True Story: Wild Ride During a Flash Flood

True Story: Wild Ride During a Flash Flood

Wild Ride During a Flash Flood

Story by Susan, Ben, Catie, and Lizzie Foster

As you read the story below, think about how you would answer these questions.

  • How would you feel if you were in this weather event?
  • Would you do anything differently to make sure you stay safe?

We saw a flash flood one July when we were on a river trip with our kids, Catie (age 12) and Lizzie (age 8), in Westwater Canyon on the Colorado River. The day started out sunny and warm. We adjusted our life jackets and, with two other families, launched two rafts and a pretty green wooden boat called a dory. The morning hours were filled with swimming, water fights, and lazy floating on the brown, silty river.

Around noon, we stopped for a picnic lunch. As usual, the kids gathered to make mud-castles on the shore. Clouds gathered as well in the sky overhead and thunder rumbled along the beautiful red canyon walls. Such storms are common in Western Colorado on summer afternoons, but this one became something to remember!

First, we felt the sting of marble-sized hailstones on our skin – especially the tops of our bare feet. We huddled together beneath the few shrubs growing on the riverbank. Next, the rain came down heavily for about a half hour. We looked up in wonder as the dry canyon walls all around us began to stream with long silver waterfalls! In time, the rain tapered off a little and we got back in the boats. We needed to float downstream and ride the rapids to reach our campsite.

And what a site we saw! The red sandstone cliffs gave way to black basalt rocks. These cliffs seemed to have tomato sauce pouring over them, reaching all the way down to the river. Little side canyons, almost always bone dry, were flash flooding, releasing jets of red water into the river as we floated by. The clear rainwater was turning bright red as it picked up mud washed from sandstone layers high above the black cliffs. These “tomato sauce” streams began to turn the river red, too. We watched in wonder, knowing we would be sharing memories of these sights forever.

The rapid turned out to be a wild ride as usual, but it was all the more exciting because of its color. But quickly, the rapids were behind us. The sun appeared and a rainbow bridged from canyon rim to rim. How good the sunshine felt on our skin as we removed our rain jackets, with the campsite just around the next river bend.

Over supper, people of all ages recalled details of what we had seen. More stories followed of other river trips full of surprises. As we laid out our sleeping bags and snuggled up under the stars, we saw a great blue heron roosting on a cliff above us. We wondered if it, too, was thinking about the storm and flash flood it saw that day.


© 2012 UCAR