Earthquake Lake

The night of August 17, 1959 forever changed the landscape and the lives of the residents and visitors of Madison Canyon (about 10 miles northwest of West Yellowstone). Close to midnight, an earthquake, measured at 7.5 on the Richter Scale, struck this area without warning. At the time, it was the 2nd largest earthquake measured in the lower 48 states. A massive landslide, over 80 million tons of rock, crashed down into the canyon and blocked off the Madison River.

Many people were camping along the banks of the river in a popular campground. The landslide buried parts of the campground, and the rapidly rising waters submerged the remainder of the campground. Twenty-eight people were killed as a result of the earthquake. By dawn, a lake had formed in what was once just a river.

In this photo below, you can see what is now referred to as “ghost-trees”, where the campground used to be. The hill where the landslide occurred is on the left side, and you can see what is called the “bathtub ring”, along the right side of the photo. This is how high the water rose after the landslide.

Ghost-trees

Ghost-trees

After the landslide, the water continued to rise and began rising backwards over the dam in nearby Hebgen Lake, causing several cabins to be destroyed. The water washed out many sections of Highway 287 which runs along the river. Within three weeks, what was once just a river, became a 5 mile wide, 190 foot lake. The Army Corps of Engineering was deployed and was able to blast through part of the landslide to create a spillway and relieve the pressure of the lake and control the flow of water. They were concerned if the landslide shifted, the Madison Valley area would be flooded.

This photo shows the other side of the landslide, where they created a spillway to prevent the valley from flooding. Originally the spillway was a straight river, but over time, nature has taken back the landscape and created this winding river, which has become a popular trout fishing area.

Madison Valley river

Madison Valley river

It is believed that the lake will continue to drain down, and eventually return to a river. But it could be decades before this happens. In the meantime, the lake is a beautiful, scenic area that covers up the scars of the past.

Earthquake Lake

Earthquake Lake

But once you turn around, the evidence of the landslide remains, with a large barren area.

area of landslide

area of landslide

A portion of the rocky cliffs was sheared off, and this remaining rock has been turned into a memorial for the deceased. A plaque has been placed on the boulder with the names of those that did not survive. Over 250 people were camping in the area, so the death toll could have been much worse.

Memorial Boulder

Memorial Boulder

rest in peace

rest in peace

The U.S. Forest Service maintains a visitor’s center at Quake Lake. It offers an excellent video detailing the events on that fateful night, along with many photographs taken after the earthquake, and survivor’s stories.

One interesting fact from this earthquake. Over 200 geysers in nearby Yellowstone National Park erupted following the earthquake.

If you are in the area, this is definitely worth taking a short day trip to see this area.

Quote for the day: “In the morning we looked across from where we were, and the mountain had just fallen down.” – JoAnn Gartland, earthquake survivor

Harney Peak – Hiked it. Liked it.

Harney Peak, in Custer State Park, is probably the most popular hiking trail in the area.  At an elevation of 7,242 feet, it is the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Alps. Harney Peak was named after General William S Harney, who served with the U.S. Army from 1818 to 1863.   With our friends Forrest and Mary, we decided to tackle the 7 mile round trip hike, which has about a 1200 foot elevation increase.

Everyone was all smiles at the beginning of our trek, which started out as a relatively easy path to navigate.

just getting started

just getting started

After a moderate climb, we encountered many spectacular views of the Black Hills, with its granite rocks.

spectacular views

spectacular views

After about an hour, we got our first glimpse at the shell that remains of the fire tower on top of Harney Peak.  We all thought “we have to get all the way over there?!” (you can see our destination is at the center of the picture below)

first glimpse of fire tower

first glimpse of fire tower

We continued on, going up in elevation, and then down again, through the woods, over a small stream, and around many small boulders.  The hike started to get a bit more challenging.  One boy coming back down from the top said he scared away a rattlesnake for us…thanks!  We continued on our climb.

rattlesnake free!

rattlesnake free!

As we continued our climb, we could hear thunder in the distance, which we are finding to be typical weather here this summer in the Black Hills.  Cell service was intermittent, but Dan did keep an eye on the weather radar on his phone, so we wouldn’t get caught up in anything too serious.

threatening skies

threatening skies

The only annoying part of the trip was listening to everyone coming down proclaiming “you only have 15 more minutes”.  This went on for at least an hour!!  Finally one girl told us “you still have a long way to go!”  But the majority of people coming back down all had smiles on their faces, and said it was worth it.

For Dan and I, this was the first major hike that we have done.  Forrest is an experienced hiker, and he agreed we picked a good hike for our first time.

a happy hiker

a happy hiker

We started to get a better glimpse of the old fire tower as we continued our climb.  Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1935 – 1938, it remained in use until 1967, and was stripped out of its furnishings and plumbing.

getting closer!

getting closer!

The views, even with the storms in the distance, were getting even more spectacular, as we continued getting above the tree line of the Black Hills Forest.

Black Hills

Black Hills

We continued climbing, the temperatures were dropping due to the elevation, and the wind was picking up.  There are many twists and turns during the final ascent of the hike, and then more stairs?!

more stairs...uggh!

more stairs…uggh!

Onward we climbed, only a “few more” minutes!  Then one final climb inside the old fire tower, to a walkway with even better views.

still more to climb

still more to climb

We made it!

Mary & Forrest at the top!

Mary & Forrest at the top!

made it!!

made it!!

view from the top

view from the top

We spent awhile at the top enjoying the views, had a snack, and then began the journey back down.  We promised not to tell anyone coming up how much time they had to go.  On our way down, we heard a loud roar off into the distance, and realized there were two giant B52 planes flying overhead.  It was fun to watch these beasts fly over the hills.

Coming back down was the quickest part of the trip, of course, and we did get a bit ahead of Forrest and Mary.  While we were waiting for them at the end of the trail, we heard some laughter, and turned around to watch them run the last hundred yards or so of the trail!  Apparently they wanted us to know that even the “old folks” still had some “pep in their step” after 5 1/2 hours of hiking!

 

showing off!

showing off!

All four of us would recommend the Harney Peak hike to anyone in the area!

Quote for the day:  there is a bench at the beginning of the trail that has a perfect quote:

Life is a journey, take time to enjoy every step

Life is a journey, take time to enjoy every step