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Big Thompson River 2
Jon Burch Photography
Photograph - Digital Capture
The Big Thompson River in the foothills of northern Colorado.
One of a series of images made along the Big Thompson River in Northern Colorado. The Colorado Big Thompson River is a tributary of the South Platte River, approximately 78 miles long. The headwaters of the River begin in Forest Canyon within Rocky Mountain National Park in Larimer County. The river flows east through Moraine Park to the town of Estes Park where it is held in Lake Estes by the Olympus Dam before being released into the Big Thompson Canyon. The North Fork Big Thompson River also begins in Rocky Mountain National Park, on the northern slopes of the Mummy Range. This tributary flows east, through the town of Glen Haven where it merges with the Big Thompson River in the town of Drake.
From Lake Estes, the River descends 1/2 mile in elevation through the mountains in the spectacular 25 mile long Big Thompson Canyon, emerging from the foothills west of Loveland. It flows eastward, south of Loveland across the plains into Weld County and joins the South Platte approximately 5 miles south of Greeley. The Big Thompson picks up the Little Thompson River approximately 4 miles upstream from its mouth. Water resources in the Big Thompson River are managed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.
On July 31, 1976, during the celebration of Colorado's centennial, the Big Thompson Canyon was the site of a devastating flash flood that swept down the steep and narrow canyon, claiming the lives of 143 people, 5 of whom were never found. This flood was triggered by a nearly stationary thunderstorm near the upper section of the canyon that dumped 12 inches of rain in less than 4 hours amounting to more than 75% of the average annual rainfall for the area. Little rain fell over the lower section of the canyon, where many of the victims died.
Around 9 p.m., a wall of water more than 20 feet high raced down the canyon at about 14 mph, destroying 400 cars, 418 houses and 52 businesses and washing out most of U.S. Route 34. This flood was more than 4 times as strong as any in the 112-year record available in 1976, with a discharge of 35,000 cubic feet each second.
In 2008, a man who was thought to have died in the flood was found to be alive and living in Oklahoma. Daryle Johnson and his family had rented a cabin east of Estes Park, but left without telling anyone on the morning of July 31. A woman who was researching the flood's victims discovered he was still alive.
Photograph copyright Jon Burch Photography
September 28th, 2012
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