Death in The Narrows

ZIONS NATIONAL PARK; Sept. 19, 1961: 

Flash Flood Takes 3 Lives


ZIONS NATIONAL PARK; Sept. 17, 2015:

Flash Flood Takes 12 Lives

But life never halts, and cruel as it seems, goes relentlessly on . . .

Fifty-four years ago, and almost to the very day, a flood swept Zion Narrows, and I remember for my sister Fern’s husband, Walter J. Scott, was Leader of the 22 people who formed that 1961 group, which also included their daughter, Adene.JW-Scott-1960

They didn’t hike all in one bunch, but groups of them were scattered along the pathway by that narrow canyon stream, and were ‘held together’ by Walt, who hiked back and forth among them.   It was great.

But Life often has its own plans and they were never again to meet as a full group, because before too long, the stream water had risen to cover their path, their shoe tops, and then, before they could even try to adjust to wet feet, a cascading wall of water came upon them, bringing tons of pine needles, and just as swiftly, came tree limbs, rocks, and debris of all sorts.

Wet feet were soon unimportant, for by then they were struggling for their lives, and they knew it. As the water relentlessly kept rising , they were forced up slopes and over or around rocks they  would never before even  considered tackling, but there was no choice, for they were facing dangers they had never dreamed or planned.

Their lives were on the line and so they did what normally would have been impossible. Flood refugees can’t be choosers and that is why they spent the rest of that day and that night on a hillside, safe, but yet, oh, how close to danger. It had not been part of that day’s plan.

And, with no instant communication, it was not until the next day that they began to hear what had happened to others on their hike. And families in their homes, knew that a flash flood had hit the canyon where their sons and daughters were, but there was no way of knowing if the hikers were safe, or had been taken along with the flood.

Yes, the world immediately knew of a deadly flood in Utah’s beautiful, but oh, so narrow canyon where, in such a flood, their only safety was getting to higher ground.  Such a problem, for a part of the lure of that hike is of its dangerous beauty. The flood sent no warning, and getting away from that raging water, was their only chance of survival..

It was like demons had planned the event, for all that day, that night, and into the next day, was pure hell for the hikers, as well as those who waited in homes, as my sister Fern did in her Murray home.  She, along with other families of those hikers did not know if their loved ones lived or had died.  My sister could have lost her husband and daughter, or one of them, or if both had survived. It was a bad time, back in 1961 for hikers or families.

Every hiker saw a story unfold, and from their higher position could at times catch glimpses of the stream, and a few of them saw Walt, Leader of the entire group, fighting to help two young men to safety.   With his strength, he might have been able to save himself but those young  hikers were in his keeping.  His struggles. however,  proved to be useless and all three of them became victims of the water’s fury.

I was a writer for the Murray Eagle/Green Sheet newspapers and was trying to write my column, “Out My Window” and it was a dark ‘window’ that day. for one part of me tried to be an ‘observer’ and write the facts, while, another part of me was a participant. along with family members for I knew Walt and Adene were in a life or death situation.

There was nothing anyone could to do but wait and pray, and it was long hours before Fern knew that Walt her husband had died, but Adene her daughter, survived.

As survivors of such horrors have ever found, Fern also learned that life never halts, and cruel as it seems, goes relentlessly on. It’s a difficult, but a well trodden pathway. and as the families of those 54 years ago learned, the families of those today will also sorrowfully learn.

People who died that day 54 years ago were Walter J. Scott, Leader, Steven Gene Florence, and Paul Ray Nicholson. Survivors from this area, were John Bangerter, Bonnie Darger, Lila Fielden, Katheryn Grim, Margaret McIntyre, Lynda McIntyre, and Adene Scott, daughter of rhe Leader. Among other survivors were hikers  from Park City and out of State.

10 thoughts on “Death in The Narrows

  1. I remember being in 6th grade, and the teacher (Mrs. Blundell?) at Arlington Elementary brought up the news item about the flood and deaths. I don’t know if she talked about the news every day, but I remember that day. It’s stuck there in my head along with other days like when Kennedy was shot, and when I heard my Dad had died in Montana.

    Mom (Ethel) explained to us what had happened with the flood as best she could, and even though I did not yet understand the danger of the narrows, I sensed everyone’s horror and sorrow.

    But it didn’t become real to me until I told it that day in 6th grade, that it was my uncle who died in the canyon. I think I cried. I think it was the first time I had seen death come to a family and be old enough to catch on to how it affects people. I always think of that day when I hear of anyone hiking in the narrows.


