You Don’t Need to Travel to Exotic Lands to Find Great Adventure!

Our vacation started off great! Everything was going according to our plan. It was 7:45 a.m. on Monday, September 9 when my husband Joe and I hit the road, heading west. Weather was beautiful and as we drove southwest into Iowa and then Nebraska, the temperature continued to rise. Our car thermometer hovered around 100º most of the day. 10 hours later we found a motel in Grand Island, NE. It was still very warm so we took a little walk over to a nearby park and walked around the lake just before sunset.

Tuesday started out very much the same as the day before. We pulled out of the motel parking lot at 7:45 and soon after entered Mountain Time Zone. It’s always nice to gain that hour! By 2 p.m. we arrived at our destination, our daughter Andrea’s home in Fourmile Canyon, west of Boulder, Colorado. Andrea just moved into this house with her boyfriend Aaron 10 days prior to our arrival. The back of our Escape was loaded with things Andrea couldn’t fit into her car for the move.

Back in July, Andrea and Aaron found the mountain home for rent and were very excited when they learned they had been accepted. Soon after we arrived, we unloaded the car and took a tour around the home and yard. The house was originally a mining cabin 150 years ago and looks like it has had several additions over the years. I described it as amazing and weird at the same time. The bathroom is built around the mountain rock. Yes - the rock is part of the wall and part of the bathroom!

The backyard is all mountain with various levels of trails and little areas to sit and relax. It’s definitely not like our backyard. We didn’t get a chance to enjoy the ‘sit and relax’ areas because soon after we arrived it began raining and the temperature was less than 60.

     

         

     

From their home we could hear the water flowing over the rocks in the river across the road. The constant sound of the rushing water was soothing. Little did we know what that flowing water would become just one day later.

When we woke up Wednesday morning it was still drizzling but we decided to head up to Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park for the day. Aaron took us on the curvy, gravel mountain back roads to the park. Fog in the mountains hampered our view but we still had a nice day.

     

Huge bull elk just got done fighting with another elk when we came upon him      Aaron & Andrea at Rocky Mountain Park 

We were back home by mid-afternoon with a couple hours to relax before heading off to my cousin Sue’s home in Westminster, a Denver suburb. Again our relaxing had to be done indoors because it was still raining. The rain gauge showed 2” from the last 24 hours when we left for Sue and Dan’s house at 5:30 p.m.

Our son Brad lives in Denver so he also joined us for supper. We had a nice evening while the light rain continued outside. As we drove back to Boulder, it continued to rain and we had a slight storm. The lightning and thunder were nothing compared to some of the severe storms we see in Wisconsin so we weren’t concerned.

It was about 10:30 when we turned onto Fourmile Canyon, a typical mountain road, somewhat narrow and curvy. We had about 4 miles to get home when we saw a car stopped in the road. It was stuck in a mudslide! Aaron turned the car around and stopped. Joe and Aaron got out to check on the people in the stuck vehicle. By this time the light drizzle had turned to heavy rain so they were soaked by the time they got back to our car. We later learned Boulder was getting much more rain than Denver all evening. We knew we needed to find a motel for the night but had no idea what a challenge that would be. Streets were quickly flooding in the city of Boulder. I was quite nervous in the backseat, sure the car would be overcome by the deep water in the streets but Aaron did a great job navigating through it all. Several U-turns later, we found a motel. What a crazy night!

I think we all expected we could get back up the mountain the next morning but instead we woke to news of closures and evacuations. Fourmile Canyon was one of the first evacuated areas the night before. Had we been home, we may have had time to gather a few things and drive our cars out when local volunteer firefighters came knocking on our door. Days later when we heard frightening stories of neighbors who were home, I’m glad we weren’t there.

Back to the plan I mentioned earlier. The second part of our vacation took a long time to coordinate. It would take us from Denver to Portland to visit our daughter Leah who lives about 90 miles NE of Portland in Washington. Leah works at Wet Planet, Whitewater Rafting and Kayaking. That meant flights for Joe and I, Andrea and Aaron, and Brad from Denver and Tony from Milwaukee. It also meant time off work for all 7 of us. It took weeks, but somehow we managed to pull it off. We would have 3 full days in Washington/Oregon, with the focus on rafting at Wet Planet.

Thursday morning we drove out to Fourmile Canyon Road to see if there was any chance we could get home. No way! What were we to do? We had a flight to Portland that evening and the clothes we wore the night before. That was it. Our car, luggage and clothes were all at the mountain house. My cell phone was even up there because it refused to take a charge the day before and was of no use to me so I left it home.

A trip to Target for clothes and essential items was all we could do. We spent a lot of money on things we really didn’t need but luckily we could still find summer clothes and it was all discounted!

Andrea and Aaron had decided to stay behind because of the uncertainty with their home but later realized it would be days before they would be allowed up the mountain. Whew – For a while, I thought the 2nd part of the trip would be messed up too.

