When my alarm sounds long before dawn to wake me for a morning in the field, I’m tempted to hit snooze or shut the alarm off. There is a little voice in the back of my head however, that pushes me out of bed and gets me moving. Part of that voice is telling me not to take for granted the opportunity before me. It reminds me that nobody promises you tomorrow.
When out photographing and hiking it’s always there in the back of my mind. It’s the big ‘what if’. What if a major forest fire destroyed large areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, or Chautauqua in Boulder?. What if a microburst sends 4 inches of rain down one of these mountain canyons?. What if these public lands were no longer public or accessible?
Over the last few years we’ve had a little of all of these things happen periodically. Threats to shut down park operations through sequestration and budget shortfalls, The Fern Lake fire in Rocky Mountain National Park, and then the disaster of this past week cemented my worst fears.
Beginning on September 8th, rain started falling over Boulder, Estes Park and the foothill communities of the northern Front Range. It rained and rained and over the course of the next few days it became apparent that this was going to be more than just a wet week. Over the course of the week Boulder received over 16 inches of rain, blowing away the previous record of just under 8 inches. Communities in the foothills received over 20 inches of rain in this same timeframe.
The amount of rain falling on the mountains over the course of the week was nothing short of biblical. The water streamed down mountainsides and funneled into the nearest stream, creeks and rivers which quickly became raging torrents sweeping downhill obliterating everything in it’s path.
The amount of destruction caused by the flood is staggering. Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed by the flooding. The roads in the foothills are in total disarray. Many canyon roads are washed out for miles and miles. This has nearly isolated communities such as Estes Park from the outside world and has made travel to these areas impossible except for residents and essential services.
Currently there are no timelines regarding repairs to roads and highways. Engineers have yet to survey the damages but its a safe bet it will be years until Boulder, Estes Park and the foothill communities are returned to pre-flood condition.
My photography will take a back seat for awhile as things sort themselves out and a clearer picture of the devastation unfolds. There is lots of help required here in Boulder and until the road situations improve, Open Space proprieties reopen along with Rocky Mountain National Park, there are few options available for photography.
Towns such as Estes Park are faced with a difficult predicament. Access is limited, and the town needs time to cleanup, reopen and cope with the loss in the community. At the same time Estes Park business depend heavily on seasonal tourist travel with the month of September being one of the towns busiest. People visit Estes Park from all around the country this time of year to view the fall colors and watch the Elk rut. It appears that much of that business will be lost for the season, leaving many business owners to fend for themselves over the slower winter and spring months.
When access to towns like Estes Park improves all of us who love visiting the town and Rocky Mountain National Park need to do our best to help the local business out. We need to show support by visiting the town, spending money and letting people know Estes Park is open for business.
Down the road, the damages will be repaired, towns will reopen for business and visitors and homeowners will return to their normal routines. Nobody will forget the flood of 2013, but Colorado has a long history of hardy inhabitants who weather the forces of nature, brush the dust off and climb right back on their horse and move forward. I expect things will be no different this time.