Gravely Mountains

Gravely Mountains
Gravely Mountains in Morning Light

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Quake Lake Visit

Natalie and I were looking for a place to visit that would not involve much walking, since she is trying to get over a knee injury.  Steve suggested we go visit Quake Lake.  This  190 feet deep, 6 mile long lake was formed by a huge earthquake in 1959, which resulted in great damage to the area, the lost of 28 lives, and the formation of a new lake in the Madison River, now know as Earthquake Lake or Quake Lake. The Gallatin Forest Service has put in a visitor center on the rubble just above the natural dam on the Madison River and has a self-guided auto tour to remember the dead and injured and to explain what happened in a few horrifying seconds the night of August 17, 1959.

Overview of slide area

We started at the Visitor Center which is built on the rubble of the  mountain that fell into the Madison River in Madison Canyon. We got there just in time to move into the theatre and see a movie that showed diagrams of the the faults involved as well as sharing stories of some of the survivors and pictures taken soon after the earthquake, showing both the landscape and rescue operations.

Then we viewed the exhibits and were moved by the stories told by the survivors, many of whom lost members of their families. Some were happy that the bodies of their families were found. The bodies of 19 of the 28 who died were never recovered. and are believed buried under the slide.

Looking up Quake Lake from the Visitor Center

The Corp of Engineers worked feverishly to build a  channel out of Quake Lake before it backed up to the Hebgen Lake Dam and caused it to fail.  Had this happened, two towns downstream would have been destroyed.

The end of Quake Lake- in 100 or so years the Madison River is expected to eat down through the rubble and the lake will drain away

The Visitor Center looks across the Madison River Canyon to the place where the mountain sheared off, filling the canyon and sending large dolomite rocks across to the other side. One of them is now a memorial to the dead, and has all the names listed on it.  Natalie and I thought we were doing an up and back trip and saved this rock for last but then went on to West Yellowstone so never saw it.

Rubble left when the mountain fell down

Where the mountain sheared off, above the Madison River Canyon

Another moving stop was the place that most of the survivors along the Madison River and Hebgen Lake came up to to escape the rising waters and then wait for rescue.   It was also the place smoke jumpers parachuted into to treat the wounded and where the helicopters landed to remove the wounded to hospitals.  Today it is a beautiful meadow of flowers and it is hard to imagine the horrors that occurred that night and the terror of the people who were there for many hours.

Some of the meadow wildflowers

But here is one story to give you a feel for that night:


(Editor's Note: Rex A. Bateman of Magna was with his family at Hebgen Lake last Monday and Tuesday when the area was rocked by earthquakes. Here is the story of the family's frightening experience.)
"It was a beautiful moonlit night and then three big shocks hit us."
This is how Rex A. Bateman, 3201 S. 8000 West, Magna, describes the first terrifying moments when an earthquake jarred the Hebgen Lake area in southern Montana Monday night. Mr. Bateman was staying in a cabin at Camp Fire Lodge, about 500 yards below Hebgen Dam with his wife and four children, Lance, 17; Layne, 15; Greg, 14, and Mark, 11. Also staying with the Batemans were Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Mander, Idaho Falls, and their children, Sybil, 17 and Jackie, 6.
When the first tremor hit, Mr. Bateman was standing outside the cabin.
Dives for Auto
"I felt the first shock at about 11:40 p.m.," he said. "I immediately knew it was an earthquake. I ran and dove face forward across the hood of Mr. Mander's car. I was afraid of the earth opening up. I hung onto the radiator ornament and cut my hand.
"The earthquakes increased in intensity. 'My God,' I said to myself. 'How long can this last.' Rocks along the cliffs started breaking loose and coming down. I thought it was the end of the world. I thought the mountain would disintegrate," Mr. Bateman said.
"There seemed to be a terrific pressure in the air and there was a lot of noise. We didn't get hit by the tidal wave of water breaking over Hebgen Dam although we were within 20 feet of the river. Everybody thought the dam was going to break," he said.
Head For High Ground
Mr. Bateman said both families piled into their cars "and headed for high ground." Most of the families met in an area of flat ground about 500 yards above the Madison River, Mr. Bateman said.
"Everyone was wonderful," he said. "We used station wagons as ambulances and started bringing the injured in. People gave away everything they had. When people came in without clothing, other people would give them what extra clothing they had. Several people were practically unclothed.
"What really made it bad during the night were the aftershocks which kept coming every few minutes. We kept waiting for another big one," he said. "I was sure that the dam would break. About three o'clock in the morning, we got a report that the dam was definitely going out. Big black clouds came over and we had lightning, thunder and rain. We were able to crowd everyone into cars and we waited out the night. It was a long night.
"The next day planes started flying over the area. One dropped a message saying that helicopters would fly in to remove the injured. Six firefighters from Missoula, Mont. parachuted into the area. Two men jumped during high winds and they were almost blown into the cliffs. The plane also dropped supplies. The firefighters had walkie-talkies and communicated with the plane," Mr. Bateman said.
"During the day, we cleared an area of sagebrush for the choppers to land on. We still didn't know whether or not the dam would break. When the helicopters came in, the injured were loaded aboard and taken out. The Air Force also came in with tents, food and water. A doctor came in," he said.
Later that day a construction company cut a road around the northeast shore of Hebgen Lake and the Bateman and Mander families were able to drive out of the area. After spending another night at Duck Creek, they drove to West Yellowstone and then to Idaho Falls.
The families brought out two children of Mr. and Mrs. John H. Armstrong, Victoria, B.C., who were hospitalized at Bozeman, Mont. for injuries. The children stayed at Idaho Falls with Mr. and Mrs. Mander until Friday when they were taken to Bozeman.
Asked if he wanted to return to the Hebgen Lake area, Mr. Bateman said:
"I'd go tomorrow if I could see the slide in Madison Canyon. However, I don't think I'll ever feel safe camping below that dam."
[Deseret News, August 22, 1959]

