Trail Debris: The high water left stacks of tree trunks, branches, and rocks; here the debris blocks a trail from the main parking lot. Photo by Sally King/NPS
Road: The force of the water eroded away the shoulder from a section of the park entrance road. Photo by Sally King/NPS
Thursday morning Sept. 19, 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 finally be able to catch the shuttle bus in White Rock and see the results of the recent record-breaking rains.
Monday Bandelier staff had their first chance to deal with what had 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 was begun, but assessment showed that there would also be long-term effects of the three episodes of high water that had passed through.
High water ran down the canyon Thursday evening, Friday morning and again Saturday night. Frijoles Creek, the usually-pleasant stream near the Visitor Center, 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, 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 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 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 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 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 going quickly and are available at www.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 8:20 a.m. to 5:10 p.m., every 20 minutes, seven days a week.
For more information on trails, park conditions, etc, check the park website at www.nps.gov/band, follow on Facebook or Twitter feed at BandelierNPS, or call the Visitor Center at (505) 672-3861 x 517.
Cleanup: Cleaning up the Visitor Center area will be a very big job, including moving tons of mud and debris and eventually figuring out ways to replace washed-out creek crossings. Photo by Sally King/NPS