges. The displacement of land was as much as 16 feet in some places. No one even knew the fault line existed until this event. Now it is called the Red Canyon Fault.







In one area we could see where a widow's bed-and-breakfast was destroyed. The story goes that she awoke delirious in the night by the severe tremors. She headed toward her front door which led out to the lake, but her dog tug on her nightgown insisting she leave through the backdoor. When she finally escaped through the backdoor, it was clear that her home had slid so far down the shore, that the front half of her house was entirely submerged in the lake. The wreckage is still left as a reminder of the devastating event.







Despite the eerie wreckage, other nearby areas presented stunning natural landscapes.







The earthquake also caused a landslide that dropped 80 million tons of sediment into the Madison River, creating a dam that formed what is now aptly known as "Earthquake Lake." The flood it caused covered trees here, and many of their carcasses still stick out above the water.



After visiting the site of this natural disaster, we went into the town of Ennis for some shopping and then to the old mining town of Virginia City for lunch and some ice cream. The rest of the day was spent driving to Choteau where we would spend the night.

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