Life is always interesting and defined only by the attitude you take towards what you find around the next bend. My life has taken a detour I never saw coming but it has afforded me many rewards I would never have garnered without this change of direction. On September 12, 2013 the rains continued to come down as I watched from the front porch of my log home nestled in a shallow valley part way up Storm Mountain. On the news I heard that Hwy 34 in the Big Thompson Canyon had been compromised at mm 74 and then later at mm 82. The canyon was closed. I then saw a video of CR 43 just above the Storm Mountain access bridge posted on facebook. The bridge above was being overtaken by rushing waters from the North Fork of the Big Thompson and it appeared it was only a matter of time before our bridge would suffer the same fate. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AK7QfEbbZOM We were marooned on the mountain.
September 13, Friday the 13th (which is the only reason I can remember these dates), I was awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of water rushing, a river. There is no river up here. Still hearing it when I went out to feed the horses in the morning and determining it was coming from over by the pond not far away I decided to take a walk in the rain. This is what I found, a normally small trickle of water heading to the pond had turned into a six foot wide stream and a three to four foot high waterfall and the pond finding it's way up the road.
|Crack in the road along the buried phone line route.|
|One of many new streams created in the middle of the road.|
At the base of Palisade Mountain we found the fog rolling in below and tried waiting for it to clear but eventually decided to hike to a different location.
From there we were able to view the devastation in the canyon.
|My first view of the canyon. Hwy34 just disappears into the river . . .|
After the first week I realized I had to get off the mountain in order to make a living myself which also meant evacuating my two dogs and two horses. The sound of huge Chinook helicopters landing and taking off became commonplace. I knew I couldn't get my horses and dogs off together so my mission became to find someone to take my two dogs off on a helicopter. I brought them to the landing zone and simply hung out for most of the day 'til Karen, the PIO for the fire department, came up to me and said she had a young couple who had no pets of their own and were willing to take my guys off for me. An almost surreal recollection with the din of the Chinook and the wind from the blades the young man stooping down to take the leash of Kaya said, "My favorite breed of dog, somebody else's" with a broad smile that just exuded confidence and care. I knew they would be alright. My sister later found this video that just happened to be being shot when Kaya and Nakai were evacuated.
Nakai at 29 sec and Kaya at 34 sec. Pretty much the only close ups in the whole clip!
My sister would later pick them up at the Larimer County Humane Shelter. All of this at no charge . . . people helping people, and animals. I was struck by the guidelines for evacuation. You could only take one bag or backpack per person, but you could have unlimited numbers of animals go with you! An example of having your priorities straight! I saw numerous dogs, cats, bunnies etc. and even a cage with chickens in it, load onto the Big Birds! To my knowledge there were very few animals that simply couldn't handle getting into this huge, loud, flying cave that would safely take them off the mountain, a testament to their trusting nature.
Okay, dogs taken care of, now for myself and the horses. Now for those of you who are unfamiliar with my two equines, one is Blue, a blue roan foxtrotter about 15 years old, and Lightfoot, 35 years young with no back teeth and whose senior feed needs to be soaked in water in order for him to be able to eat it. He chews on hay but then spits it out. I call them his "cuds".
Besides his eating considerations he has been a bit wobbly this past year or so, so my concerns about him being able to trail off the mountain were deeply on my mind. Initially the road of choice off the mountain was the Bear Gulch road, of questionable length (I'd heard anywhere from 10 to 15 miles) and nefarious condition (crews eventually abandoned fixing this route for evacuation). With this knowledge I didn't think Lightfoot would be able to make it down . . . my only option was to put him down on the mountain before I left. I resisted this idea (along with many tears) long enough for the Bobcat Ridge road to open up as an option. I decided Lightfoot deserved a chance and this route was only seven and a half miles long. I found several other people who were riding their horses down and John Whiteside whom I had bought my hay from (which by the way was still down in Loveland and dry!) had offered to pick us up at our destination point and trailer us to The Ranch where the boys would stay until I could find a more permanent place for them. I've always been good at compartmentalizing my life and not worrying about things until I have to, reminding me of Scarlett O'Hara in a way as she said "I'll think about that tomorrow". I'm satisfied dealing with one problem at a time. I find worrying about many things at once is simply too daunting and when I feel overwhelmed I shut down. I believe this why it's best we don't see into our future. I'm afraid if I had seen into the next two months I would have felt worn out from the get go instead of energized by overcoming the next obstacle.
My focus then became to prepare for the trip down. I rode Blue and ponied Lightfoot a couple times to assure we didn't have any issues with that and make sure I thought Lightfoot had a good chance of making the trip. I then prepared Blue to carry my saddlebags and bedroll. We're talking about a horse who when I got him a few years before was afraid to have someone walk up to him with a saddle blanket and anything that looked or sounded like plastic was a gigantic boogey man! I was so glad I'd worked with him on these issues and with our relationship. If you're a horse person check out Carolyn Resnick's method of working with horses which she discovered as a child watching and interacting with wild mustangs. Her book "Naked Liberty" is a great read!
