ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK - Today, Alluvial Fan may be a name visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park simply pass over as they search for the popular hiking trails that await in other areas.
This spot though, on the northern side of the park just a couple miles in from the Fall River or Beaver Meadows entrances, offers a view into the natural power this place can unleash in a matter of minutes.
Alluvial Fan is not just a place, it's a term. It's what happens when thousands of tons of debris are carried by a massive flood, then spread out ('fanned') across a wide area.
Alluvial Fan was created at 5:30 a.m. on July 15th, 1982.
Decades before and high above Horseshoe Park, a dam was built at Lawn Lake.
When that dam failed, 29 million gallons of water were sent rushing into the valley below: a wall of water that would flood Estes Park six feet deep.
Two campers were the first to hear the disaster.
By the time they could see it, one managed to climb to safety. The other was swept away.
More people would probably have died if not for a trash collector who heard the noise and alerted park rangers.
About two hours after the dam break, the water reached Aspenglen campground. Some were able to evacuate in time, two people were not so fortunate. Less than an hour later at 8:30 that morning, Estes Park was underwater.
What remains today at Alluvial Fan are giant boulders carried down by that flood. Sand and other debris is spread out in all directions.
A strong river of water flowing from above is still swift, yet a trickle compared to its momentary force back in 1982.
Visitors are able to walk along these rocks from a pair of different parking lots right off the road. If you don't see parking at the east lot, make a short trip to the west lot which is larger and will also give your first look at Alluvial Fan.
I would suggest parking at the west lot and exploring before making a quick stop on the east side.
From there you'll get a good look from all sides at a place that looks like it's been there forever, yet was created in a single day.
It's a very short walk to the water from the west lot.
One spot to watch for that the park has left undisturbed is near the west parking lot, but you'll have to look low to see it.
A sign pointing to the lot that stood several feet tall just a few years ago is now nearly covered by rocks and debris.
Alluvial Fan roared to life again in September of 2013. The floods that hit counties along the front range once again brought tons of debris racing down the canyon and into the valley below.
Many people like to climb the nearby rocks to get a better look at where all that water is coming from. You can also find several paths deeper into the canyon.
Be aware of how slippery the rocks can be close to the falls and also how slippery loose gravel can be even away from the falls.
Lawn Lake sits miles above this location. The allure of the rushing water led some on the weekend I visited to climb into areas they could not escape without the help of search and rescue teams.
Know your surroundings, know your capabilities, and know that a very short walk will give you a very good look without endangering yourself or others.
Nature is constantly at work in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Sometimes it happens over centuries, in other cases the pace is measured in mere minutes or hours.
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