Earthquake Lake - Part Two

A visit to Earthquake Lake is a grave reminder of nature's power. Forty million (that's million) cubic yards (or to put it in other terms: 80 million cubic tons - that's 160,000,000,000 pounds) of rock and dirt slid, with hurricane force off the mountainside south of the Madison River. Crashing to the valley floor with thundrous force, the slide continued 400 feet UP the opposite side. The dislodged material moved at speeds in excess of 100 mph creating gale force winds which flipped cars, uprooted trees, and literally blew people out of their clothes - and some to their deaths. Furthermore the displaced river became a wall of water which swept away everything in its path.

Looking at the slide today, things seem pretty tame - until you realize the dirt upon which you stand on used to make up part of the mountain you are viewing. Then pause and consider the lack of regrowth on that mountain across the way in the last 60 years. Having seen how creation, given enough time, can 'heal' itself, the devastation caused in that brief 60 seconds back in 1959 begins to take on a little perspective.

A couple of HUGE boulders, once a prominent part of the rock formations on the southern mountain's face, rode the slide as it rushed north. My 9-year-old son, dreaming of some far-distant (I hope) future rock climbing days, gives some perspective to this giant's size.

This sign says it all. :"This 3000 ton [that's 6 million pounds] Dolomite boulder rode the crest of the slide across the canyon. Undisturbed lichens on its side . . . indicate it did not roll or tumble while crossing."

Twenty-eight people lost their lives that night. Nineteen are presumed buried under the tons of rock below the Memorial Boulder which bears their names. As you can see, the quake claimed entire families.

Everything about this quake is so BIG. It is hard to get a true perspective. Consider it this way. Many people like to incorporate rock into their landscaping projects. It seems the bigger your house, the more money you have to spend on landscaping, or just the more 'serious' you are about creating a natural - appearing landscape, the larger the native material used. However, this rock would dwarf a large house! It took an earthquake to move it!

Sometimes it is easy to lose the 'tree perspective' in a 'forest' this large. Perhaps that is what makes this tragedy so hard to comprehend. Huge rocks. Massive landslids. Things we struggle to put into perspective are brought down to size when we add the personal stories. Several people lost their lives. Every story carries a weight of sorrow which makes that giant rock seem small.

Yet I think the stories hardest to bear are the almost 'freakish' instances, in which some were lost while others escaped without a scratch. What makes the story attached to the photo above so personal is, while Elk Lake escaped virtually unscathed (not one glass remained unbroken but not one person was injured), this tragedy occured at Cliff Lake (just a short jaunt North along the Chain of Lakes).

Other families caught in the throws of nature's violence suffered doubly. The Bennett's story is perhaps the most dramatic. Retold in simple terms in Irene's book "Out of The Night" (which I reviewed in a recent post), the Bennetts suffered greatly. Camping downstream of the slide, Irene looked up in time to see her husband literally blown away by the slide-created winds. Regaining consciousness hours later, she found she the wind and water had stripped her clothes, carried her downstream, and deposited her under debris. Only Irene and her eldest son, Phil, (shown in this historic photo) survived the ordeal.

Yet, by God's grace, time does heal - a lot. Nothing ever erases the pain completely. Just like this mountain side (I am looking across to the slide with the Memorial Boulder on the center rigth of the photo) will never return to what it was, those who lost loved ones will never escape the hole left by their passing - yet beauty remains, if we will only look.

Signs of the earthquake's devastation are everywhere. Dead trees. Barren rock mountainsides. Gravel filled river beds. Yet the beauty is still jaw-dropping. Perhaps that is part of the healing - that heart's once broken can find beauty and joy in all that devastation. This certainly seemed to be a recurring theme in the survivor's stories (retold in "Cataclysm" - reviewed in a previous post).

There is much more to see. I have a couple dozen historic photos I have not shared - photos which recount more of earthquake's destruction. However, only the morbid mind prefers to dwell on the dark when surrounded by such beauty. Only the mind still lost in tragedy cannot appreciate creation's grandeur. Thankfully I do not traverse a dark path haunted by personal tragedy. Thus I walked away from Earthquake Lake humbled by my impotence yet inspired by God's glory reflected, even in mountain-scapes created by devastation.

Lady of the Lake

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