Part of the adjustment I have to make during the monsoon is to try to get all my work done in the morning before the afternoon storms break out. This Tuesday morning I sort through email and upload vacation photos to the computer. Then, I spend the next 2 to 3 hours editing and filing almost 700 photos, and that is just one card! I have 3 more to go through! By 2 p.m. my eyes are watering and my brain is fried. I make myself shut off the computer and go fix myself some lunch.
The skies are turning gray with heavy clouds and as I am sitting watching a movie the thunder and lightning start. Soon the rain is pattering on the rooftop and patio bricks. Then a giant clap of thunder cracks the sky with a brilliant flash. The power surges and the TV goes out. The gentle rain has turned to a pounding water faucet and I watch as the retention basin next to the house fills with churning brown water. Through the shut windows of the house I hear a familiar croaking cry and open the laundry room window to see and hear better. The Colorado River toads are singing in the flooded wash one again. The rain cooled air feels nice, so I decide to open the glass sliders under the covered patio to let in the fresh air without getting splashed by rain.
I watch the storm rage in all its fury from sheets of rain to lightening flashes and cracking thunder. One crack is so close and so loud it startles me and I jump in my seat. I cannot use the computer or the TV, so I sit and write in my journal and watch the water flow. At 5:15 I turn on the TV in the bedroom, which is still working. The news is reporting that there is flash flooding in Green valley and Sahuarita and Sahuarita Road is closed. When I finally get a hold of Gus he is on his way to the car and it isn’t even raining where he is. However, he decides to come home by a different way and all I can do is wait. The next time I speak with him he is off the highway about 10 miles from home and traffic is moving at about 2 miles per hour. In the end it will take him over 2 hours to arrive home, a difference of 3 ½ hours from his usual trip.
I step out the front door to look for his car as the rain has finally tapered off here. I hear the sound of rushing water and realize that the Sycamore Canyon wash must be running! I have lived here for over a year now and have never seen water in the canyon, though I have seen evidence of its force each time I walk on the dry gravel when I go hiking. I hurry inside for my camera. I grab a coat, change my shoes, and wrap the D80 in a plastic bag to protect it from the few sprinkles of rain that linger. Then, it’s out the door and up the hill to a point where I can access the desert. As I walk through I am met by a blond-headed boy named Noah (I’m not making this up). He talks to me excitedly about the wash running and informs me he has been in it just recently when it was flowing at around 3 feet. As I look down the edge of the 25 ft. cliff at the churning, roiling brown flow I warn him strongly to not do that again.
I am wide-eyes and open mouthed at what I am seeing. Brown water rushes by in every available channel. If I were walking down there today I would have been washed away. I had just heard on the news how Cienega Creek rose 6 feet in five minutes! I have no idea how deep this is, but I have no doubt the current is strong and fast.
I keep back 6 to 8 feet from the cliff edge due to the already saturated ground. As the water below me carves yet a deeper curve into the cliff, I do not want to be standing there when it decides to collapse.
I walk farther south up the path to the open place behind the homes at the top of the cul de sac. I call this spot Sunset Point due to the fact that there is a wide open view to the west. I am not the only one with this idea, for many of my neighbors are already gathered here, watching the wash run. They come and go in their own steady flow the rest of the time I am here.
I cannot describe how loud the water is or my amazement at this flow of water. It is unlike anything I have experienced in my life. Though I have seen video of flash floods on the news and read about it in stories and in the newspaper, it is quite something else to stand here and watch previous dry ground be turned into a raging roiling river.
A man is standing next to me with a wide brimmed Aussie looking hat and a camera hanging from his neck. I, too, have my camera and birding hat on and as we start to talk he asks if I am the person who writes the Sycamore Canyon Blog. When I tell him yes he tells me that he reads it almost every day. I am quite surprised and pleased by this and we discuss living in AZ and the pending Rosemont Mine. Having moved here from Seattle, we discuss the weather and sunshine and then I find out that he knows the Ray Bradbury story about the little girl on Saturn where it rains all the time. The sun only appears for an hour once every 11 years and on the set day she is tormented by classmates and locked in a closet during that one hour of sunshine. For me, it is the cruelest joke and a punishment worse than death. I cannot live without sunshine. Now I meet a stranger from Seattle standing on a cliff edge in AZ and he is the only person I have ever met who knows of this story and relates to it as I do. Meeting Dave was quite a delight and we chatted for the rest of my time there until Gus called to tell me that he was finally home. As I turn away from Sunset Point the sun is just setting behind the remnant clouds.
It cast a rose and tangerine glow over the desert and after snapping a few shots I walked home on streets of pink and purple pavement.
This morning I hurried out the door to see if the wash was still flowing. It was not. All the water had drained off leaving behind new channels and piles of debris. The desert is alive with activity. Birds are everywhere and their songs fill the desert around me. I see a coyote dart across the muddy wash below me. A family of quail darts across my path.
A look across the desert reveals some kind of swarming insect rising in a column. Then I find a similar column nearby and I am able to photograph this insect.
I stand on the same cliff edge where I stood with Noah and gaze down at new piles of gravel. I find a puddle of soft mud, unusual in this cement like caliche.
Purple martins dart overhead twittering and chirping as I walk by the Sentinel Saguaros.
I walk to sunset point and view the ground below where my shadow falls on the damp earth, amazed at the lack of water. All is silent now, save for the bird sounds. Cooing doves and cackling cactus wrens are the only sound filling this muggy morning air.
Looking north down the canyon the red cliff edge where I stood last night is a dark spot amidst all the lush green foliage. From here the homes look dangerously close to the wearing away of the soil.
But at my feet, a desert marigold blossoms, a cheerful sunny face after the pounding rain, a symbol of hope in the desert.
Nearby the prickly pears ripen like fat red jewels along the rims of the cactus pads. Soon it will be time to make prickly pear jelly again.
Photographer's Note: All of today's photography is by Kathie with the Nikon D80 18-70mm lens set in various automatic settings.