Following the Madison River north from Yellowstone into southwestern Montana is the means for finding a world of adventure. In the long glacial valleys there are several recreation area campgrounds along the river that are prime time fly fishing hot spots. The National Forests offer a deep woods mountain wilderness experience and there are several old west ghost towns in this region. Wildlife abounds in the grassy valleys, so this is a great place for photographers too. There are even a few geological oddities to check out and by far the most famous happens to be Earthquake Lake!
All that a Montana visitor needs to do is follow Highway 287 along the Madison River to find Earthquake Lake. This body of water is located in a big canyon on the edge of the mountains that overlook a vast glacial valley. The setting certainly is picturesque, till a visitor gives it a closer look. Fresh looking immense landslides and gigantic boulders that look like they were recently cleaved from the towering cliffs are strewn about everywhere near the mouth of the canyon. The piled up rubble resembles an earthen dam construction project, but Mother Nature was indeed the engineer.
Back in 1959 a powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck this area in the middle of the night. Because the mountains in this region are composed of very old decomposing bedrock, the vibration from the earthquake shook everything loose all at one time and an enormous landslide occurred at the mouth of the canyon. The landslide traveled at over 100 miles per hour, so everything in its path was doomed, including the Madison River. Several local people lost their lives in this disastrous event that did not provide enough time for escape.
As a result of the massive landslide, the river was naturally dammed and soon the newly formed lake started filling up. Water now cuts through the natural rubble dam, but this small lake maintains a constant water level. As far as it goes, Earthquake Lake is a brand new lake on an ancient river, which is like a dream come true for anglers because this freshly created body of water is already stocked full of fish. Remnants of fences, farm structures and drowned tall trees are strewn about in these waters, so there are plenty of great fishing hot spots to be found!
Touring the Custer Gallatin National Forest Earthquake Lake Visitor Center is the best way to find information about the disaster event, because this facility operates as a learning center museum. The visitor center sits right on top of the landslide zone and the views of the lake from the high ground are astounding. By following the shoreline to the north end of Earthquake Lake, visitors will find the National Forest Beaver Creek Campground, which is a very convenient spot for a fly fishing basecamp. The much bigger Hebgen Lake is a little further upstream, so there is plenty more to explore in this neck of the woods. The Earthquake Lake Geological Area is a fascinating place to spend some time in southwestern Montana, so be sure to log this destination on the books!
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