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True Tales: Caught in a Flash Flood

Rising water sends this reader running--and hiding--in Utah.
Flash flood. (by J Dombrowski)

Survivor: Sarah Owen, 33, Page, Arizona
Predicament: Trapped by rising water and quicksand in Paria Canyon, Utah
Lesson learned: “Gambling with the weather never pays off, even when you think you have great odds.”

Escape Plan: Find High Ground & Stay Afloat in Quicksand

"I could go no higher, so I braced myself in a tiny cave, horrified, as the surge of water approached. The flood changed color in an instant, from gray to burnt orange. The force of the flood increased, and a wave of debris rounded the upstream bend, out-roaring the already deafening downpour. The water rushed by just three feet below my perch; there was nothing I could do if it kept rising.

"Earlier that day, when I discussed my plans for a three-day solo trip down the Paria River toward Lees Ferry with a ranger, the sky was clear. The Paria is rarely more than a trickle, she told me, but monsoon rains had swol- len the river’s flow. It would be passable, but I should expect the water to be higher than normal, and I’d have to be on alert for flood- ing. The forecast called for a 20-percent chance of rain—so I decided to go for it.

"I started in a broad, brushy valley, and the trail let me avoid the knee-deep river and shoreline quicksand for the first four miles. Then the steep sandstone walls converged at the narrows. In the slot ahead, I’d be getting wet. The river spanned the canyon’s width with only occasional sandy beaches.

"Forging ahead, I checked that there was blue overhead. There was, but I could only see a sliver of the sky—I didn’t realize there were ominous clouds above the plateaus nearby. Within 40 minutes, it started raining. I imme- diately scanned the canyon walls for a high ledge and spied a three-foot-high cave that would provide 12 feet of clearance above the river’s current level. By the time I climbed into it, the downpour was torrential and waterfalls spouted off the towering cliffs all around me.

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