Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 10: The year of the big flood down the Boulder Creek

The spring of 1936 was the year of the big thaw after a winter of heavier snow in Boulder than anybody had seen in a long time. Men working on the Spectacle Lake reservoir on top of the mountain were forced to stop before they could complete the dam as they had expected to do if it had been a normal year. Nor had the spillway been built. The spring of 1937 followed another snowy winter and there were rumors the reservoir was leaking which nobody took too seriously. 
After the snow finally started melting on top of the mountain an excited caller on our telephone told us that the unfinished dam had broken! A huge flood was on its way down the Boulder creek. It would be roaring down the west fork of the Boulder to where the east fork and the west fork joined, so frantic calls were going out to everybody who had ranches along the Boulder creek. Mother and Dad were very concerned because the King ranch bordered the Boulder creek, but the old ranch house had been built on the hill for the very purpose of not being on the creek bottom where floods in the days before most of the water had been diverted by a pipeline and dams were much bigger.
We had been used to seeing the bridges swept away from time to time. In fact the main highway bridge into Boulder had just been rebuilt and because it had been designed by engineers to last, it was claimed with great satisfaction that no flood would take out this bridge.  
The cheese factory house had been built on the creek bottom toward the east, so Mother and Dad jumped in the car with Margie, baby LaRae, and me to rush off to checkout the flood. When we got to Boulder the flood had not arrived yet. The river bottom was so quiet and peaceful we all had trouble believing a flood was really on the way. My Uncle Crae came from the Boulder side meeting up with several other young men and they walked up the creek aways.  
Suddenly Mother looked up and saw the flood coming in the distance and started screaming at Crae and the others to get out of the creek bed fast! They looked up and saw what they said was a giant wall of water bearing down on them and were soon running east as fast as their legs could carry them.
I looked and looked and could finally see it. It looked like a huge writhing dragon gobbling up the trees and rolling big boulders with a roar like I had never heard before or since. We raced back up the hill west toward Salt Gulch. 
The flood roared by us throwing the new bridge up in the air like it was made out of matchsticks. We ran further back up the hill for fear the brown muddy dragon might devour us. Margie was so frightened she jumped up and down and screamed to the top of her lungs. Mother, of course, was ready to slap her out of her hysterics until Daddy stopped her.

I could not believe how the creek bottom looked after the flood had gone roaring by. It was almost completely denuded of all the beautiful trees that had been growing there for years. Big boulders that had never been there before were evidence of the power of the flood waters that had deposited them. The creek bed looked very ugly to me now when I thought of how many hours we had played in the water when it was low, catching tadpoles, covered overhead by a canopy of green we had taken for granted. I felt like crying.
But the adults were all saying well at least nobody has been killed even if it might take another fifty to a hundred years for it look like it did before. 
 The towns people were still determined to build the Spectacle Lake reservoir so pretty soon men went to work to build the dam back to preserve precious water that was flowing down the creek going to waste when it could be stored and used to save somebody's crops when there was a drought.  

The creek bottom came back enough by the time Crae was called on his mission two years later, that he baptized me in a pond that had been dammed for the purpose of swimming. I can remember some green that had revived and a tree or two that had not been uprooted entirely. But nobody was ever going to forget the biggest flood that had ever come down the Boulder creek in anybody's memory, thanks to the town which had more or less caused it by not quite finishing the reservoir before Mother Nature went on a rampage and dumped record snow falls on top of the mountain.

You can never predict Mother Nature. I had been terrorized many times already by flash floods. Sometimes we would have to wait a day before we could cross the Escalante river half way between Escalante and Boulder when it flooded. The bridge in Calf Creek which flowed down a canyon into the Escalante had been washed out many times by flash floods. The natives all knew a rainstorm in canyon country where the water had no place to go would cause a flood, but still the saddest stories I ever heard were about impatient people who tried to beat a flood and  brought eternal sorrow on their families when somebody didn't make it out of the roiling waters.
Canyon country and floods went together, and after the Boulder Creek flood I was especially worried my dad would be one of the impetuous fathers who could not wait to cross an uprising and drowned his whole family in a flood in his eagerness to get to town to buy a bottle.

No comments:

Post a Comment