As the rain and drizzle continued, we stopped at Aaron’s office at University of Colorado so he could check email and pickup his laptop. CU was closed because of the flooding. Reports were that most buildings on campus had at least some damage.

As sirens blared, warning again of more flooding, we knew it was time to get out of Boulder while the getting was good. Off to Denver International Airport where we soon met up with Brad. We had plenty of time as our flight was scheduled for about 8pm and it was delayed. We later met up with Tony who had a connecting flight in Denver.

All seemed to be going along much better now until Joe turned on his phone when we landed in Portland after 10pm. Tony sent a text saying he had been bumped from his flight and would spend the night at DIA. After all we had been through that day I think this was the worst news yet. We were scheduled to go rafting early the next morning. Our whole family had not been together for nearly 5 years so this was a big deal for me. Should we go without Tony? No – the main reason for our trip was rafting at Wet Planet – all of us together. We knew rescheduling really messes up the guides’ schedules but Leah was able to get us in Saturday morning and Wet Planet and the guides were very understanding. I was very impressed with the whole Wet Planet experience and would recommend them to anyone. Something I can NOT say about Frontier Airlines!

Fortunately Tony was able to get on a morning flight so we waited for him at our motel in Portland. He landed about 10:00 and we were off to meet Leah. Multnomah Falls and a very long, gorgeous hike at Eagle Creek were our afternoon adventures. We watched kite boarders on the Columbia River at sunset before heading off to Leah’s home after dark.

     

   

      

Kiteboarders on Columbia River - Washington is in the background

Leah lives right on the White Salmon River which is also where the rafting takes place. Saturday we had the most gorgeous, warm weather for rafting and the sun shining on the river warmed us even more. The water is cold (about 40º) even near the end of the season so Wet Planet provides wet suites and all the gear needed for the trip. After instructions, we suited up and off we went. Our guides Toby and Andy were very skilled, knowledgeable and funny. About halfway down the river we had the opportunity to jump off a cliff into the river. I had every intention of giving it a try but I chickened out at the edge of the cliff. I did however go down the 12 foot waterfall with the rest of our group. I won’t mention that I would surely have fallen out of the boat had Toby not grabbed my vest and pulled me back in. Tony wasn’t quite so lucky. He took a tumble earlier in the trip. Unfortunately for him, his guide Andy was more concerned with smiling for the camera than saving Tony! Interesting how the falling out occurs right where the photographer is waiting for us!

12 foot waterfall

Man overboard!

The trip takes about 4 hours so we didn’t plan much else for the day. We had lunch at Wet Planet, bought t-shirts, checked out our photos from the trip and just hung out a while.

Leah, Aaron, Andrea, Me, Joe, Brad, Tony

We still had time left in the day so Mt. Hood was our late afternoon/evening destination. It is a beautiful drive to Timberline Lodge.

Timberline Lodge            Timblerline Lodge

We checked out the historic resort and then they all wanted to hike the path up Mt. Hood but I knew I wouldn’t do so well at that elevation so I wandered around the resort while they were adventuring.

Tony and Brad adventured higher up than the others and had a great view of the sunset. It was a perfect end to a perfect day!

Brad on Mt Hood Tony on Mt Hood Sunset on Mt Hood

On Sunday, our last day with Leah, we found a place to watch salmon jumping up a waterfall, enjoyed more gorgeous views of the Columbia River Gorge from the Washington side, and went to a local brewery. It was a nice, relaxing day.

       

By Sunday evening it was quite clear we would not be able to get up Fourmile Canyon to get our car, etc. if we returned to Boulder, so I bought airline tickets for Joe and I to fly directly back to Milwaukee. We were able to get on the flight with Tony so he could take us home from the airport. The original plan was to fly to Denver, stay with Andrea overnight and drive home the following day. But reports and video we were seeing of Fourmile Canyon did not look good. We saw video of destroyed homes and cars and couldn’t imagine how ours would be any different. We were expecting to go home and begin the search for a new car.

Sept. 18 -- One week after the torrential rains (some areas around Boulder got 15” -18”), flooding and mudslides, Andrea and Aaron were finally able to get back to their home. They had to take an alternate route because much of Fourmile Canyon Road was destroyed. They also had to walk the last ½ mile to get to their house due to water rushing through the road. The local, state, and federal workers had done an amazing job with backhoes and pay-loaders to divert water and level ground to make roads passable in most areas. However there was still water raging over one stretch of road near their house.

Much to our amazement, our cars and their house were just as we left them. How could this be when homes on either side were heavily damaged or destroyed? How could it be that the water raged down the road right in front of our cars, depositing stones and gravel, yet was somehow diverted away from our property?

Andrea with our car

Andrea and Aaron took backpacks with them so they could carry out the most important things like electronics. With backpacks loaded they had to cross over the water on a plank someone had put down to make it possible for area residents to get over the raging water. Andrea was hesitant to cross. A worker with a pay-loader saw her apprehension, drove over, put down his loader, she climbed in and he set her on the other side. Cool story!

Dan crossing on plank where Andrea had to cross.
It doesn’t look bad here but 2 weeks earlier water was wider, deeper, and raging.