    • This has been a ‘different’ blog to write You think that in time, the rawness of news such as these is healed and the shock and hurt over with, but it is not so. You mentioned your Dad’s death in Montana, and once again the shock and bewilderment of it happening is again with me. What stays vividly in my mind is taking you and John to the air port where the two of you flew to Montana, to handle the ‘business end’ of embalment, necessary because unemballed bodies cannot be moved out of the State, (and yet Kennedy’s body was). Oh, well. It took several days, and Lloyd Croxford, who had lived so close to me and my family, the Ohlins, when I was a kid, and had also known the Bradfords, owned the Mortuary there and performed the necessary tasks. Then you two gatherd your Dad’s clothes and equipment (he had been on a business trip) and drove his car home. It seems as if I am speaking of three (four) other people, not us and your Dad. Carol came to the airport to see John leave. and they were not married yet. How unreal it all seems. me.

  2. Aafter we reviewed the column Adene and I sat face to face and she related her experiences to me, adding some details and color and personalities to her narrative. This is the first time we have talked about it. She related that she, like Wayne, of his war experiences, didn’t want to talk about it before. That there were events that even now are too close to say out l loud without erupting in emotion. We had a good discussion and even, without success, tried to find locations on Google Earth. The addition of comments to her from members of the group then seem to add dimension to them and a reality that before were just names rather than people. This has been a good exercise for me, not an expiation, but a closeness that I hadn’t had in the past.
    My relationship with the loss of Dad have always been selfish. He loved small kids. And he never got to know the grandkids, mine or Ken’s, he would have been a huge influence in their lives, his perspective on life would have changed the way we related to them and how they would have to them. There have been times thar I’ve felt his influence in their lives. They not even have liked him. I doubt that, but he could be irritating. Every Father’s and Son’s outing Karl and I have gone to reminds me that while other’s fathers are there mine wasn’t.
    At any rate this event in So Utah has been a more than gentle reminder of the loss of so many loved ones that we lament with them.

    • Jim, Adene, And now, for the first time, I wonder what must have been going on in your Dad, Walt’s, mind. As he struggled to help those two young men, (and himself), he must have also been wondering what was going on with his daughter, Adene. And him not there to help her. I wrote my words of that 54 years ago event with love and caring, but the words from you two, and my son, Bill, now make me wonder if it was a wise thing to do. I brought to the surface, happenings, feelings, and emotions that had been laid to rest, but now I find are as alive today as then. For, you see, my words brought up the sad events of my husband, Bill and John’s ‘s Dad, and I find it is still one great big open wound. Maybe I should have let the past stayed buried, but it also tells me that love does not die, but lives on in our lives . I regret my stirring up the past in one way, but am grateful to find tha love is ours and does not die. ethel

      • I think the reminders of past to the present is of great worth and that the column was good and worthy. I’m hoping for even more in the future. The paper this week had two more of my generation listed as having changed rooms. It’s important that we sit up and take notice. Thanx again. J

  3. Your words are good, Jim. Yes, this world, heaven and earth, as the Good Book says, is God’s House, and as we learn, we find that His House extends far beyond horizon to horizon which, as a child I once thought, and no matter how distant we are now finding God’s Space extends, it’s still His House. Part of His Heaven, and I can’t help but think there must be Mormon Rooms, Catholic Rooms, Hindu Rooms, UFO Rooms, Methodist Rooms and on and on, and even one for such as Ethel.

    Oh, so many rooms in that House. I don’t know or can imagine what Room I was in before I came to this Human Room and became known as Ethel, or which Room I will go to when I stop being Ethel. But, to me, there are no closed doors between Rooms, just our readiness to learn, grow and move on. So why the big fear? There is no fear, TYG, just intense awareness. ethel

  4. September 1961. The weather was checked and rain was forecast for the Labor Day Weekend so the trip to the Zion Narrows was cancelled. However the following weekend was good so the trip was on for the following weekend. My dad, Walt Scott, was the “Socotwa” leader taking about twenty five people that included all ages from sixty to twelve years of age. Daddy always took precautions to make sure everything would be in order and it would be a safe trip. The “Socotwa” bus drove us to Cedar City where Daddy again checked the weather to see that it would be safe to go through the narrows. The bus took us a few miles outside of Cedar City. To me it looked like a large open field with an irrigation ditch. We all got our backpacks, put them on and that was the start of the hike to go through the Zion Narrows.

