In the spring of 2005 on a trip over the mountain to Blanding, I was amazed to see a huge chunk of the south slope of Indian Creek swept clean. It was as if a gargantuan vacuum cleaner had simply sucked every single one of the huge old-growth spruce trees that had occupied the entire mountainside and spat them out in an enormous pile at the bottom.
I wrote an article with pictures about the mega avalanche. It appeared in the July 13, 2005 issue of the San Juan Record. I promised myself that some day I was going to hike to the “pile” and witness, first hand, the stunning power of Mother Nature.
That day arrived Saturday, August 21. It was more astonishing than I had imagined. Using a few trillion snowflakes, all working in unison, Mother Nature at some point in the late winter of 2004-05, created the force and the fury to snap 200-year-old spruce trees – some with trunks four to five feet in diameter – like they were toothpicks.
There was not a single tree left standing in the avalanche path from the top of the mountain to the bottom of Indian Creek. I estimate the destruction was a quarter of a mile wide and 2,500 feet high. No partial trunks, no lingering debris. NOTHING! It was as barren as the moon. When the avalanche reached Indian Creek, some of it leaped across the canyon and scattered trees willy nilly hundreds of feet up the other side.
But what mesmerized me was the evidence of the chaos at the bottom of the mountain. I can only estimate, but I would say the log pile is at least 150 feet deep in places. The debris field runs nearly 3,000 feet east up the canyon and piles of smaller logs have been washed west down the creek. Thousands of trees of all sizes, welded together in a mass that would provide all the firewood needed to keep all of San Juan County warm for the next generation. (If there were a way to get to it with a truck.)
Have you ever tried to knock a really big tree down …stump and all… even with modern heavy equipment? If you have, multiply that effort by thousands. Mother Nature did the deed in less than a minute. I sat for a long time surveying the utter devastation and tried to imagine what it would have been like to sit here during the event. It is humbling to see what Mother Nature can do with just snowflakes and gravity.
In the intervening five years, young aspen trees have covered the slide path with a bright green carpet of thousands of tiny new trees.
When I think of the experience now, my thought process includes the old adage… “Don’t mess with Mother Nature”
Great piles of dead trees isn’t exactly my idea of the way to spend a relaxing afternoon with my husband. I guess I basically played the role of “wet blanket”. However, I did enjoy the peace and solitude of the great spruce forest that shades and protects Indian Creek on our hike up to pure unmitigated devastation.
I have to admit that when one gets up close and personal with what went on there for a few seconds five years ago, one cannot help but be humbled by the sheer power and majesty of Mother Nature.
When the big “Lady” gets a bee in her bonnet, we mortals better get out of the way fast.
If you go:
Directions: Drive west from Monticello on the paved mountain road.
Turn left five miles up the mountain where the forest service sign says…Blanding – 32 miles.
Follow that road over the top of the mountain and down into the Indian Creek Valley.
Within a mile or two from the saddle you will be able to see the huge swath of bright green (new aspen) trees in the forest of old-growth spruce trees.
Take a pair of binoculars. The hike down the steep slope from the road, or up the creek from the bottom, is difficult but doable. You cannot get a sense of the size and scope of the avalanche unless you hike down to the debris field.