“When the earth's crust quivered, water sloshed over the dam and sent a huge wave down-canyon. Almost simultaneously, the rockslide five miles below slapped the riverbed and threw a tidal wave of water up-canyon. Most people were caught between the two.”
--"Whole forests of trees split like matchsticks, huge boulders spilled in every direction and roads crushed into gravel."
Excerpts from the Salt Lake Tribune; August 19, 1959
And thus, Quake Lake was born August 17, 1959 at 11:37 pm. In less than a minute, over 80 million tons of rock crashed into the narrow Madison River Canyon at 100 m.p.h. The Hebgen Lake Earthquake, as it is known today, measured 7.5 on the Richter scale. Ultimately, twenty-eight people lost their lives.
Fast-forward forty-four years and you still see evidence of the spectacular devastation in the eerie stillness of the “new” lake’s water and ghostly apparitions that are broken and dead, partially submerged trees. It remains an impressive sight and a grim reminder of nature's awesome power.
Overlooking the lake, with a panoramic view of the mountain that fell, is the Earthquake Lake Visitors Center, run by the USDA Forest Service. It features exhibits on geology and earthquakes, interpretive talks, videos, and an outdoor boardwalk telling the tale of that night. Visitors can also take an auto tour along Highway 287, where points of interest like Ghost Village, Refugee Point, Duck Creek and the epicenter of the earthquake, can be seen.
The Visitor Center is located 27 miles northwest of West Yellowstone or 65 miles south of Ennis, both on Highway 287. For more information contact the Visitor Center at 406-682-7620 (June-Sept) or the Hebgen Lake Ranger District at 406-823-6961.
--“When the solid earth proves not so solid and a mighty quake occurs, man is terrified. For the quake comes without warning. And man, who today is talking about visiting other planets, has not yet found a way of telling when Mother Earth will go on a rampage.” Salt Lake Tribune; August 19, 1959