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An evening rain in upper Frijoles Canyon Wednesday sent high water down Frijoles Creek, washing away three temporary bridges in Bandelier National Monument. Bridges along the trail to Alcove House and the second bridge on the Falls Trail were washed away.
The high water also closed Hwy 501 and sections of Hwy 4 temporarily.
Chief Ranger Tom Betts said the temporary bridges were designed for such events.
“Our talented trail crew designed split log and rail bridges which are very simple and very cost effective,” Betts said. “We built them knowing they would wash away at some point.”
Betts hopes to have the bridges replaced sometime next week. In the meantime, hikers using those trails will have to either wade of jump the creek.
The Las Conchas fire, which burned two-thirds of the park, left canyon slopes susceptible to heavy runoff and shifting debris, which can send high water racing through canyons in a matter of minutes.
Betts stressed the difference between a high water event and a flood. “In most places, the water stayed within the creek boundaries, only overflowing in a couple of spots. Near the visitor center it didn’t even touch the foot bridge,” Betts said.
“Now last year, we had a flood,” Betts said. A two-minute video on the park’s website shows flood waters raging down the canyon and overflowing into the parking lot at the visitor’s center.
When asked about the decision to keep the visitor center open this year, Betts replied, “We’re making every effort to keep as much open as possible. We have the visitor center protected at least to the level of last year’s flood, maybe a little more.”
The danger of flash flooding in all park canyons remains high throughout the monsoon season. Park staff asks visitors to be extra vigilant and suggests visiting in the morning before storms build.
If a flash flood occurs, do not try to outrun the rising water. Move away from the creek to higher ground. Never try to cross a flooded creek.
Due to the danger of flooding and limited parking since Las Conchas, access to Bandelier is only available through free shuttles provided by Atomic City Transit. The shuttle stop is on Rover Ave. in White Rock. Shuttles are free, but park entrance fees apply.