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Floods hit Bandelier; Frijoles Canyon reopens Saturday -- updated

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By John Severance

The staff at Bandelier National Monument has been through this before.

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A wall of water that observers said was between five and eight feet, late Thursday night cascaded down Frijoles Canyon, causing flooding.

“Staff drove down into the canyon to make sure protection was in place including closing a gate that protects Bandelier’s Visitor Center from high water, “said Chief Ranger Tom Betts.

By 12:30 a.m., water flowed into the canyon at a height between 5-8 feet and covered the parking lot.

 Park superintendent Jason Lott estimated that it was about three-fourths the size of the 2011 flood that closed Frijoles Canyon after the Las Conchas Fire.  In some areas, water reached high water marks from flooding two years ago.

“We are just so much better prepared,” Lott said. “Our staff has been through these scenarios before and they implemented the plan to perfection.”

Lott said park staff was notified of the impending water by text message.

“We have an early warning system,” Lott said. “There is instrumentation in the upper canyon that is hooked to a satellite system. When there is a rain event, it feeds that information to our cellphones.”

Park spokesperson Claudia Brookshire explained the flood plan.

“We have the same protection in place that was here in the canyon in 2011.  There are jersey barriers that protect the visitor center placed between the creek and the visitor center and sandbags lining the jersey barriers,” Brookshire said.

“The sandbags behind the visitor center patio originally blocked the main loop trail, so we built a gate that we close when we receive flood warnings and removed sandbags from that section.  The gate allows visitors to access the trail without having to climb over bags.

“ We were prepared for this flood, we have protection in place, our emergency warning system worked well, and we were able to have enough pre-warning to close the gate behind the visitor center and allow employee residents living in the canyon time to move their vehicles.”

Bandelier employees cleaned up the canyon Friday and Frijoles Canyon reopened Saturday, according to Brookshire.

There is one issue, however. There is no water.

Brookshire said there is a water line break, but portable toilets were delivered Saturday morning.

“We are going to try to find the break today,” Brookshire said early Saturday.

The Bandelier Shuttle operated in a partnership with Atomic City Transit also was back in operation.

Bandelier trails outside of Frijoles Canyon remain open.  Visitors should be cautious of hiking in canyon bottoms since flooding can cause hazards such as tree snags and slick conditions.

The water washed out bridges on the trail to Alcove House and the Falls Trail.  When Frijoles Canyon re-opens expect muddy and wet conditions while crossing the creek.

Lott said during monsoon season there is no camping allowed in any of the canyons.

And Lott was not aware of any missing people and he said nobody was injured.

“We check all the vehicles at the trailheads to make sure they are accounted for. At this time, no one has been put at risk.”

Lott said camping is allowed on the mesa tops inside the park.

Lott also is encouraging people to come to the park to check out what happened Thursday.

For further information on the flooding event and current conditions call the Visitor Center at 505-672-3861 ext. 517.   For further information on the flooding event and current conditions call the Visitor Center at 505-672-3861 ext. 517.