Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Flash Flood in Sycamore Canyon

(Click on photos to enlarge for the best view)

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.

As I walk home, rain is falling through sunlight, a deceptively gentle rain. In the west, a rainbow appears over the previously flooded canyon and the humidity rises in preparation for another round of storms.

Photographer's Note: All of today's photography is by Kathie with the Nikon D80 18-70mm lens set in various automatic settings.


kjpweb said...

Mindboggling! And you got great shots - oh my! The Cacti at Sunset is a keeper - you probably would say, if seeing that as a painting "Yeah - Artists Fantasy!"
Great job and interesting, too!
Cheers, Klaus

Kathryn said...

Breathtaking sunset pictures! Wow! Enjoyed the post.

Anonymous said...

How awesome to see that! I know flash floods are scary, but when you can watch from safety and see something you've never seen before - wow!

Ruth said...

What a sequence. Nature does make the best of available water when it does come to the desert. Your pictures are beautiful esp #8 (wow!) and the last two. I have never seen the Prickly Pear cactus in bloom.

Mary said...

Kathie, what a storyteller you are. I was on the edge of my seat! From floods to rainbows, so beautifully illustrated and told. I know it's frightening at times, but so beautiful. Nature has its ways, for sure. We love it.

Texas Travelers said...

Great job of chronicling this exciting episode of how quickly flash floods come and go.

Your photos look great enlarged. Top professional quality.

Well done.

Come visit,

Amy said...

Wonderful shots Kathie! And now stand back for all the life that will leap out of the ground after monsoon season!

Marvin said...

The flash flood sounds like an awesome event to have witnessed. Thanks for sharing with all your great photos.

Pudgeduck said...

Great photos!!! Wish we could get a little more rain here in the valley! Your desert is so lush and beautiful! Love your blog!

Anonymous said...

An amazing and detailed account of your day. Supported by some dramatic images.
That was a great read. Nobody does it better.

jalynn01 said...

WoW! Thank you for sharing your story and photos I would otherwise never see her in PA. How different your world is. Love seeing the rainbow, the cacti, the sunset and everything in between. Great series.

Doug Taron said...

Wow, you got some great photos of a nuptial flight of ants! The rains stimulate this. Newly emerged queens and drones fly up in great columns. After mating, the queens wings are lost. They lay eggs, and do not feed until the first of the brood emerge as workers and begin to care for them. The colonies can live for many years. We have collected newly mated queens of Aphenogaster down by Rio Rico (see here). We successfully started two colonies that day, one of which now has well over 1,000 workers in it.

Flash floods are amazing. All of my Arizona blogger friends are writing about the intense monsoons this year. I know that I'll be there in just a little over 24 hours, but I still feel like I'm missing out on all the action at the moment. Your great pictures are generating intense impatience on my part.

Stanley said...

Really nice pictures. I particularly like the sunset one with the cactus =)

Pappy said...

Greetings Kathie, You're known all over the coast. Great photo spread today and gripping commentary. Thanks for your concern during our recent storm. I have trouble with the word monsoon and Arizona. They just don't feel like they should go together. See you next time. Pappy

CaBaCuRl said...

A stunning series of pictures, each one of which I needed to enlarge to see it more closely.

Pat - Arkansas said...

Kathie, your narrative is (if possible) even more beautiful than your photos. I greatly enjoyed every word!

Jimbo3DC said...

Those bugs look like termites, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

A different kind of storm day than you had in Maine, right?

Lovely photos, I laughed when I read about the plastic bag. I do that, too!

TR Ryan said...

Kathie, what a stunning narrative. Your photos are spectacular. The sunset and saguaro just took my breath away. You've captures such an essense and power of a monsoon afternoon and the morning after. All the way from the other side of the world I can smell that creosote just before the first thunder clap. Magnificent!

Kathie Brown said...

Hello everyone. Thank you all for your comments and your visits to my blog. I appreciate it so much. I am answering in reverse order today. Don't ask me why.

t.r. It was an exciting day and evening to be sure. I feel very fortunate to live here. If you're ever out this way, let me know.

gardenpath, a far differnet storm from the one I experienced in Maine to be sure. This one was more fun. That one was gentle, though it can pour like crazy out there and not relent for a week!

James, according to Doug I witnessed the nuptial flight of the ants. He explained it all to me and perhaps I shall do a post about it soon. It was interesting to see and I had no idea I was witnessing such a special event.

Pat, Wow, what a nice thing to say. As a writer, that means so much to me. Thank you!

CaBaCuRI, glad you enjoyed your visit.

Stanley, thank you!

Doug, amazing stuff with those ants. Thanks for coming to visit and thanks for filling me in on the nuptial flght thing!

Jaylynn, this is so different than the northeast and I love to share it with everyone!

Roy, you always make me smile. Thank you.

Pudgeduck, we've been getting swamped but now we are having a break. I'm sure the storms will be back soon.

Marvin, it was one of the most exciting things I have witnessed in my life. I'm glad I could do it from relative safety!

Amy, you got it right. Life is leaping, flying and growing all over the place!

Troy and martha, it's always nice to hear from you and always nice to visit too!

Mary, I do love to tell a good story and I love to read them too! Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Ruth, That prickly pear fruit will soon be prickly pear jelly if I have anything to say about it!

Wren, I couldn't say it any better!

Katnell, wouldn't this be fun to watch together?

You know klaus, I am seeing some of the best sunsets of my life down here. I didn't enhance that photo at all either. That's the real deal.