Thursday, August 5, 2010

Flash Flood Watch!

This weather warning ought to be posted as a Flash Flood Listen, rather than a Watch, because you hear it before you see it, even before you can figure out what it is.

It was rainy and cool on Sunday so we seized the rare opportunity to go for an afternoon desert canyon hike in August - something one doesn't normally do here, unless one enjoys the risk of being cooked alive. We knew that if we were lucky and if it rained enough, we might get to see small waterfalls pouring off the slickrock of the canyon walls.

As rain drizzled from the grey sky, we started down a little wash, just a dry rut in the ground carved by water but where no water flowed. We hiked down the sandy drainage as it grew wider and deeper, and shaped itself into a little canyon with mineral-streaked walls and sandstone floor.

The drizzle changed to a light rain and we found a dry sliver of sand under an overhang in the wall. The dogs explored fallen trees and romped and wrassled in the poison ivy while we ate our lunch.

By the time we'd finished eating and had gathered up the dogs, the rain was coming down harder. We put on our raincoats and were emerging from our shelter when we noticed: it seemed that someone had turned up the volume. The volume on what? Just the volume. It was just louder. There was a noise reaching our ears that hadn't been there before, and we couldn't really say when it had started. Then we noticed that a stream of water was spattering off the rock wall nearby, making sound for sure. But that wasn't it, exactly. The sound was more of a small roar. Well, "roar" might be overstating it. But it was definitely an aggressive hiss.

Then we noticed it. Right in the middle of the canyon floor we saw -- no, heard -- a sudden flood of clear water making its way toward us. A massive headwall -- at least an inch high -- was creeping down the narrow trough in the sandstone. This was it! The front line of a flood, growing bigger, wider, frothier, faster and louder until we were in serious danger of getting water up over our ankles.

Flash flood!! We squealed with joy -- ok, Trina squealed. Greg is, of course, too manly to squeal. Greg pulled out his camera -- in an excited yet manly way -- and shot photos of the growing flow. And the race was on! We raced down canyon to the next interesting feature -- a stair-step -- where we watched the flood all over again.

We raced and chased our way down the canyon stopping at each interesting feature we came to that promised to be dramatic with water pouring over or through it. We waited. And listened. Depending on how many pools had to fill before the water could continue downstream, and how deep they were, the wait was sometimes brief, sometimes excruciatingly long. A couple of times it seemed like the flood had somehow mysteriously stopped, disappeared as abruptly as it appeared, either because the rain had let up or perhaps because it had reached a large enough pool to capture all the water. But then we'd hear it again: the volume being turned up. Followed by the flow. Watching potential waterfalls turn into actual waterfalls. Watching lines of pools fill and overflow, fill and overflow.

Why, we can ask, is it so amazing and exciting to see the start of a flow of water? Perhaps it is simply that we almost never get to see the beginning -- or end -- of a creek or river. But it is strangely thrilling.

We played leap-frog with the flood again and again. Until at last, the water surged past us and dove off a ledge into a deeper, narrower part of the canyon, leaving us behind, giddy from the race, thrilled by the chase, giggling and grinning wide.

Flash Flood Watch! from Gregory Luck on Vimeo.

Zeek helping Greg compose a shot

~ Trina and Greg

1 comment:

  1. Very cool pictures. I have seen flash floods, but never one that started at a dry bed.