Photos: Hundreds of campers stranded in Catalina State Park by high water
State officials work to clear road after the swollen Cañada del Oro Wash blocked access to park north of Tucson
Again and again, a front-loader driven by an Arizona state ranger dove into flood waters and pushed up against an embankment made of river silt in an effort to clear the main road to Catalina State Park where around 300 campers were stuck after heavy rain streamed down the Cañada del Oro wash.
Since the weekend, those people were stuck at camping sites inside the park on North Oracle Road, about 15 miles from Downtown Tucson. The 5,500-acre state park sits at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains and is a haven for desert plants and wildlife, including nearly 5,000 saguaros.
The park remains closed until the road is cleared.
On Thursday, state officials said crews were continuing to clear debris along the road.
"Thank you to the hardworking rangers at Catalina State Park who have been keeping campers safe and comfortable while the entrance of the park is closed by the Cañada del Oro Wash. We expect floodwaters to recede and the park to reopen in the next 24 hours," state officials said on Twitter on Wednesday.
State officials said following heavy rainfall the wash is "prone to flooding due to the loss of vegetation from the Bighorn Fire of 2020."
Started by lightning on June 5, 2020, that wildfire chewed through nearly 120,000 acres of forest across the rugged peaks of the Catalina range. forcing evacuations in Summerhaven as well as parts of Oro Valley.
With the Catalina's snow-capped peaks rising up into the sky this week, the front-loader scraped at the main road and over and over brought hundreds of pounds of river silt, swollen with rainwater, to an embankment just north of the road in an effort to mitigate flood waters. The CDO Wash is part of a larger watershed that rises into mountains north and east of Oracle and heads to the Santa Cruz River.
Dan and Sue Jackson, visiting Tucson from Louisville, Colo., told the Tucson Sentinel by phone things were going well Wednesday evening. The couple, still inside the park on the other side of the wash, had planned to stay there through Jan. 23, so the road closure wasn't much of an inconvenience. Both Dan and Susan said they were heartened by cooperation and a "real sense of camaraderie" among fellow campers.
Dan Jackson said most campers were prepared to stay, but said in a few cases, people needed help.
State officials used a drone to deliver heart medicine to one couple who were caught unprepared, he said. Another couple from Texas, with three children including a two-month old baby, were able to get a delivery of diapers from a ranger driving the front-loader.
A few people hiked further south and were able to cross the wash, leaving their car and camp gear behind, but most of those stuck decided to hunker down in the campground until the water-level decreased.
While rain stopped after the holiday weekend's storms, sunny and warm days will melt snow in the Santa Catalinas.
In 2019, around 251,000 people visited the park, the Arizona Republic reported.