Reaping the Rewards of an Arizona Hurricane -
By Matt Marine, with Jennifer Damato and Priscilla Bingham
Preparing for Hurricane Odile
I lifted the 30 lb sandbag off the truck bed and set it on top of the others. I shook my head, unsure if five sandbags would be enough to stop the rainwater from flooding our Arizona room. If I was to believe all the media hype, hurricane Odile was going to be the storm of the century. At its worst, it would be the end of Tucson as we’ve come to know it; or at least she would bring us some much needed rain. I usually don’t buy into all the media hype, but since our house had received some flood damage from a big storm just a week earlier, I wasn’t going to take any chances.
I finished sandbagging the two other critical doors then went inside to watch the Weather Channel. They had sent their big gun, Jim Cantore, to Tucson to document the storm’s fury and damage. With partly cloudy skies and barely a raindrop to be found, he made a show of standing in the Alamo Wash acting as though the puddle next to him was flood damage.
As so often in southern Arizona, the weather forecasters were wrong – at least as far as Tucson was concerned.
"The most severe damage at my house from the storm was from our puppy, Gidget, who decided to rip open the sandbags and had fun spreading all the sand and rocks on the patio."
- Matt Marine
Although Tucson didn’t get any rain, it didn’t mean that areas right around us didn’t get dumped on. Sierra Vista got hit hard and we decided to go visit Carr Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains to see the falls. I’d driven by the craggy cliffs in Carr Canyon a few times on my way to bike along the Perimeter Trail and had always wondered what it would look like with water cascading down the beautiful rock faces.
With over four inches of rain hitting the mountains, I knew the falls would be flowing, but with so much rain, could we even get there? I put Cat-dog’s harness on her, threw some rain gear in my Jeep and met Mike and Angel outside my house before the sun came up. The weather in Tucson was clear and it didn’t look like we would need our rain gear. I was wrong.
It started sprinkling by the time we left the Interstate. As we got closer to Sierra Vista, the sprinkles turned into a light rain and the clouds/fog moved in. Visibility wasn’t more than ½ a mile. We couldn’t see the falls from the road and I wondered how much water was streaming over them. Undaunted, we turned onto Carr Canyon Road. I saw a big white Excursion with a tall lift and large tires turn in front of us and I wondered if they were on the same quest.
We drove up the winding paved road until we came to the first water crossing. The Excursion was stopped at the creek’s edge and they were talking window-to-window with a Forest Service vehicle. After a moment, the Forest Service vehicle moved on and the man driving waved as he passed us.
To my surprise, two women exited the Excursion to survey the water crossing. In my thirty years of exploring Arizona, the amount of times I’ve encountered a female only vehicle could be counted on a single hand.
I left Cammie in the back seat and walked up to join them. They stood next to their huge white SUV, seemingly dwarfed by its tremendous size.
“What did the Forest Service say?” I asked them.
“They thought we could make it,” one replied. “What do you think?”
I looked back at the rain swollen creek. The water was rushing in foaming torrents across the road. The flood had deposited so much debris, rocks and boulders that it was difficult to tell that there had once been a road here at all. Although it didn’t look particularly deep, probably in the 12 to 18 inches realm, it was the quickness of the water that concerned me. And then there was always the possibility of something hidden beneath the roiling water like a huge vehicle consuming hole.
“I think you can make it,” I said, smiling.
The driver wasn’t fooled. “What about you?”
That was a good question. I starred hard at the rampaging water. I thought I could make it. The water was only about 20 feet across. I didn’t think it was deep enough to come up to the bottom of my doors and if I had some good momentum, I should be able to make it through no problem. Another positive aspect was that the crossing was relatively flat and if you got swept away, there were some large trees and cables on the downstream side that would most likely stop you from going too far. I was ready…
Then again, my wife had told me to “make good choices” today. She had reminded me that I was particularly good at making bad choices when it came to water. I usually underestimated it. Was I making the same mistake now? No doubt, turning around was the safest choice, but this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Was I going to wuss out now?
By this time Mike had joined us. We asked his opinion. Mike doesn’t have a lot of experience four-wheeling (he just bought his first Jeep a few months ago), but he does have common sense. He thought it was doable.
The women wanted to go for it and I told them I could always use my winch if they got into trouble, though to tell you the truth, I’m not sure how well my little 8500 lb winch would have worked with their big truck.
The driver was psyching herself up for the crossing. "I can do it," she finally said, but I could tell something was holding her back. It didn't look like it was her nerve though.
“I was slightly hesitant to tackle the rushing water, not for lack of adventure but for fear of damaging the vehicle, thinking my husband would kill me if I wrecked my truck.”
Then Mike piped up and said, “I’ll do it.” I think he also has a chivalrous side.
In this instance, I believe the best vehicle to do this crossing was the Excursion. Large, heavy and lifted taller than our vehicles, it would be the least likely to have water push against the body and the weight would keep it from being swept away like a little Jeep leaf. My heavy four door Rubicon stood the next best chances at making it safely across. Then came Mike’s small two door TJ Rubicon. It seemed like a toy next to the Excursion. It went against all logic to have Mike go first, but there was no stopping him.
Mike got back into his Jeep and my sister came flying out. No way was she going to go with him through an untested water crossing. As Mike set up to go, the rest of us finally got around to introducing ourselves. The Excursion’s driver was Jennifer and the passenger was Priscilla. They lived in Sierra Vista and were looking for a little hurricane adventure.
"Even though we have busy mom responsibilities, we try to get out for an adventure together at least once a week."
- Jennifer and Priscilla
Mike brought his Jeep around Jennifer’s Excursion, paused for a second, then plunged into the water. The little TJ bounced and rocked over the boulder-strewn roadbed, but didn’t even seem to notice the water raging around it. The group cheered as Mike safely reached the other side.
Video: Mike Going Across
Jennifer and Priscilla climbed back into their Excursion and I told them not to hesitate once in the water. Jennifer grinned and Priscilla gave me a thumbs up.
“Don’t hesitate … just go,” I said to myself as they started forward.
Jennifer’s courage didn’t waver and there was no pause as she hit the water. A thick cloud of black diesel exhaust erupted from the white beast’s tailpipe as Jennifer goosed the gas pedal to make it over a rocky section of the road. And just like that, they were through. Another cheer erupted as they joined Mike on the far bank.
Video: Jennifer and Priscilla Crossing
Now it was my turn.
My sister and I joined Cammie in my Jeep. I put it in 4WD, took a deep breath and entered the foaming fray.
My engine roared. Water crashed and rocks clunked and banged beneath my tires. My body tensed as I tried to sense any indication that the Jeep was about to be swept sideway. Then we were through.
Video: Me Crossing the creek (1/2 speed video)
We all congratulated ourselves and began talking about the falls. We still couldn’t see them, but if what we had just crossed was any indication of what we’d find, it was going to be spectacular. Jennifer and Priscilla gave us some great information regarding the falls, which would become invaluable throughout the day.
But first we had to get there.
Little did we know that we had another crossing just down the road that was far more dangerous than the one we’d just crossed.
Click here for Part II.
Full-Sized Pictures From the Trip
The Goal - Carr Canyon Falls
Mike Crossing the creek
Mike Crossing the creek
Mike Crossing the creek
Carr Canyon Creek
Jennifer and Priscilla - Ready for Adventure!
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