    We hiked about one third of the way into the Narrows where we camped for the night. It was an open area with high red walls but it was a large open space that had a small stream that went by us. We got up in the morning, ate, packed up and went on our way. Three boys from East High School were with us and they were talking and said they wish they could go on a mission NOW. They didn’t’ want to wait until they were twenty one. Since we would be in Zion Canyon in a few hours a number of the adults buried their food that they hadn’t eaten so they would lighten their backpacks. We broke camp and were on our way. As we hiked down the river bed with the water about ankle deep, it was beautiful to look up and see the straight red walls with the strip of blue sky above the thousand or more foot walls on each side. As we got into the hike groups formed as to how fast they hiked. There was one group of about eight or ten that was in front of us. I was in the next group of about ten. Daddy was in the back to make sure we were all on our way. There was the older man and a young boy that was behind them.

    We were hiking on dry ground most of the way but when we had to be in the river the water didn’t even cover our shoes. One of the guys in our group saw a canyon that went up to the left and wanted to see where it went. There was a pool of water that had to be swum to get to the canyon. He came back and said it opened up into a wide open canyon and said we had time to see it. So we took off our backpacks and swam the pond to go up the canyon. One of girls couldn’t swim so she didn’t go up with us. It was beautiful. It opened up into a large canyon that was walled with high cliffs. It also had a lot of green brush. We hiked the little stream that was no more than eight or ten inches deep. We probably went a thousand feet or more. One of the men said we need to get back, but the other guy wanted to go up farther. Finally this man was very insistent and we began to go back. As I followed that little clear stream, I came upon the little tiny waterfall that I had stepped up before; only this time I stepped down and I did not feel the bottom. It was a weird feeling but I gathered by senses and began to swim out of that little pond that now was as deep as a lake. I swan to the edge and followed the edge of the little creek and noticed that the water was no longer clear. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. The sun was beautiful and sunny the whole time. We got down and the fellow that wanted to go up got to the little pond that we had to swim over and saw a flashflood was in progress. The girl that stayed there and didn’t go up was hanging onto the wall with water up to her neck. She was scared to death. The guy grabbed her and got her over the pond and we all hiked back up the canyon again looking for a place that we could stay. It was still sunny; the sky didn’t darken until late afternoon. We found a flat place and stayed there for a while. I didn’t like it because it was the bed for waterfall. Finally we moved to another area but it was a hill that we could hold onto something. That is where we stayed the rest of the day and the night. Since we were on a hill I kept sliding down. It was uncomfortable but it kept me awake the whole night.

    What I saw during that stay on the mountainous hill was beautiful. Yes, it was Mother Nature at the worst. The wall across the canyon had about twenty or more waterfalls. Dirty red water was coming from everywhere around us. We were safe, though. The raging river ran near the wall with the waterfalls. I saw trees that looked as long as telephone poles that were thrown around like toothpicks. This lasted until it was dark. I don’t know if the waterfalls continued all night or not but it was a chilly, windy, wet night. As long as it was daylight, though, Mother Nature really put on a waterworks show while the river was raging below with more water from the waterfalls going into the out of control river. The ironic thing is that Daddy had made comments that he would like to see the Zion Narrows in a flood. Well I saw it, but I don’t think he saw it.

    When daylight came there were still waterfalls but the streams had diminished some. The water wasn’t clean but it wasn’t red. Finally about 10:00 we began the hike down and the little stream was a river and the pond at the end to get back into the narrows was much larger. The other guy got the non-swimmer girl across the larger pond and we went back into the narrows. The water was up to my chest. The rest of the hike was just like this. When we arrived at Zions the group in front of us was there. I knew that Daddy would be coming as we were all waiting for the group that Daddy was in with the three boys. We got on the bus and part of the road was gone and the river bed had changed course. One of the other ladies on the trip told me that Daddy didn’t make it. Neither did the three high school boys who said they wished they could go on a mission now. Daddy had just passed his WSI (Water Safety Instructor) and was a very strong swimmer. All the scouts and the instructors said Daddy was a force to be reckoned with and they knew he was a strong swimmer.

    Much later in the late evening the older man and young boy walked out of the Zion Narrows and was happy to be out of the havoc that we all had experienced.

    It was a long, quiet ride back to Salt Lake.

    • Adene, your description of what happened to you that long ago day is priceless. Thank you for letting me use it. It keeps coming to my mind, however, that your Dad’s mind must have been also in turmoil, worrying about WHAT WAS HAPPENING TO MY DAUGHTER. What hard moments for him. ethel

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