Flash Flood and New Visions

When Suzanne Halvorson walked into the newly refurbished Fiber Arts Center at Ghost Ranch to begin the first day of her Weave and Wander class on Tuesday morning, July 7th, little did she know that this also would be her last day to teach in this space.  Her's was the first class held in it.

Storm clouds approaching                                           photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Storm clouds approaching                                           photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

At 6:30 that evening, a shelf cloud had settled in over the mesas surrounding Pedernal, moving swiftly toward Ghost Ranch.  By 6:45 she and her students began gathering for the evening session, continuing with warping their looms, some at the warping board and others tying on and tensioning.

By 6:50 pm the rains began, a sprinkle followed by pouring rain, winds blowing sheets of rain at a 45-degree angle.  By 7:00 pm, further up the arroyo that runs along the eastern edge of the campus, a 20-foot wall of water had almost peaked its bank near Long House and the Art Building. Teachers and students heard the roar of water, quickly scooped up art supplies off the floor onto tables and left.

Further down the arroyo, Suzanne looked out the window of the Fiber Arts classroom and noticed water coming toward the building.  She told her students that they needed to leave immediately.  Moments later, Maureen Fitzgibbon from Ghost Ranch staff stepped into the classroom and told everyone they had to get out now and head for higher ground.  Within the few minutes it took for everyone to pile into their cars, including one blind woman with her seeing-eye dog, the water was halfway up the tires on all of their vehicles.  They drove up to the Welcome Center to wait out the storm. 

West wall of fiber arts studio                              photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

West wall of fiber arts studio                              photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Five minutes later, the raging water, now several feet high, knocked down the west wall of the classroom.

Another view of west wall                        photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Another view of west wall                        photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Churning waters pushed looms into a log jam against the French doors, which then blew out. 

Looms jammed in the French door opening         photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Looms jammed in the French door opening         photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Looms jammed in French door opening...another view      photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley

Looms jammed in French door opening...another view      photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley

Looking over the log jam of looms to west wall          photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Looking over the log jam of looms to west wall          photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

The Rio Grande loom that had been newly tied on and tensioned ended up in a tree 10 feet away.

Rio Grande loom upended in cedar tree                   photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Rio Grande loom upended in cedar tree                   photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Inside, flood waters crested at about three feet, bringing in mud, tree branches, debris.

Interior view of studio, Suzanne Halvorson's scarves draped on front table                           photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Interior view of studio, Suzanne Halvorson's scarves draped on front table                           photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Further up this arroyo, three other class studio spaces had already been flooded.  The stained glass studio, known as Short House, walls had collapsed and its roof had been propelled yards away.  All equipment and stained glass inventory gone.  Tom Nichols’ van of welding tools disappeared down stream, and propane tanks were ripped from their foundations.  Pottery wheels, kilns of Pot Hollow were swept away in the currents.  Fortunately, no class was in Short House, and both the welding and pottery classes had decided to meet in the afternoon instead of the evening.

Meanwhile, I had been monitoring the torrential storm while I was teaching Drawing As Meditation in the museum classroom.  When the rains slowed, more of my students arrived dripping in their wet rain gear.  We all knew that this was no ordinary thunder shower, but did not know until later the full extent of the flash flooding in the arroyo on the opposite side of the campus.

By 7:45 pm, the rains stopped and within minutes the sun broke through the clouds, lighting up the cliffs of Orphan Mesa to a glowing orange against the remaining gray clouds.  I called my class to the windows and outside to witness this brilliant sunset, as I knew that the light would fade within minutes. Soon, a vibrant and full double rainbow appeared.

Sunset, double rainbow after the storm                        photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Sunset, double rainbow after the storm                        photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

After devastation comes stunning beauty and the opportunity for a new vision.


For more information on how you can help Ghost Ranch rebuild

To donate specifically to the arts program:  make checks out to the Ghost Ranch Foundation, and designate the arts program.