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Colorado flooding makes for an unforgettable vacation

September 18, 2013|By Connie Stewart
  • Estes Park, Colo., has been devastated by heavy flooding. Here, water pours out of a parking lot, overwhelming a culvert heading under the roadway.
Estes Park, Colo., has been devastated by heavy flooding. Here, water pours… (Kathryn Scott Osler / Denver…)

Emily and Steve Goldfield spent the last week in Colorado celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary -- amid biblical rains.

That wasn’t quite what they had in mind.

They arrived in Denver on Sept. 8, the day before the rains began. On Sept. 9 they rented an RV in Longmont and headed for Estes Park, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. It started to rain. It turned torrential on Sept. 11.

PHOTOS: Colorado flooding

“Before we left, the weather forecast was for summer weather,” Emily Goldfield told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. “It was supposed to be 80 degrees during the day and in the 50s overnight. I was disappointed, because I was looking forward to crisp mountain air.”

Next time, she’ll be careful what she wishes for.

The Goldfields, who live in the Los Angeles area, packed mostly summer clothing and threw in an umbrella, "just in case." Now, they’re stocked with rain gear marked, “Rocky Mountain National Park.” 

Despite the deluge, they enjoyed their vacation.

“The rain was not 100% of the time,” said Emily, an artist. “It would stop for a while, and then it would rain.”

So they were able to walk around and take photographs, which she uses to inspire her paintings. She noticed Left Hand Creek -- which cuts through Lefthand Canyon -- and remembered it because of the unusual name.

Early in the morning of Thursday the 12th, they left Estes Park for Glenwood Springs. It was pouring rain. 

Hours later, they learned that Estes Park and Lefthand Canyon were inundated by flash flooding, with roads washing out and bridges buckling. Their first warning came in a phone call from California, with a relative asking whether they were OK. 

In Glenwood Springs, where the weather wasn't as bad, the Goldfields heard more about the disaster they'd just evaded -- from taxi drivers.

“They had people who didn’t know if they had homes, who didn’t know what had happened to their families,” she said. The cab drivers were trying to help displaced people find places to stay.

At last report, eight people had died, hundreds were still missing or unaccounted for and nearly 19,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed across 17 counties. Nearly 12,000 people have been evacuated, and some areas -- including Estes Park -- could be isolated for months.

Despite the weather, the Goldfields never considered coming home early.

"We'd set aside this time to spend with each other," she said. 

They also spent time in Frisco and Breckenridge. On Monday, the last day of their vacation, they headed back to Longmont to return the RV. On Interstate 25, they crossed over a stream they’d noticed a week earlier. “You could see the mess that it had created down below,” she said. Longmont, too, had been ravaged by flooding, but the RV dealer had survived; it was on high ground.

Although the Goldfields are back in California, their hearts ache for Colorado and its people.

“The disaster was horrible, but Colorado is a treasure to the United States," Emily said. "No doubt about it. Even in the rain, it was fantastic.”

On Tuesday, she was running errands and relishing the clear weather.

“Why is the sky blue?” she said. “Where’s the rain?” 

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connie.stewart@latimes.com

Twitter: @conniestewart3

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