The boys have been working so hard on their Young Author books for school, and I couldn’t have been prouder when they told me they wanted to write about two of my favorite camping stories. Young minds are so impressionable, and it means the world to me that the experiences we have are what they choose to write about and share with their classrooms. It will be so fun to look back on these treasures years from now. Since it’s a rainy spring morning, we will start with Gavin’s story about the flash flood, one of the craziest experiences of all time for the Hoff family.
It was the 4th of July 2015, and we were camping at Hyde Memorial State Park in Santa Fe with some of our favorite travel buddies, the Davids. We were meeting their son Luke for the first time, and they were busy adapting to their first camping trip with a baby.
As we drove further away from Santa Fe, we noticed storm clouds in the distance, but were thankful we were in the clear so far.
We arrived at the Bandelier National Monument Visitor Center and learned that we would need to take a bus back to the other visitor center inside the park and walk to the cliff dwellings. More national parks are moving towards no cars in the parks, and offer free shuttle buses to see the sites. We packed up everything we would need for the day in our backpacks and jumped on the next shuttle. Upon arriving at the next visitor center, we heard thunder in the distance, and crossed our fingers we could make it out to the dwellings and back before getting drenched.
Chasing our 5 kiddos from dwelling to dwelling separated us from the Davids, so we doubled back to check on them.
Luke was due to eat, so we decided they would head back to the visitor center from Long House and wait for us while we hiked out further to explore Alcove House. We zigzagged across a small creek several times before arriving at the massive dwelling. Alcove House is accessible only by climbing 140 feet of ladders, a harrowing experience for sure!
Cliff dwellings are so impressive – the kids loved exploring the ancient home.
We were almost afraid to go back down the ladders, but we finally took the plunge and started heading down.
After going down two of the ladders, we stopped to look down before the last stretch. Suddenly, we heard a load roar like we have never heard before. In awe, we saw a giant wall of muddy water going to what used to be a small stream.
(Unfortunately, we were in total awe and unable to capture the giant wave on camera).
We yelled, “Flash Flood!” to the people crossing the creek below, only to see they were oblivious to the water racing towards them. We watched as they began to scramble up the hill, and the water continued to rise higher and higher. So thankful for our perch above the flood, we watched as the wall continued to wash away every bridge and hope of returning to the visitor center.
The water continued to rise. What once was a creek was now a raging river.
We were stunned that this actually happened. Fascinated by flash floods and unable to imagine what one looked like, we had heard lots about them, and have abandoned several hikes in the past, in fear of potential rain above. You see, what we were in was certainly not a slot canyon, and barely qualified as a canyon if at all. The side the dwelling was on was steep, but the other side of the creek was a slow rising hill. We thought, “How could this happen? It wasn’t even raining.” But it was certainly raining somewhere, as the signs had indicated earlier…
After watching the river’s water level for awhile, we were finally convinced it was no longer rising. We continued down the last ladder and watched, as several other stranded hikers crossed a giant tree that was lodged over the raging river.
With 5 children in tow, we knew this was not an option for us. Too dangerous. Close to lunchtime and with nowhere to go, we sat down to eat lunch. Thankfully, we had packed plenty of water, snacks, and rain gear in case it started to downpour. Others stranded with us made decisions about whether to cross the tree, or wait for the water to recede. One old couple chose to continue further out on a trail that led to some sort of campground, in hopes it connected with the road. Somewhere, a ranger spoke over some sort of speaker not to attempt to cross the river. In the distance, we thought we heard him say they would attempt a rescue when it was safe. We waited, and waited. The kids played on the downed trees, and expressed their concern about getting back to the visitor center.
Hours went by. Surely, the Davids would be worried. With no cell reception, we had no way to contact them.
Chuck started carrying downed trees and collecting them near the widest part of the river, in hopes of building our own bridge.
During this process, the ranger arrived via the ‘dangerous’ tree. After telling him about the old couple who had hiked further down the trail, he raced after them. The campground they were attempting to get to was only a backcountry site miles and miles away, certainly not near any road. After waiting nearly another hour for him to bring them back, the river had finally receded enough to construct our bridge. The ranger and Chuck threw the trees across the smaller sections of creek. At last, we had a way out.
After helping the kids across, we discussed how we would get back. The many crossings would pose a problem, so we decided to hike up the hilly side and bushwhack back to the visitor center with no trail.
At last, we made it! No surprise, the Davids were nowhere in sight, so we waited for the next shuttle so we could get back to our car and cell reception. After arriving, we called and left them a message, and within minutes, they returned to us. We shared our story and headed back to our campsite near Santa Fe, thankful to have experienced a flash flood from the safety of an ancient cliff dwelling. We couldn’t have planned it better. The kids spent several weeks after recreating flash floods in our campsites. This experience will be engrained in our memories forever!