Flooding frustrates campers in Zion, delays Red Bull Rampage

Posted at 4:30 PM, Sep 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-28 23:44:19-04

SOUTHERN UTAH -- Campers in and around Zion National Park battled Mother Nature this past weekend as severe rain caused the Virgin River to rise--flooding roads, campsites and events.

"The highest level it got was right about to this rock right here, that brown rock was our reference rock," said Mathew Cloward, of Salt Lake City, as he pointed out how close the Virgin River came to his tent, located at Zion River Resort.

Related story: Man stranded by rising river in Zion National Park found dead the next day

Cloward and friends hunkered down and summoned their inner Boy Scout when it came to protecting their tent.

"What we did was dug a trench around it, put a tarp inside it, and zip tied the tarps so the water wouldn't roll over top of the tarp," Cloward said.

Man-made channels starting springing up everywhere, but campers couldn't dig as fast as the water could rise.

At another camping site by the North Creek, one couple had no choice but to move to higher ground as water came gushing just a few feet from their tent.

"Yeah, we woke up in the morning and we had heard the rain all night long and it was loud and windy, and we thought the tent was going to blow away a couple of times," said Matt Wenske.

While Matt was eager to retreat, his wife was more focused on getting some shut-eye.

Aimee summarized how the evacuation transpired: "Matt kept peeking out and looking at the river and was like, 'It's still rising,' and I was like, 'It's OK, it's OK,' then he would look out a little bit later and, 'It's rising more,' he's getting a little nervous and I was like, 'It's OK. Let's just go to sleep, go to sleep,' and then finally he was like, 'Babe, get up. We are leaving.'"

Some of the campers were participating in the Red Bull Rampage mountain bike event, which had to be delayed a day. Riders simply couldn't make it through the muck.

"When it rains here in the desert it floods and it floods fast," said Todd Getz of Red Bull Rampage. "It's a muddy mess to say the least, it's been quite the adventure getting everyone up the mountain and back down."

Getz has been trekking through Zion for 15 years. He knows unrideable trials when he sees them.

He said: "This is some of the worst rain that I've seen come down, and it comes down so fast. You get an inch, two inches in the desert, what do you do?"

Zion National Park knew what to do. They shut down access to the park for several hours Saturday due to dangerous road conditions. It was a soggy surprise for visitors, many of which traveled many hours to see the mountains.

"We just wanted to get in here, so we didn't know if we should just wait for it to open back up, or if we should just go around, we just wanted to get in," said Julie Case, who drove in from Los Angeles.

By Sunday, all the roads in and around the park were reopened. Red Bull Rampage had also resumed.

Heavy rain fall and flooding led Carbon County officials to declare a state of emergency, and a pair of tourists visiting Garfield County were rescued after a road collapsed and sent their car plunging into a river.