The Opposite of Dry is Wet

Flood waters near Fate Bell Shelter in Seminole Canyon September 20, 2013

Flood waters near Fate Bell Shelter in Seminole Canyon September 20, 2013

Seminole Canyon is known for being hot and dry. That dry desert environment leads to wonderful preservation of rock art and delicate artifacts such as basketry, sandals and twisted cordage.  But occasionally Mother Nature creates conditions for beautiful rain in this dry land. And sometimes it is just too much of a good thing.

The weekend of September 20, 2013 saw such conditions arise as a cold front moved down from the north

Weather map for September 20, 2013 from www.accuweather.com

Weather map for September 20, 2013 from http://www.accuweather.com

to hit warm tropical moisture from the southwest from Hurricane Manuel, which did considerable damage in Acapulco. That combination can create the “perfect storm” in the Chihuahuan Desert.  In the three days from September 19 to 21, 2013,  Seminole Canyon State Park had over five inches of rain, and the weather station Langtry 10.6 W (elevation 1623) on http://www.theweathercollector.com registered 4.47 inches.  In a region that generally only receives 18 inches or less of rain per year, that’s a lot.

Perhaps more importantly, upstream of Seminole Canyon, areas received from 6 to almost 8 inches of rain in the same period. This created massive run-off, that eventually drained into the canyons.  In addition, the Rio Grande rose quickly, backing more water up into canyons.  Just notice which way the water is rushing in the big picture above.

Fortunately, no damage was done to major rock art, that I know of,  since the water did not get that high.  But tours to Fate Bell Shelter were shut down for several days.

It rained hard the night of July 3, 2010 as well, again due to a stalled out tropical system.

Mile Canyon Pour-off, July 4, 2010. Bonfire Shelter nearby.

Mile Canyon Pour-off, July 4, 2010. Bonfire Shelter nearby.

Pour-offs in Mile Canyon, in Langtry, Texas, home of the famous Bonfire Shelter bison jump, rushed with brown, frothing water. The Rio Grande also rose, backing up in the short canyon and creating very dangerous conditions for wildlife, humans, and ancient debris.

The worst flood in the region in recorded history occurred in 1954, when a hurricane stalled out over the area.  More than 20 inches of rain fell in one night over Mile Canyon. The ground was already saturated from an 8-inch rain a few days before, so the water had no place to go. Catastrophic floods like this occur once or twice a century and cause changes topography of the canyonlands. As the website Texas Beyond History  (http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net) says, “Spring-fed pools become choked with gravels, new springs emerge, and walnut trees are ripped out.”  This flood also moved boulders as large as a small house at least a quarter mile downstream, and damaged rock art in Eagle Cave.  We can only image the artifacts that washed away, never to be seen again.

Mouth of Mile Canyon and Rio Grande, July 4, 2010

Mouth of Mile Canyon and Rio Grande, July 4, 2010 to the Rio Grande.

Raging water in the 1954 flood moved these large boulders at least a quarter mile

Raging water in the 1954 flood moved these large boulders at least a quarter mile.

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The Opposite of Hot and Dry

The mountains of British Columbia across the cold, crisp Salish Sea

The mountains of British Columbia across the cold, crisp Salish Sea

Deer Cloud came with me even though I tried to shake him off. I’ve been thinking so deeply about the protagonist in my novel the past year and a half, that even on a trip to Canada, he sometimes popped in to chat. He’d never seen such immense water, so salty, so cold. He’d never seen mountains so far away. He wondered at the creatures and the plants. Could he have survived there, with the skills he had for the desert canyonlands?

Unlike TV ninnies on fake islands, Deer Cloud would have adapted immediately, even though the environment on the Gulf Islands  just off Vancouver is the opposite of his home land in the Lower Pecos.

Purple starfish amid the rubble of mussel shells

Purple starfish amid the rubble of mussel shells

The waters are so rich, he have figured out how to catch fish right away. Maybe with a net, or just a lucky spear. Black mussels are abundant at the shoreline, so he would have dug for big ones at low tide, and probably found luscious white butter clams as well. He would poke at starfish clinging to rocks, but toss them away. Their rough exteriors rebuff even gulls.

He would build a hut from giant fern fronds to get out of the rain, or maybe take refuge in a burned-out tree. The rain is not so bad in the forest, and he could even find a bit of dry kindling there under some massive branch.  He would also find

Blackberries ripening

Blackberries ripening

blackberries in early September, and salal, which he would undoubtedly try.

He might see a whale lift a fin and tumble over, or spout through his blow hole.  He might see a seal head bob up for air, or an otter cracking shells as he floats on his back. He would gasp to see an eagle snatch a fish from the sea, and his heart would pound with joy when he saw a deer.  He would know the gods were with him, even here.

In a day or two he would find evidence of other people on the island. Petroglyphs, carved into sandstone near the sea, tell of myths and monsters, as well as brothers. The people would welcome him with song and dance, and tell him their stories round the fire. He would tug a deer skin round his shoulders to keep off the chill, and think seriously about staying.

Re-created whale petroglyph. The original on Gabriola Island is covered in moss.

Re-created whale petroglyph. The original on Gabriola Island is covered in moss.

Alas for him, as well as me, the float plane came to take me home.  Back to hot and dry.

Never Forget 9/ll