Rains strand hikers, close trail to Delicate Arch

Published October 11, 2006 1:57 am
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MOAB - Heavy rains last weekend stranded hikers in Arches National Park and forced officials to close the trail to Delicate Arch - Utah's most famous redrock icon.

The main road leading to the arch itself and its viewpoint have been closed to visitors because of flooding and road damage, park officials said Tuesday. It may not reopen for up to two days.

The trail to Delicate Arch is impassible because floodwaters from Salt Wash have created a 50- to 60-foot wide channel, blocking pedestrian access near the trail head, said Diane Allen, the park's chief of interpretation.

"The creek has actually formed a new channel," Allen said. "The road beyond Wolfe Ranch and toward the viewpoint is covered with water. It's a pretty amazing thing, what Mother Nature did."

The channel has washed out soil from beneath a footbridge near Wolfe Ranch at the trail head, and park crews are in the process of creating an alternative route that will bypass the bridge, eventually connecting to the main Delicate Arch trail, Allen said Tuesday.

On Friday evening, park employees and Grand County Search and Rescue volunteers ferried 20 adults and four children to safety after raging waters in Salt Wash blocked their return from Delicate Arch. No serious injuries were reported.

Rescue workers used a track-hoe to test the stability of the roadbed. After finding it stable, workers ferried the stranded visitors to safety using a large diesel truck that could safely cross the 4 feet of rushing water, Allen said.

The main road leading to Delicate Arch and a nearby viewpoint also remain under water after a normally dry wash overflowed its banks, covering the road in more than 3 feet of water this weekend and again on Monday.

Crews expected to reopen it on Monday, but additional rains forced the closure to remain in effect, said park superintendent Laura Joss.

"We are hoping to get all the Delicate Arch roadways and the rerouted trail head open within a day or two," Joss said late Tuesday. "Right now, there's still water standing on the road, and we're uncertain about the condition of the roadbed. So we're taking every precaution to protect the visitors."

The flooding occurred during one of the park's busiest fall weekends, but Joss said most visitors have been "very patient and understanding." She said many have chosen to hike in the Devil's Garden section of the park as an alternative to Delicate Arch.

While the park's main road is paved and passable, all the gravel and dirt roads within the park boundaries are impassible, including Salt Valley Road and the Willow Springs Road through Courthouse Wash, Joss said.

Rainfall in Moab on Friday reached 1.63 inches, breaking a 105-year record, according to information provided by Ron Pierce, a volunteer weather observer in Moab.

Between Friday and Monday, Moab was hit with 2.7 inches of rain. The month of October typically averages 1.02 inches of precipitation.


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