Not being perfect, the saddlebags had to be put on empty and loaded while on him, all except the bubble wrapped laptop. He was NOT going to tolerate that! And with no time to work on it the laptop had to stay home. I actually had great fun figuring out how to get my most important things loaded, i.e. my paints, brushes and canvas. Paints and brushes were easy, but how to get my beloved Claussens#13 rolled linen down? Hmmm . . . I took a handsaw and cut my 84" roll at about 24 inches then rolled the remaining canvas, cut in 24" increments, around this, stuffed the center with paints and rolled the whole thing up in my Aussie duster along with a few clothes! Voila! My bedroll. The camera was then safely packed as I've had experience breaking a camera on a trail ride trying to take pics and I didn't need anymore problems. So unfortunately there are no enroute pictures. Every decision was an exercise in priorities. It's a matter of distilling down what is really important and what really isn't.
The morning before departure I was reminded why I live up here, and why I'd be coming back.
The trip only took about three hours (I kept humming the theme song to Gilligan's Island "a three hour tour", but alas, it really was only three hours, well actually about four if you count riding to our starting point :)). Lightfoot did well and only once did I have to request a breather for him.
The boys at Bobcat Ridge. I truly wish I'd taken the time to take more pictures but at the moment that was the least of my concerns. Making sure they were cooled down and trying to find water were my main focus. I knew the fun part was over . . . now for assimilating into our new world :)
John Whiteside of Whiteside Western Wear in Loveland (I'll give him a plug here) came and picked us up and transported the boys to The Ranch and me to one of my new homes, my studio in Loveland. The boys would stay at the Ranch until I could find a more permanent home, I just needed to come feed them twice a day. That was when I got my firsthand view of the devastation that had happened down in the valley!!! Piles and piles of debri and ruined possessions lined the roads that were mostly blocked off. I felt lucky, I had only been inconvenienced. These people by all appearances had lost their homes, or close to it.
Waiting for me was a completely redone studio with bed, toiletries, towels and a new refrigerator courtesy of my studio mate and my generous landlady who agreed to let me stay there!!!! There were clothes and money donated by my students also!!! I had no vehicle to drive so Dave in the neighboring studio took me out to John's to pick up a couple bales of hay and Russ Tanner whom I had contacted while still on the mountain brought over a sack of grain for Lightfoot which he had picked up for me earlier. I never could have made it without such wonderful friends!!
My sister who had retrieved my dogs from the shelter drove up from Arvada to pick me up then loaned me her vehicle to drive back and forth to the Ranch to feed the boys for a few days until another friend loaned me another vehicle for the duration. Like I said, if it weren't for friends/family!!! I ended up staying part time at my sister's and part time at my studio. The horses have moved twice since the Ranch but have ended up at a wonderful place in Wellington with separate stalls and their own 4 acre turnout and are being fed without my having to travel up there twice a day. Completely donated by a stranger who just wanted to help . . .
At their new digs in Wellington
Finally the road was opened to residents and another friend, Vicki from Estes took me home for the first time to retrieve my truck. Unfortunately I didn't get pics of the canyon from Estes to Drake. Very humbling . . . But here are some pics of the Storm Mountain access road. I stayed with Vicki in Estes then when not teaching in Loveland making the three hour trip down to Boulder from Loveland, then up to Estes via 119 to 7 then down to Drake and up Storm Mountain until I could safely stay at home.
The access road looking down. It was two lanes before.
The access road looking toward the Storm Mtn. bridge.
If you look close you can see the road only covers the middle part of it, single file!
Looking up from the bridge.
View towards Drake on the bridge
The bridge above the Storm Mtn. bridge. This is the one in the video. CR 43 to Glen Haven has already been worked on at the time of this photo.
The flooding under my house was about a foot deep. And again, wonderful neighbors manned a sump pump after I evacuated and turned on a fan. It was still a soggy mess (and still is! come to think of it!) when I was able to get back and a lot of my treasures stored under there were lost, but they are just things. Another friend from Estes with husband and another volunteer came down and helped me get out those things I was unable to. It would've taken me a month on Sundays by myself! Respirators were a must! I could tell just being in the house at first was affecting me much less going down below. And yet again I was so thankful for such wonderful friends!!!
The one real tragedy for me was the loss of my dear dog Kaya. As it turned out what I had hoped was arthritis was bone cancer and I was forced to make that painful decision all pet owners dread. My sister had very kindly kept her all this while as Kaya had been unable to get in and out of my truck. She is dearly missed . . .
Only a month before the flood I had adopted a little rescue dog whom I had named Nakai, meaning "one who wanders" in Navajo. Little did either one of us know how appropriate that name would be. He has been my constant companion through all of this . . .