This is a post about a mystical place—one with all the workings of a fairytale: a meteor crashing to Earth, the quest for its remains, a 20-year dream to build a church on that rock...And then, a devastating flood, mud and rock slides, entire towns cut off, emergency evacuations, hundreds of miles of roads destroyed. Displacement. And yet, as the flood waters receded, up bubbled stories of hope and rebuilding.
This place, the canyon cut by the St. Vrain River, experienced historic flooding in September 2013. We found ourselves winding through this canyon a few weeks ago. It led us up to my sister’s wedding in Allenspark.
As we headed back down through the canyon after the wedding, the journalist and documentarian in me wanted to hop out of the car to take a closer look—at the debris washed up on the sides of the St. Vrain River; at the bulldozers around every other curve, trying to fix everything that was broken; at the ruined homes, sitting untouched five months after the flood. I wanted interviews! I wanted to do a follow-up story! But, of course, I had two toddlers in the back seat and a flight to catch. So on my husband drove as I snapped photos out the window with my phone.
The weather that day was strange: intense wind and snow up high in the mountains, a patch of clear blue skies halfway down followed by fog and more snow as we neared Lyons and Boulder. The landscape was tremendous and dramatic. How did these rocks so perfectly mirror both the hope and sadness settled here?
I wish I were presenting you with an in-depth follow-up on the flood. But if you spend a moment thinking of all the people whose lives were turned upside down here last September, I'll be happy. Also, check out this photo book created by the students of Lyons High School documenting the flood. What an amazing project.
Above: Let me introduce you to the Chapel on the Rock (also known as Saint Catherine of Siena Chapel at St. Malo), which I had never heard of until we passed it driving between Allenspark and Estes Park. First, here’s the enchanting history (the meteor/search party/20-year dream mentioned above). Now look closely and you’ll see Mount Meeker rising up from the fog in the background. It wasn’t the clear day I was hoping for to capture the full glory of this mountain-framed church. But let me tell you, it was hard won and I won’t forget it.
Above: It was snowing steadily and the winds were gusting up to 80 miles per hour. I was standing on the shoulder of a highway with a steep drop directly in front of me. The wind literally knocked me off my feet twice. So I took a few hurried shots and climbed back into the car, vowing to come back here to take more photos on a clear day. And I will. (I also regret not taking photos of the construction site immediately to the left, where bulldozers were removing a massive pile of debris from rock and mud slides that narrowly missed the chapel in September. A beautiful lake once sat beside the chapel. Hopefully it will again one day.)
Below: This is one of my favorite photos of the trip.
The sun breaking through to reveal debris piled up along the river.
It's difficult to believe this little river could cause so much destruction.
Isabella Bird wrote a spectacular account of her 1873 adventures in and around this canyon in A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains.
You can see damage to the right side of this house, as well as a newly constructed bridge on the left side of the photo.
The way the light and fog were hitting this little farm as we approached Lyons took my breath away.
Driving out of the canyon into Boulder in heavy fog and light snow.
Our last views of the foothills before heading into the plains.
My next post—the last in this series of wedding-related posts—will cover the actual wedding weekend. Yippee!
To view more wedding posts, click here for more Colorado trip photos, here for save-the-dates and programs, here for wedding invitations, here for engagement photos, here for bridal shower photos and here for a DIY travel journal.
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.