Sunday's rainstorm floods Bandelier and other areas

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Bandelier survives flash flood in Frijoles Canyon

Last month’s monumental Las Conchas Fire burned most of the vegetation from the upper sections of Frijoles Canyon.

Without plants to slow down and absorb rainfall from monsoons now in the area, the canyon is ripe for flash floods, such as the one experienced Sunday.

The torrential thunderstorm began in the upper Frijoles Canyon area in early afternoon and fell heavily for nearly two hours. About 5:40 p.m., the creek began to rise in the Bandelier Visitor Center area, and within about one minute was roaring through the picnic and parking areas, black with ash and carrying logs and rocks, according to Bandelier’s Chris Judson.

A log diverted water, which rolled into several large concrete barriers and broke the steel cable holding them. The flow made it as far as the restroom wall, carrying away several hundred sandbags, she said. Within 10 minutes, the flood began to subside.  

Rainfall gauges measured 1.26 inches in upper Frijoles and 2.74 inches at the Ponderosa Campground.

“It appears that the efforts we made to protect the canyon resources were successful,” said Bandelier Superintendent Jason Lott. “It was hard to accept the need to remove all the bridges. Filling and stacking 14,000 sandbags, and all the rest of the work, was expensive and difficult. This is only the first flood; we could have a lot more, and others could be even larger. But we know the damage would have been far more severe if we hadn’t taken the proactive measures.”    

Lott was referring to the fact that in the weeks since the fire, his staff has been preparing the area around the Visitor Center and other historic structures to withstand the force of flows estimated to potentially reach eight feet deep.

Preparations included removing the car and foot bridges to help the creek flow through without logjams forming.  The Visitor Center was wrapped in plywood, plastic sheeting, and thousands of sandbags. Long walls of jersey barriers and sandbags were placed to attempt to keep debris flows away from the walls of the building.

With flood danger continuing, Bandelier sites that are available for visitor use include the Tsankawi section, Juniper Campground, and the Burnt Mesa and Tyuonyi Overlook trails.  

There is presently no fee for day visits, but campers must pay for using the campground.
For general park information, call 505-672-3861x517 or visit www.nps.gov/band.

Read additional details of Sunday’s thunderstorm and its impact on roadways near Los Alamos National Laboratory and other areas of the county in Tuesday’s Los Alamos Monitor.