But below the meadow, there are remains of cabins that came off their foundations and floated around in the lake.  When the Corp got the lake stabilized, the waters receded, leaving the cabins in this low meadow along a very innocent looking Madison River.

Madison River with cabin remains in the meadow beside it

Close-up of one of the cabins

The final stop we did was at the Cabin Creek Fault. This formed through the campground, across Cabin Creek, forming a waterfall, and went on into the day use area, where I photographed it.  As it formed, rocks were rolling down the hill.  One boulder crushed a tent, killing  a mother and father. There three children, in another tent, were not injured.

The Cabin Creek Fault

The area set aside as a memorial to the earthquake is 38,000 acres and has roads, trails, and campgrounds.  You can visit the see the several places the fault lines occurred and where other, smaller landslides happened.

Natalie and I were almost back to Red Rock Lakes NWR when we had to stop one last time to catch this sunset.

Sunset over Gravely and Madison Mountains

This was a great day of learning about the forces of plate tectonics and how lives can be changed in an instant. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Paddle on Henry's Fork of the Snake River

Since Steve and Cheri brought an extra boat, I've taken on the task of making sure it gets its share of exercise. When I started planning things for my friend, Natalie to do while visiting me, they suggested that we paddle Henry's Fork of the Snake River  since we would be able to run a shuttle.  This trip starts below Big Springs, which pumps over 120 million gallons of water a day, and is the primary source of Henry's Ford of the Snake River.

Looking Downstream from Bridge at Big Springs

We didn't get started until mid morning and then we decided to tour Big Springs and also visit Johnny Sack's Cabin.  He was a bachelor but built an exquisite, luxurious cabin in on a hillside just above the springs in the early 1920's. . He cut his wood for the cabin with the bark still on the logs.  Then he treated them with linseed oil and buried them for a year. The glossy, bark-covered wood makes for an interesting wall and trim treatment.  He brought in oak from somewhere else to make the floors in the great room where he laid it in the log cabin pattern used in quilts. He also made all the furniture and even the light fixtures. I didn't get a picture of the outside of the cabin but it was built in the style of the waterwheel shed. 

Waterwheel and shed

Loved the hooks
All built by Johnny Sack

Bark-covered boards for artistic details

Oak flooring in log cabin quilt pattern

One of two bedrooms - furniture by Johnny Sack

He was the only winter resident in the area and spent his winters making furniture to sell.  He also built cabins for other people. He did all his work with hand tools, which are also on display. 

We also had to go look for the huge trout the springs are famous for but the sun was too high and only ring-billed gulls fought for the bread brought by visitors. 

We finally got around to running our shuttle about 11:00 A. M. and were on the river by noon, just in time to get to paddle with lots of  of floaters, including families with young children. And they floated in commercial rafts, canoes, kayaks, and inner tubes. 

Natalie and Cheri at the start

The river was clear and shallow and, especially at first, it was hard to follow the channel and find water deep enough to float our boats. But soon we worked around the sometimes beached floaters, and mostly had deeper water for the rest of the trip.  We only paddled 5 - 6 miles to the next bridge.  We mostly paddled though meadows but had some trees along our route. 


Natalie on the move
Chari and Steve

Then, after retrieving Steve's truck, and loading up the boats, we traveled about another 20 miles to eat lunch on Steve's property.  By this time it was mid afternoon so we ate the chicken and sweet potato salad I'd fixed for lunch and the green salad and Mississippi Caviar that Chari and I had fixed for supper. 

