On August 17, 1959, an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale struck southwestern Montana. The earthquake caused an 80 ton landslide to travel 100 miles per hour down Sheep Mountain. It created 20 feet high fault scrapes, the displacement on land by movement along a fault. Nearby geysers in Yellowstone National Park erupted and the water in the hot springs became muddy.
The water in Hebgen Lake became tumultuous and created a seiche, which is a wave effect caused by wind and water. The landslide and seiche caused Hebgen Dam to crack and erode and interrupted the flow of Madison River. This interruption caused the water to spread upstream and create what is now known as Quake Lake.
Aftershocks persisted in the area for several months, some as strong as 6.5 on the Richter scale. Many homes and cabins were destroyed and 28 people lost their life to this great natural disaster. The damages to roads and buildings totaled $11 million. This earthquake was the largest to ever strike Montana in known history and is also one of the worst known in all America.
Now, guests can visit Quake Lake for themselves to learn more about the earthquake. There are many exhibits with a wealth of information about earthquakes and the effects it had on this area. Some of the most fascinating pieces are a working seismograph and pictures from shortly after the earthquake. The exhibit also features recollections from survivors.
Even today, the effects of this earthquake can easily be seen. Huge boulders that were carried by the landslide remain. One of these boulders has a plaque honoring the 28 people who died in this tragedy. To see even more, take a drive down Highway 287. This road travels by a ghost village that was submerged by flooding after the earthquake and a refugee point. You can also see the epicenter of the earthquake from this highway.
But a visit to Quake Lake does not have to be all about the earthquake, there are also lots of fun recreational activities in the area today. Rent a boat or canoe to ride around Quake Lake and enjoy the beauty created by tragedy. If you like to fish, there are lots of German trout and Rainbow trout stocked in the 190 foot deep, 6 mile long Quake Lake. There are also many hiking trails and overlooks where you can enjoy nature. And of course there is lots of wildlife in the area that you might spot. Nearby are campsites where you can pitch your tent and relax after a long day exploring Quake Lake.
You can also go to Hebgen Lake just a short distance away to see where earthquake started. And while you’re in the area, don’t forget to check out Yellowstone National Park, Gallatin National Forest, Grand Teton National Park, and all of the other great tourist destinations in the area.