An Article from Aaron's Article ArchiveFlood!
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Wednesday, 12 January 2005 9:14 PM MST
I've always had something of a morbid fascination with natural disasters, something of a lingering desire to see a tornado up close (but not too close). The power of nature's fury has a raw sort of beauty that leaves me in awe.
Juxtaposed against that beauty is compassion for those who lose property, or far, far worse, friends or family to the destruction. In this flood, one person has lost his life, and it looks like many others have or will lose their homes and many of their possessions. Such loss is terrible, and painful. The suffering overshadows and overwhelms any beauty natures fury might possess.
And so as I watched the local television news coverage of the flood, I could understand the woman, who while crying, expressed shock and abhorrence that a teenage onlooker who watched someone's home plunge into the raging torrent of the Santa Clara River said, "Cool!" Likewise I understood the teenager.
Yesterday (Tuesday, 11 January, 2005), my friend Jason and I, like the many other curious onlookers, went to see the flood. We drove from place to place, avoiding those areas where our presense would clog traffic and interfere with emergency workers, listening to live news updates on the radio, stopping wherever we got a good view of the astounding torrents of water innundating the desert drainages.
One person I spoke with commented that there was more water flowing in the Santa Clara River (which is, during the summer, normally just a trickle, barely as much water flowing as a firehose could deliver, and sometimes completely dry) than in the mighty Colorado River when the Colorado flow is at high levels (but not flood levels, of course), and that the Virgin River had half-again as much water flowing in it.
The two rivers converge at the base of Webb Hill in the southernmost part of St. George's central valley. Jason and I found an excellent vantage point in a new subdivision on Webb Hill to overlook the confluence of the two rivers, and watch the combined flow rage through the cut in the hills where the river passes out of St. George's central valley into the Bloomington valley, the same cut where Interstate 15 crosses the river. It was an amazing thing to see.
(Click here for a larger image of the confluence of the two rivers. The Santa Clara River flows into the picture from the left, and the Virgin River from the right. The Dixie Center is the large building closest to the flood, the southeastern corner of the parking lot submerged by the Virgin River. The St. George LDS Temple is the white building in the upper center of the photo.)
We gazed down on the churning, muddy waters below, and pointed out to one another the St. George trail system visible below, and the footbridge over the river where in the summer of 2003, Jason and I had gone cache hunting, snapping a few photos of the Virgin River below I-15, which at that time was only inches deep. What a contrast to the raging river below us now.
(Click here for a larger image of the bridges over the Virgin River.)
That summer, less that 16 months earlier, the Santa Clara River was a tiny trickle. The Virgin River, beneath the I-15 bridge, below the footbridge on which we stood, was perhaps twenty feet wide and 12 inches deep. What a sharp contrast. The river now threatened to sweep away that same footbridge on which we'd stood, and the tamarisk bushes that had clogged the floodplain had disappeared beneath the roiling waters, possibly torn from their roots and swept away.
After we left our vantage point on Webb Hill, we drove southward to Bloomington, to the Wal-Mart parking lot, the northwestern corner, which bordered the river. There we watched a blue ice chest float by, as well as other unidentifiable debris.
South of Bloomington is the "active adult community" (I think that's code for "retired people only") of Sun River. There we wound our way through the homes until we spotted a little green park, where others had parked their vehicles and walked over to a railing. Several people stood at the railing, gazing, one gentleman with binoculars, at some sight or another. We parked, and walked over to join them.
Once at the railing, we too could see what was so fascinating. A few dozen feet below us was a part of the Sun River Golf Course, built in part on the floodplain of the Virgin River. It was nearly completely covered with muddy water, the chilly wind rippling the water's surface. To either side, both northward (upstream) and southward (downstream) muddy waves surged over the greenery to lap at the base of the hills on which the homes were built overlooking the course.
(Click here for a larger image of the flooded Sun River Golf Course.)
After a brief interlude to grab a bite to eat, we headed northward on Interstate 15, heading back into the central valley of St. George. We noticed a minivan stopped on the freeway shoulder near the bridge, the driver most likely illegally parked there to to take a look at the flood. Not a good idea. We drove on past and over the bridge over the Virgin River, then over the bridge over the Santa Clara River.
As we crossed the Santa Clara River, I glanced out the window to my right, westward, and noticed a towering steel utility pole that stood on the bank of the Santa Clara. In that brief glance, I noticed that the river had washed away a considerable amount of earth from around the base of that pole.
That prompted me to take the exit right in front of us. We exited the freeway, turned right, then right again, and drove south toward the Dixie Center and the Confluence Park where that power pole stood. The power lines that connected to that pole paralelled the road, overhead. As we approached the park, we could see that the entire park was empty, save a single car, and yellow plastic "caution" tape was strung across the road and parking lot to bar access. We parked instead at the Dixie Center, then walked toward the car.
A law enforcement officer emerged from the car and met us at the yellow tape. We chatted a bit, and I told him what I'd seen of the base of that power pole. I asked him about it. He politely told me that the City of St. George utility people were checking up on that pole regularly to monitor it's status.
As we chatted, brown water started bubbling up from a manhole cover near his car, a pool forming on the pavement rather quickly. The flood waters must have infiltrated the drainage system.
We returned to the Dixie Center parking lot, where I called into the local AM news radio station and told them what I'd seen of the power pole and what the officer had told me, that the St. George power folks were keeping an eye on it. I figured if I'd noticed the erosion around the base of the pole, others likely had too.
The southestern corner of the Dixie Center parking lot is the lowest part of the parking lot, and the Virgin River flood waters had encroached upon it and covered it. We drove over, and snapped a few pictures. In the flooded field beside the parking lot, the water was placid, and reflected the stormy sky. It was peaceful, and beautiful.
(Click here for a larger image of the flooded field adjacent to the east of the Dixie Center.)
Our flood-watching drive was finished, and the winter sun would soon be setting. I dropped Jason off at his home, and then wound my way through the evening commute traffic towards home.
As I drove over Foremaster Ridge, the sun peeked out from beneath the clouds on the western horizon. The sky was illuminated in a dazzling spectrum of color. I had to immediately pull over and admire the scene. The sunlight slipping underneath the clouds spotlighted the snowcovered slopes of Pine Valley Mountain north of St. George, and the red sandstone foothills. It was stunning. I wished for a better camera with a telephoto lense and a tripod, as well as a good helping of additional knowledge, skill, and talent, so I could capture the scene. Even without such, using just a consumer point-and-shoot digital camera, held by unsteady hands, the blurry snapshot still managed to capture a little bit of the beautiful panorama of light and color.
(Click here for a larger image of Pine Valley Mountain illuminated by the setting sun peeking out beneath the clouds.)
I enjoyed our drive, and the beauty of this storm. My heart also aches for those many families who have lost their homes and possessions. I hope they find comfort.
I am also grateful to the many people who stepped forward and volunteered their time and energy to help some of those so affected remove some of their possessions out of their homes before the raging Santa Clara river tore away the foundations of their homes. Likewise I am grateful to those who helped fill and place sand bags to help alleviate flooding in other areas. I suppose I should have, instead of sight-seeing, pitched in and helped myself. I feel like a bit of a hypocrite, probably rightly so.
For more images from the flood, check out Cassidy Larson's two photo alums: