Roads severed. Walls of rock and mud blocking access. Trails washed out. That is some of the aftermath at Rocky Mountain National Park, where streams and rivers normally feeble at this time of year swelled to spring runoff levels and more after days of rain.
At the height of last week's series of storms, which arrived Wednesday and continued into Sunday, a foot of rain was received in one 24-hour period. By Thursday morning, campgrounds were being closed, rangers were dispatched into the backcountry to check on any travelers there, and communications were spotty at best.
Two women climbers, who headed out to scale Longs Peak before the storms set in in earnest, managed to safely hike down off the mountain Thursday.
Estes Park, Colorado, the eastern gateway to the park, itself became isolated, as Highways 34 and 36 up from Loveland and Lyons down below were overcome by flooding in places and closed to travel indefinitely. Downtown areas were inundated and flooded. The town's 15th annual "Elk Fest," scheduled for the last weekend of the month, was jeopardized by the flooding.
Elkhorn Avenue in the heart of downtown resembled a river at times, while many lodges along the Fall River were flooded. Some bridges from the Fall River Road crossing the river to provide access to lodges were washed over or out.
Within Rocky Mountain National Park, some of the most obvious storm damage was on the northern end of Horseshoe Park near Endovalley. In places the road into Endovalley was washed out and washed over with mud, rocks, and other debris. The road into the Aspenglen Campground also was damaged, and the bridge over the Fall River deemed unsafe for even foot traffic. In Moraine Park, the Big Thompson River ran bankful, as did the Fall River as it surged through Horseshoe Park.
How backcountry areas made it through the storm, particularly those areas burned by the Fern Fire last fall and winter, remained to be seen. With little or no ground cover in the burned areas, erosion could be substantial.
Throughout the storm event the park kept open the Trail Ridge Road, which runs from Estes Park on east side of the park across the Continental Divide to Grand Lake on the western side for essential and emergency traffic. The route allowed Estes Park area residents to return home from the west, and outbound travel west by people who needed to leave Estes Park, including local residents and park visitors who were forced out campgrounds by the storm waters.
When the park, which was closed Thursday, would reopen was not immediately known Sunday.