Major flash flood Sept. 14, 2013 at Bandelier. Courtesy/NPS
Although it has been a rainy summer so far, there haven’t yet been any large flash floods in Bandelier National Monument, either in Frijoles Canyon near the Visitor Center, or in the other canyons in the park.
However, floods are certainly possible, and the park has announced that the annual closure of all canyon bottom camping zones July 1 through Sept. 15 is in effect. Hikers are still welcome to go out on the trails, and backpackers can get Wilderness permits to camp in zones on mesa tops. Juniper Campground also is open.
At the same time, Bandelier staff are reminding hikers and others who enjoy the outdoors to take precautions to avoid flash floods during the rainy season. Since the Las Conchas Fire burned through the watersheds of canyons all across the plateau, heavy monsoon rains can cause flash floods in any of the canyons, just depending on where storms are heavy. These can be exciting events to watch, or deadly dangerous to be caught in, depending on how hikers prepare and respond.
Before going out for a day or overnight hike, hikers should check in on on weather forecasts, and then keep an eye on the sky and the horizons throughout the day. If a device that can pick up radar maps is available, keep an eye on storm tracks during the hike. Try to plan to be out of canyons during the afternoon, when storms commonly occur, or to have a route available for exit if a storm is approaching.
When traveling in a canyon bottom, where views of distant weather are limited, a storm miles up the canyon could put hikers in danger. Watch for signs that a flood is approaching, such as increasing stream flow, the water suddenly carrying more sediment, or the sound of rushing water. Quickly find a place to go uphill out of range of rising water. Once in a safe place, stay put and wait until the flood is really over.
If an attempt is made to cross too soon, boulders and logs being carried in the floodwaters can cause injuries or knock even a large person into the flow; branches can entangle feet and legs; and rushing water little more than ankle deep can carry a person away. Also, be careful not to take shelter in a side canyon that could carry its own flood.
Of course floods are only one of the things in summer that require precautions. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, wear a hat and sunscreen, beware of poison ivy, keep an eye on hiking companions for ticks, take lightning seriously, beware of falling trees especially in burned areas, and be sure that someone knows the party’s plans.
As Bandelier Superintendent Jason Lott said, “Bandelier and the surrounding areas are beautiful, with trails as short or long as anyone could want. With a little care and preparation, hikers of all ages and abilities can enjoy the trails and canyons all summer long, and we hope they will.”
For more information on Bandelier National Monument, check the park website at www.nps.gov/band
; follow the Facebook page at BandelierNPS, or call the park Visitor Center at 505.672.3861 x 517.