Friday, March 19, 2010

MEMOIRS--Chapter nine--Biggest flood ever seen in that country hits Boulder Creek


Chapter nine

1937 was the year of the big snow that dumped 4 feet on the Hogsback just before LaRae was born. Men working on the Spectacle Lake reservoir on top of the mountain were forced to stop that year before they were done. The dam wasn't quite to the top nor had a spillway been built. That spring the dam leaked some when the thaw came, but again they were unable to complete it before being driven off the mountain by storm. That was the year that the big thaw finally filled the reservoir to overflowing and broke the dam.
A frantic caller on the telephone told us that the reservoir had filled up and the 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 warning 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 those days before most of the water had been diverted by a pipeline and dams were much bigger.
We were used to seeing the bridge swept away from time to time. In fact the main highway bridge into Boulder had just been rebuilt and was expected to last a long time the way it had been engineered.
The cheese factory house had been built on the creek bottom toward the east, where Uncle Reed's family was now living, so Mother and Dad jumped in the car with Margie, and me and Baby LaRae to rush off to see the flood and make sure everybody was safe.
When we got to Boulder the flood had not arrived yet. We all had trouble believing a flood was even on the way. Mother talked to her brother Crae who was staying with his Mother and Dad on their ranch. He met up with several other young men and they even went up the creek aways. Suddenly Mother looked up and saw the flood coming and started screaming at Crae and the others to get out of the creek bed as fast as possible. They were soon running for their lives.
I looked and could finally see it. It looked like a huge brown dragon gobbling up the trees and rolling big boulders with a roar like I had never heard before or since. We ran back up the hill west toward Salt Gulch. Daddy jumped in the car and drove it up the hill aways. Mother and Dad had just been speculating whether the new bridge would go.
When the flood roared by the bridge flew 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 crumble the banks and devour us. Margie was so frightened she jumped up and down and screamed. 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. 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 brought them there. The creek bottom looked so ugly to me now when I thought of how many hours we had played in the creek 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 had been killed even if it might take another fifty to a hundred years for it look like it had before. The town was still determined to complete the Spectacle Lake reservoir so pretty soon men were at work to build the dam back to preserve precious water that was now going down the creek.

The creek bottom did come back enough by the time Crae came back to Boulder two years later, so that he could baptize me there in a pond that had been dammed for the purpose of swimming. He had been active enough in the Mormon Church preparing to go on his mission that he was qualified to do so. 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, thanks to the town which had more or less caused it by a reservoir not quite finished when 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 in canyon country by flash floods. Sometimes we would have to wait a day before we could cross the Escalante river half way between Escalante and Boulder. 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 bring a flood, but still the saddest stories I ever heard were about drivers who had tried to beat the flood and had brought eternal sorrow on families who lost somebody and had to go searching for days to find the body.
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 and drowned his whole family in a flood in his eagerness to get to town and buy a drink.

Connie made Child of Darker Skies which just seemed to fit my story. Top photo of the canyon country carved out of the land by flooding.


Jeanie said...

1937 was certainly a year for the memory banks Gerry. What luck that nobody got killed. I liked your child description of the 'big brown dragon' gobbling up the creek. I can see the undulating large waves and torrents in my minds eye wit that description.
This was a great read!
Thanks for that.
Jeanie xxx

Connie said...

Hence the name 'BOULDER creek'.........

Cheryl said...

This is such a great recounting of the dam breaking and the flood. My house wouldn't survive that kind of flood and I had to hear that from every person in town when we built here. Figure if it happens again, it's meant to be. Hope we have the same warning.


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