Monday, September 10, 2012

Kings Canyon Flash Flood

 Last Saturday, a flash flood occurred near Kings Canyon, a curvy section of US Highways 6 and 50 west of Delta, Utah. We had heard about the flood from several people, and after my husband saw the remains, he told me I should go check it out. So this past Saturday I loaded up the kids and went in search of flood evidence. It was pretty easy to find. Even before we got to Kings Canyon, we saw debris a couple feet high along one of the reflector posts and several spots where water had crossed the road.

 The water had gone through the culvert and still got a couple feet higher above it!

 We loved looking at the cracks in the mud. Ants had already made a new home with a tiny little anthill.

Desert Boy picked up a piece of the mud.

 Underneath we could see a couple tiny seedlings sprouting.

 This old bottle sprouted out of the dry mud.

 The fence showed that the water was over three feet high in places. It wouldn't have been fun to have gotten caught in that flood and then washed into a barbed wire fence.

 This other section of the fence also showed how the gravel had been pushed by the water.

 I was intrigued by how some of the mud had little indentations. I'm guessing those are from frothy, bubbly water that settled.

 We got back in the van and continued to the bottom side of Kings Canyon. Across this wash is a gravel road. It used to be very easy to drive on the road, even in a passenger car, but now you need four wheel drive and high clearance.

 Looking upstream from this same site. The water had spread out at this point.

 Nearby I saw a car bumper amidst the bushes. Hmm, what was that from? I had an idea, and I was ready to investigate.

 First I got distracted by a flash of color from the wash: fiber optic cables. They were buried ten feet deep in the wash several years ago (despite warnings from at least one local that the wash wasn't a wise place to bury them).

 Not only were the cables unburied, but some also broke. Apparently these fiber optic cables are not currently being used. I've heard rumors the company went bankrupt after spending millions of dollars on installation for hundreds of miles. I wonder if anyone will fix these cables and rebury them.

 I was fascinated how they came out of the ground and then went back under.

 Next time it was time to park under the elm tree. If you've ever been on this road, have you ever wondered why there's an elm tree growing there?

I never gave it much thought, but I did enjoy the shade of it a few times as a rest stop. Then I was told a story about how it got there:

UDOT needed to shore up the road through Kings Canyon. So they brought in a bunch of old cars, filled them with dirt, and helped stabilize the road. An elm seed sprouted out one of the cars, and the car held enough rain water to allow it to live in the desert.

The bumper washed downstream seemed to substantiate this story. But I wanted to find out more. So we got out and started looking around.

Down in the wash we could see that the culvert was half-filled with sediment.
I didn't see any cars right around there.
But when I walked farther down the wash, I saw something that looked a little out of place. I kept walking.

 Near the orange barrel warning traffic not to get too close to the edge, it looked like the sand bank was not all sand.

 To get there I had to pass another spot where the fiber optic cables were exposed.

 As I got closer, I began to make out what looked like metallic shapes.

 Upon closer inspection, I could see some parts of vehicles just barely peeking out of the sand.

 In some places rusted bumpers peeked out at daylight.

 It was hard to tell exactly what kind of vehicles were in there, but they appeared to still be fairly complete, and they had probably helped save the road above them.

 Just a little bit of a headlight.

 It's hard to know how many vehicles are down there. I sure think they helped!

 As we continued further up the canyon, I noticed a road cut that was fairly narrow. I figured the water was probably several feet high going through there. I saw a glimpse of color and found that the bedrock had been excavated to place the fiber optic cables. That still didn't keep the flood from scouring the narrow gorge.

 'Flood Area' signs had been put up in a couple places in the canyon. I talked with a neighbor who had actually been in the canyon that Saturday. She said that she and her daughter had driven through one place where the water covered the road, but when they got to another, they decided they better not chance it. They watched water come down both sides of the canyon, with rapids in the wash. A truck was stopped near them, but when two motorcycles came, one decided to try and go through the water crossing the road. He made it part way, but then he couldn't keep the bike up, and it fell on its side. The man was okay, but his motorcycle was in a bit of a precarious position. ,His partner parked his bike, waded into the water, and helped pick up the bike. With both of them pushing, they were able to make it to the other side. After a bit the water started lowering, and they walked back through the water and pushed the other motorcycle through the water to the other side. Yikes!

 The road came really close to being washed out in several places. I didn't see any old cars in this section. I wonder if they'll put some in now to help?

 At least five sections of this concrete wall had fallen into the wash. I saw several of them washed many yards downstream. How much water force would it take to move a big concrete barrier so far?

 Another view of the concrete barriers.

 Below one of the huge culverts I found these neat patterns in the mud.

I wanted to look more, but the kids had reached their limit, so we started heading home. The wash adjacent to the road, that was now as big as the road, was a reminder of how powerful these flash floods can be. That used to be a little wash that no one noticed. I'm not sure how much rain fell in that little area, but only ten miles away it was hard to tell that a flash flood had occurred so close.

I would have really liked to have seen that flash flood--from a safe viewing point! We're under a flash flood watch for the next 24 hours, so I may still have a chance to see some powerful water. I just hope it's in an area where no one lives.Out in the desert, flash floods can help restore life, just like avalanches in the mountains can help aspen trees propagate. Flash floods basically allow succession to start once again, and as long as no one gets hurt, they are so fascinating!


KRountree said...

Great essay Gretchen! I remember that elm tree when it was only about 5-6ft. high in 1962. We went to BYU for a debate tournament my Jr. year of HS and stopped there for a minute. I've watched it slowly grow over the years.

Desert Survivor said...

Another neighbor told me that UDOT buried 20-30 cars in the Canyon because they were tired of the road washing out from flash floods and wanted it to stay put. They put most of them in in the 1960s.

John Mosley said...

Every semester I talk to my students about desert processes. I try to get them to understand both the power and ephemeral nature of flash floods. I’d like to use your photos of the Kings Canyon Flood if possible. I’d certainly give you full credit.

Photo number 10 is a beautiful example of raindrop impressions. Excellent photo.

Please send me an email.

Chanelle said...

OH MY GOSH! What a fun adventure!

cleve.goddard said...

Flood also helps in increasing the level of ground water. There are still some places where people depend on rainy water so it will be good for those peoples.

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