"The month with the heaviest precipitation on the Colorado Plateau is August. Next would be September, then October. The driest month is June. One important thing you want to remember here is the monsoon season. Generally speaking, it begins in about mid-July and continues through mid-September. However, since this is an arid or semi-arid desert area, the wetter season here isn't the same as the rainy season in the tropics. There are still many sunny dry days, even in August. But when heavy rains come, they can turn a dry wash into a raging torrent."
Kelsey, Michal R., Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau, Kelsy Publishing, Provo, Utah, 1995. p. 7
Flash Flood! I had heard this term frequently when visiting the canyon country but did not have my own visual picture of what a flash flood would be like. Now I do!
A group of twelve of us was car camping on the Navaho Reservation in northern Arizona with a Navaho guide. After several days of beautiful blue skies and no rain, we were lulled into complacency and lightened our heavy day packs. We took a truck and a sport utility vehicle about two miles up canyon and hiked into a lovely and mysterious ruin. There was an intriguing cave further up the canyon that our leaders thought had to have something interesting in it. After a scramble through brush, we arrived at the cave and could see nothing spectacular until the archeologists arrived and found bits of charcoal and circular stone formations and decided that we were in a burial cave. After several minutes of examining the cave, we heard an ominous almost continuous thunder roll. Our leaders pronounced, we have to get out of here NOW.
By the time we arrived at the spot where we had left our packs, it was raining heavily and the storm was right on top of us. With one leader in front and one behind, we quickly sprinted down the trail to our waiting vehicles. The front leader said to watch for a wall of water. The stream beds began to flow heavily and there were pour offs from all the neighbooring cliffs. We had to cross the major streambed to get back to the vehicles and we were cautioned not to stop to take off our boots. The stream could become impassable in the brief time it took to remove our boots.
As we watched the stream rise, it became apparent that we would spend some time on our island of safety. The vehicles had come up the stream bed and they were trapped in their current location. Walking out was not possible because the side canyons were flowing too heavily. Our tents and camp were out of reach. We gathered the wet deadwood from nearby and started a fire using pine pitch. We also ate available snack food. As we sat by the fire drying our wet socks, we began to fantasize about dinner. Through incredible luck, a dinner was available in one of the vehicles. After cooking it over the fire in a very clean truck hubcap, we ate out of the cans the dinner had come in. It was a long night. We took turns sitting by the fire and sitting in the vehicles, catching moments of sleep and trying to stay dry despite light rain and a 4:00 a.m. thunderstorm. In the morning, we were able to very carefully take the vehicles back to camp and be reunited with our supplies and our tents.
A number of factors made our survival more pleasant. We had leaders who had a great deal of experience in the canyon lands and we trusted their knowledge. Therefore, we did not panic and stayed genial throughout. One of our leaders kept a small suitcase of extra warm clothing in his truck. We had sufficient food. Staying as dry as possible was important. Cotton t-shirts were mostly taken off when they got wet because then they were just cold and clammy. Even the highest tech clothing eventually got wet and the old fashioned panchos seemed to be the best approach for staying dry. We again learned the importance of carrying a well-stocked day pack. Extra food and clothing, particularly dry socks, were really useful when we had to spend the night outside. Keeping the pack lined with a plastic bag also proved helpful in keeping what was in the pack dry. Again, the canyonlands taught us the importance of being prepared.
By: Barbara Stiltner
Here is another tale of a harrowing adventure with a flash flood -
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