By Saturday (Sept. 21) Brad drove up with them and helped carry more things out and by the following Tuesday, Brad was able to drive our car out because the water was now much lower and less raging.

Area of road with water raging over rocks making it impossible to drive through with cars.
Our SUVs and truck were able to make it after it had gone down considerably.

It was time for me to find flights for Joe and I to go back to bring our car home.

Andrea and Aaron stayed the whole week at Sue and Dan’s home while they were on a vacation trip with their family. We flew out Friday evening (Sept. 27) arriving at Denver about 8:30. It has been so great to have family in the area as we also stayed with Sue and Dan.

Andrea and Aaron found another place to rent and could move some of their things in on Saturday so we decided we’d go up to their house, pack as much as we could and load up our vehicles. Brad would meet us up there with his SUV, Dan & Sue brought their truck, Andrea’s Escape was still up at the house and we had our Escape. We could load up a lot of stuff!

I suppose we couldn’t finish out this adventure without a little more drama so it was only fitting that we got a flat tire on our Escape as we drove through Boulder. We pulled into a gas station thinking we were going to add a little air, only to find the tire was totally flat! We were so lucky it happened before we got to the curvy, narrow mountain roads. Joe took off the tire, threw it in Dan’s truck and the guys took off for the nearest tire repair shop. 90 minutes later we were on our way, thankful for our new, reliable tire.

2½ weeks after the flooding, most of Fourmile Canyon Road was still closed so we took the alternate route. Even those roads were badly damaged in many areas, with one lane destroyed in a few spots. When we arrived at the mountain house, Andrea and Aaron began packing boxes while Brad took us for a walk up the road to see some of the neighboring damage. We again were shaking our heads, wondering how we got so lucky with no damage while neighbors had so much devastation. We would have walked further up the road but so many people were out working on their properties and trying to salvage things. We didn’t want to be in their way.

It was a beautiful day so we took our lunch up to the ‘terrace’ in the backyard. We finally got to appreciate one of those ‘sit and relax’ areas. It was gorgeous and we were all disappointed Andrea and Aaron would not be able to stay in the house but even if the road had been repaired, there was no running water in the house at this time. The aquifer that supplies their home was damaged in the storm.

  

‘Sit and relax area’ – high as the electric wires!

When we had vehicles packed, Joe, Brad and I walked up the road and stopped to talk to a neighbor. Steve explained how the house across the road (same side as Andrea’s house) had its basement filled with 8 feet of mud. The husband had just come up from the basement before the mudslide! He, his wife and baby couldn’t get out of the house because the frame had shifted and doors and windows wouldn’t open. They broke out the window and got up the mountain where they were later rescued by helicopters. Remember what I said earlier about being glad we weren’t home that evening? We wouldn’t have known what to expect or how bad it could get. Even the folks who lived in the mountains for years have never seen that much rain so how would they even know what to expect?

In front of Steve’s house we could see how the river overflowed its boundaries and raged down the road, taking most of the road with it and depositing a lot of debris. Steve could get to his home but he certainly couldn’t drive in his driveway. The road is now at least 6 feet below his driveway.

Neighbor Steve’s Driveway – taken from the road below

When Andrea and Aaron first got up to their house, the road immediately up the mountain from their home was a complete mess. The big house on the right in the photo below was hit by a mudslide, filling the basement with 8 feet of mud and rocks. Andrea's home is just off the photo, lower-right.

  

By the time we arrived, the road was cleared and shoved into piles along the road.

  

Debris ripped up and pushed down the canyon by raging water had to be removed from the road and pushed onto piles.

Prior to the storm, the road across from Andrea’s house was lined with trees and plants along the river. A little bridge connected to their property on the other side of the river. All that vegetation and the bridge was now gone.

  

Before

  

After

By late afternoon it was time to head back to Boulder to unload vehicles. Actually their new home is in Louisville, a suburb of Boulder. A very nice area with no mountain driving!

Andrea and Aaron picked up pizza for supper which we enjoyed while watching the Badger game. It would have been enjoyed more if the Badgers had won the game. We said our good-byes before bed because Joe and I wanted to be on the road bright and early the next morning. We had to get home to soybeans waiting to be combined.

Sunday was a long day on the road but we knew we could be home by noon on Monday if we put on extra miles on Sunday. On Monday, Sept. 30, our car was back on Wisconsin roads, exactly 3 weeks after leaving the state. I wish it could talk. It was right there in the middle of it all and I think it could have some amazing stories to tell.

Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to all the families devastated by the flooding all over Colorado. So many communities continue to clean up and get their lives back on track. And our thanks go out to the Fourmile Canyon Volunteer Fire Department. Those guys were there knocking on doors that Wed. night and were there for their neighbors even when their own homes were heavily damaged. I noticed they have an area on their website to accept donations. I'm sure it would go to good use as you can see below their fire house was also damaged.

More photos of nearby devastation

Written by Laura on November 10, 2013

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