By Joanna Bastian
Black Canyon Road south of Methow has a new canyon, compliments of last Tuesday’s rainstorm on Nov. 17.
While the upper valley received over a foot and a half of snow, the lower valley received an equal amount of rain, if not more. One foot of snow generally equates to 1 inch of rain. According to Agweb.com, our region recorded between 3-4 inches of rain in November. A look at waterdata.usgs.gov revealed that on Nov. 14, the Methow River near Pateros was flowing at an average of 400 cubic feet of water per second (cfs). On Nov. 18, the day after the storm, the Methow River was flowing at 900 cfs, double the rate.
Along the boundary of the most recent burn in Black Canyon, flow rates of a small stream rose from single-digit cfs to a raging 350 cfs. More than 10,000 to 15,000 cubic yards of rocks, mud, trees, and other debris was displaced, plugging a culvert four-and-a-half miles up Black Canyon and resulting in a deep washout that resembles a small canyon. The road is currently closed one mile from Highway 153, and will reopen next spring after the road is rebuilt.
According to Cathy Dowd, public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, it is common practice to remove culverts after a fire to keep the road from washing out.
“The public may have the misconception that we’ve closed a road when we remove a culvert, but it is only temporary,” she said. “When culverts are removed, the water and debris are able to flow over the road and not wash it out.”
As this one culvert was not removed, the damaging result will keep the road closed until repairs can be made next spring.
Black Canyon road is used by many recreationists year-round. In the winter, it is a popular snowmobile route with groomed trails leading to spectacular views of Lake Chelan. In the summer, outdoor enthusiasts enjoy the route to Summer Blossom Trail and onward to Angels Staircase and the Golden Lakes. In September, HawkWatch shuttles groups up Black Canyon to Chelan Ridge to watch the annual hawk migration. Due to recent fire events, summer and fall visitors had to find alternate routes, and this winter, Black Canyon will continue to hold her secrets.
A recent drive along the South Fork of Gold Creek revealed minimal damage to the road, but the results of post-fire mud flows and high winds were apparent. Fallen trees, rocks, and erosion, had impacted the area.
The recent rains and the freeze-thaw cycle resulted in hazardous conditions on national forest roads throughout the region in the Entiat, Wenatchee River, Cle Elum, and Methow Valley ranger districts. Before leaving home, people should contact local ranger stations for current road and trail conditions. Plan for alternate exit routes in case your return route becomes inaccessible or blocked.