Lunch on Steve's property

On the way home we stopped at two magnificent waterfalls, the Lower Mesa and the Upper Mesa Falls, which are on the Henry Fork of the Snake River.  They sure made us glad we hadn't missed our takeout.  We made it home a little after 9:00 P.M. and were soon asleep. 

Upper Mesa Falls

Lower Mesa Falls from several hundred feet up and away

A closer view of the drops on Lower Mesa Falls

Another great day with wonderful friends.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Visit to the Past in Montana's Smallest State Park

This past weekend I visited my friend Kathy, a long-time birding and paddling buddy, who lives near Corpus Christi in the winter and in Bozeman in the summer.  She graciously took me to several places, one of which was Elkhorn State Park within the ghost mining town of Elkhorn, Montana, west of Bozeman.

We missed our turn but found an even better road a few more miles down Interstate 90.  It was a well-maintained dirt road with farms and hills along it. At one spot, there was a scenic rocky outcropping with lots of flowers. in small fields among the trees. We had to stop and take pictures.

Rock formation

Then we had to cut across to our original road.  This road had an old hot spring on it.  We stopped to check out the old hotel.  I couldn't talk Kathy into taking a soak, so we continued on to Elkhorn.

Beautiful old hotel at Elkhorn Hot Springs

Elkhorn is an old mining town which primarily mined silver but also mined lead and a little gold.  It was unique in that whole families lived here, rather than mostly just men as was normal in mining towns.

View of Elkhorn and part of the mine and tailings from a hill above the town

These wheels seemed to hold a story of a terrific wreck

The town itself has always had a few residents and most of the old buildings are on private land and are almost gone. The state owns only Fraternity Hall and Gillian Hall.  Mixed among the derelict buildings are weekend cabins a a few full-time residences.

Almost gone

Better days are long gone

Part of mine operation

The mine entrance building
The State Park - Fraternity Hall and Gillian Hall


One of the most poignant parts of our tour was a visit to the cemetery.  Most of the tombstones were on graves of children who died in the diphtheria epidemic of 1889. Many of the tombstones held the names of two children who died days apart. One family lost six children and the mother in one week.  I was glad that most modern families don't have to live with this kind of tragedy today.

The town had a high population of about 2500 people but it rapidly died away as mining slowed in the early 1900's. Tailings were still treated until 1937.

Hope no one was in this car when it was shot up.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

An Orgy of Wildflowrs

Steve and Cheri, my fellow volunteers got a day off last Tuesday to go on a Wildflower Tour in the Gravelly Mountains. They loved finding an amazing quantity of wildflowers but were frustrated in not having enough time to photograph as many as they wanted to.  I was frustrated because the Ecology Project International kids were supposed to sort bugs that day and I was in charge of making sure the labels were correct and all was going according to protocol.

We solved all our problems with the tour by going out last Thursday.  Since I had already worked about forth hours, I could take that day off.  So we set off on what was to be about a twelve hour tour.

View shortly after we turned east from Dillon, Montana

The algae made this a pretty spot

It took us several hours of traveling with lots of picture stops to reach the area where the tour had been so we didn't even reach it until late in the day.  We stopped along a pretty creek for lunch that had beautiful views in every direction.

Lunch along a creek

Lunch stop view downstream

Boulder in creek by lunch stop

Rock formation behind out lunch stop

A root cellar

Acres of dense wildflowers

My favorite - larkspur

Opal enjoyed the too - she was grazing on them


Doubtful Reservoir - not dependable after snow melt

Prairie Smoke

Nature's Rock Garden 

Dead whitebark pines 

Finally we got to the beginning of the wildflowers.  There were only a few species of wildflowers, including larkspur, lupines, sticky geraniums, dandelions, false dandelions, phlox and a few other species, but the quantities of them were mind-blowing. And the scent  made be want to just roll in the meadows.  We had Opal, Steve and Cheri's dog with us and she enjoyed eating the flowers. I didn't try that.

We had only one minor frustration - Steve and Cheri had been shown miniature bitterworts and took me to the site to show them to me, only to find NONE.  We think they had already gone to be since this was just at sunset.

Another great day having a wonderful adventure.

On the personal front, I'm having to count the weekends until I leave. This one is being spent at my Texas/Montana friend Kathy's condo in Bozeman, Montana.  We had a wonderful adventure today and will have another tomorrow before I go shopping to prepare for next weekend when my friend, Natalie, comes to visit. The following weekend, I'll take four days and go visit my friend, Carol, who volunteers in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Then another volunteer friend and avid birder, Teri, will come visit me and we'll help with the Centennial Valley Raptor Count on August 3rd.

The following weekend, I'll move to National Bison Range and then fly out to Ottawa to visit my oldest daughter.  Then I'll be at National Bison Range until mid October.