Earthquake Lake and Campfire Lodge

How could a lake be an Earthquake Lake!? It’s a fascinating story.

On what was, by all accounts, a beautiful summer night in 1959 (August 17th, to be exact), a 7.5 earthquake hit the Madison River Canyon in just inside southwestern Montana near the Idaho and Wyoming borders. The quake triggered a massive landslide, sending more than 80 million tons of rock into the canyon.

If you look closely at the mountainside in the background you can see where the landslide sheared off.

When the landslide poured boulders, dirt, and gravel into the river, the waters rose, trapping  twenty-six people camping in the canyon. Others escaped to a nearby ridge where they were rescued the next morning. Forest Service smokejumpers parachuted in and set up rescue operations, and later that day helicopters evacuated those who managed to survive.

Because the dam downstream at the head of Hebgen Lake held (just barely), a new lake was formed — Earthquake Lake:

The Visitor’s Center offers an amazing movie about the entire event, with moving first-person accounts from the survivors, and though my ankle wasn’t ready for any intense hikes, the walk to the memorial for those who died was well worth it.

It’s amazing to think that the mountainside behind me dropped enough debris that a two-lane highway three feet deep could be built to run from that spot in southern Montana all the way to New York City. As it was, we were three hundred feet above the original canyon floor, thanks to all that debris.

From this vantage point, the Visitor’s Center is just a little spot with Earthquake Lake flowing outward from it.

Following US 287 East, we stopped at Refuge Point, where rescue operations took place. All these years later, surrounded by tall trees on this uneven hilltop, it was hard to imagine the shock and terror the survivors must have felt.

We followed the trail down to the fast-running river…

…and across the water we could see the remnants of some of the cabins that were washed miles from their original sites and left here after the landslide:

The Campfire Lodge Resort’s cafe was recommended by one of the people at the Earthquake Lake’s Visitor’s Center, and it became a repeat spot — despite the nearly 50 mile round-trip from Henry’s Lake.

Jim and Wendie Slattery run the resort, and between her amazing cafe (with homemade bratwurst!) and his fly shop — what more do you need?!?

We settled ourselves near a window and one day while we were there watched some folks fly-fishing in the Madison River, which runs behind the cafe.

As an added treat, a nearby osprey next held a fledgling safe — even from photos! It was so far away I couldn’t manage a decent image…

…but through patience or luck or both, managed to catch one of the parents coming back:

And remember when I mentioned making that bracelet? I was wearing one when we first stopped into the cafe and I ended up selling it right off my wrist! Here’s the photo I snapped of it on the table:

A few days later, I sold another… a trend that’s continued around the US, all starting here at the Campfire Lodge!

Interested in learning more about the Campfire Lodge? Check out their Web site at Truly a place to get away for some great scenery and awesome fly fishing!

About Ellen

Fiction writer and photographer, I travel the country with my sweetheart of a husband as a "full-time RVer."
This entry was posted in Attractions, Birds, Cool Experience, Food, Hiking, Interesting Stories and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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