Reader shares his thoughts about winters in Montana, and the 1959 Yellowstone Earthquake!

Quake Lake in Montana, looking west to the side of huge mountain that slid in the earthquake of 1959, killing 29 campers at its base.

After my last blog post and article in the Record, about Yellowstone, Glacier National Parks and Montana in the winter, reader Gene Beley offered these thoughts; outdoors readers will find them of interest!  Gene writes:

Tim, that was a very good article you wrote about your Montana trip, “Room to Roam”. 

My sister and brother in law lived just outside of West Yellowstone for a few years after they retired.  They built a lake front home on Hebgen Lake.  We grew up in Bozeman and Billings.  Yellowstone Park was like our backyard in our childhood.  Our parents would drive from Bozeman to the Gallatin Gateway Inn to take us to dinner to teach us how to act in a nice restaurant.  My younger sister leaned over and asked my mother very quietly, “Where do little girls throw their milk when they don’t want it?”

My sister Patty and her husband, Mel Knutson, left the West Yellowstone area because the winters were just too brutal. It was tough when most of the population leaves in the winter and one has to travel 90 miles to Bozeman to do any major shopping like even for groceries.  And that Gallatin Canyon between Bozeman and West Yellowstone is an extremely dangerous road unless it has recently been changed.  When I went to see my mother in Billings just before she died at 92, a big oil tanker overturned in that canyon and blocked the entire road.  I had to stay overnight in a motel that night.

If you ever go to West Yellowstone in the summer, be sure to take a side trip to the Earthquake Information Center on Hebgen Lake.  That is the site of one of the largest earthquakes in North American history.  We felt the impact 300 miles away in Billings.  Boulders were thrown across a canyon and a new lake was created. People were buried at the site where the earthquake information center is now.  One of my classmates lost her parents in that mountain coming down on top of their campsite.

Clothes were ripped off people due to the air being sucked out when a mountain crumbled.  Don’t ask me to explain the physics on that.  There is a small book available through that earthquake information center that I keep saying I’ll buy.  Someone should have made a movie out of that disaster but never did. 

A tsunami was created on the lake where lakefront cabins were grabbed and tossed over the dam and redeposited in a valley below the dam.  Amazingly, most of them were right side up!  You can see those there today.

At the time of the earthquake, I was writing an article in our Billings basement for the weekly YELLOWSTONE NEWS (for our Yellowstone County).  I thought I was getting sick because the walls seemed to be going back and forth. I went upstairs to tell my parents I was ill. They were sitting outside on the porch, totally confused themselves, as were many others up and down the block, because Montanans had not experienced earthquakes! 

Anyhow, it would be well worth a trip back in the summer for you just for that experience alone.

Personally, I do not like Montana because I hated the snow and cold so much and felt like I was lucky to escape it when I migrated to San Jose in 1961.  When I saw the palm trees and girls in shorts on the San Jose State campus on Jan 2, 1961, I thought I had died and went to heaven.  I ended up marrying a San Jose girl and I told our children, if they wanted to go to the snow,they’d have to go with someone else.  They did and even all learned to ski.  So everyone was happy.  But if you are a skier, like you and your wife, that’s the key.  It’s all in the mind. In high school I was a water skier and it didn’t make sense to wait for just three months of summer and endure freezing cold and blizzards the other 9 months. The final straw was 40 below weather in Missoula my freshman year of college.  That’s when I began shopping for a California college.

Keep up the good work, Tim!  Gene.

I will second Gene’s recommendation that Montana visitors visit the scene of the 1959 Yellowstone Earthquake, which brought down the side of a huge mountain, claimed the lives of 29 campers at its base, caused the formation of Quake Lake, and tilted huge Hebgen Lake about 12 feet, inundating cabins on one side of the lake.  Truly an awe-inspiring place.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me, 

Happy travels in the West!

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