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Thursday, unless there is another flood in the meantime, the Frijoles Canyon area of Bandelier National Monument will re-open after being closed for a week. Visitors will be able to once again catch the shuttle bus in White Rock and see the results of the recent record-breaking rains.
On Monday, the Bandelier staff had their first chance to deal with what happened during flooding over the weekend. It quickly became apparent that it would be some days before it would be safe to welcome visitors into the canyon, the park’s main visitor area.
Cleanup of mud and debris began, but assessment showed that there would also be long-term effects of the three episodes of high water that had passed through.
High water had come down the canyon on Thursday evening, Friday morning, and again on Saturday night. Frijoles Creek generally runs about 10 cubic feet per second (cfs), but during the Friday event, the largest of the three, it is estimated that the flow reached between 7,500-9,500 cfs. For comparison, on Sunday the Rio Grande near San Ildefonso Pueblo was carrying between 1,250 and 2,500 cfs.
The more water in a flow, the more debris and sediment it can carry, and these floods stacked tree trunks, branches, and rocks into huge piles all along the banks of the creek and out into the parking lot. In places the creek changed its course, wiping out whole sections of trail, and along the entrance road a part of the road shoulder eroded away.
The temporary steel bridge that provides vehicle access to the picnic area had been slated to be re-installed on Tuesday, but water weakened the banks necessary to support it. The portion of the main trail that is usually accessible to wheelchairs sustained damage that will require work before the surface is again suitable.
And high-water warning gauges upstream were no longer providing alerts.
Visitors who come on or after the opening on Thursday will find that the canyon area is very interesting now, but different, and wilder, than it was just last week.
Throughout the floods and closures, other parts of the park were not affected and have been open and are there to be enjoyed. Juniper Campground and the Tsankawi section are available, along with the Burnt Mesa, Tyuonyi Overlook, and Cerro Grande Trails.
The park backcountry is open for hikers, but use will require extra caution, as there may be downed or falling trees, fallen rocks, and trails that are deeply eroded or hard to find. Until Frijoles Canyon re-opens, trails that provide access into the closed area, including the Frey Trail, are not available.
The “Opera on the Rocks” at Juniper Amphitheater on Saturday evening is still on schedule. This special event features an outdoor performance of Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors”, and two wineries and a brewery will offer their wares, along with cheeses. Access is by free shuttle bus. Tickets are available at guildsofsfo.org/LA
When the canyon re-opens, visitors will again need to catch the free shuttle buses from the White Rock Visitor Center.
They run every 20 minutes from 8:20 a.m. to 5:10 p.m., seven days a week. For more information on trails, and park conditions check the park website at nps.gov/band.
County Open Space Specialist Craig Martin reports that nothing is closed, but there’s lots of repairs needed, particularly on the Forest Service trails along West Jemez Road. By Wednesday evening, volunteers hope to have the hazardous sections of Forest Service trails re-routed.
Volunteers will be working on Water Canyon trails starting Wednesday evening and hope to have most of that trail fixed by early next week. The only major effect on the county network of trails is the road in Pueblo Canyon —for mountain biking fans, be advised that road is washed out and impassable on a bike.
The county credited Martin for checking out all the trails and cleaned out the debris that threatened the little bridge in Acid Canyon.
The county release said, “there are many repairs to be done, but Craig said he has not seen anything unsafe or impassable so far on the county trails. If you’re out on our trails this week and spot something you think might be unsafe, or, better yet if you are interested in volunteering to help with trails restoration, Craig would love to hear from you — call him at the Parks office at 662-8159.”