Monday, September 17, 2012

Madison River Canyon Earthquake

Fly fishing on the Madison River has long been a famous tradition. Fishermen are out in great numbers as we pass through the area.
But one fateful August night in 1959, that tradition was tragically interrupted. The famous river was dammed by a massive landslide, creating a new lake on the waterway, and crushing campsites. 
This map shows the location of the slide, not far outside Yellowstone National Park.
Entering Madison River Canyon.
It only lasted 20 seconds, but changed lives forever.
This is the mountain that slid into the valley. We are standing on 300 feet of debris that was carried up the other side of the valley.
There was no time even to realize what was happening, and no time to escape.

This before and after diagram shows what happened.

This huge boulder carried across the valley from the mountain serves as a natural tombstone memorial to those whose bodies still lie beneath the rubble.

A plaque mounted on the boulder lists the names of the campers who were killed....whole families.

A few wildflowers poke through the rocks.
Looking back up the valley from where we came. You can see the Madison River as it forms a new course.

Engineers created a channel through the dam for the river to flow.
Earthquake Lake was created by the landslide that dammed the river.

Another huge boulder that rode the crest of the landslide.

Earthquake Lake
You can still see where the forest was flooded by the rising water.
Those campers who survived the initial quake and landslide were trapped in the canyon with waters rising quickly. 
Their story is told farther down the canyon at a place called Refuge Point.
There were heroes there that night, tending the injured and comforting the scared.
Photos from that night and next day. Attracted by one car's headlights, survivors made their to this high ground.

The injured were evacuated by helicopter.

Smokejumpers brought needed supplies.

There was a trail here and more stories to be read, but I did not have time to walk it. The sight of the massive slide and lake it created left a lasting impression though.
Later on, as we toured in Yellowstone, we came across another place affected by that earthquake.
And just as the fly fishermen are enjoying Madison River again, new "biscuits" are rising around Sapphire Pool. 


  1. Wow, what a scary event. Nature can be furious.

  2. Very sobering! I was 10; I sort of remember it, but living in New Jersey at the time, Yellowstone seemed like another (unattainable) world to me.