September 4-10, 2013
We stayed for a week with friends in Moab, Utah. The first part of the week was oppressively hot and I felt both lethargic and apathetic most of the time. Although I love the area and it’s fantastic beauty, (such as Arches National Park), the idea of being out in the daytime sun was intolerable. So we did little outdoor exploring. Susie and I did go to a very pleasant local swimming hole for some refreshing relief.
Moab has sentimental associations for Chris and I. We spent a few weeks there together shortly after we started our relationship in 2001. Back then, we had camped along the Colorado River and I thought we might do it again for a few days, but Route 128 – where most of the campgrounds were – was being repaired, bike trails were being constructed, and the traffic was heavy and frustrating.
During the latter part of the week, the weather turned just plain weird. It got cooler and rained heavily for several days. Although this also discouraged our usual outdoor activity (I had been considering some river kayaking), it did bring unusual opportunities.
One was an expedition to the LaSal Mountains to go mushroom hunting. S. and K. were interested in collecting their annual supply of edible mushrooms to dehydrate and eat over the winter. I was, of course, interested in wandering about the national forest and photographing any fungal finds or other interesting sights. Dressed in rain gear, we bush-whacked the mountain sides. This area, although only 30 miles from Moab, offered a completely different climate, with forests and undergrowth covering the earth instead of stark monolithic red rock formations. The ground was water-logged and drizzle fell off and on. Mushrooms of all sizes, colors and species sprouted through the duff and dead trees. I could have spent days there exploring.
The other opportunity was a truly special treat that only occurs in desert canyon country. The heavy rains produce flash flooding which created short-lived but magnificent waterfalls along the canyon walls.
The Most Ephemeral Water
The fifth night brought a second day of heavy showers, so unusual for the desert here. On our way to the 8:15 AM meditation group, Susie and I stopped briefly to check for flash flood waterfalls in nearby Moonflower Canyon. There was water everywhere, seeking the lowest point, flowing with determination. The lowest point here was the Colorado River just across the road. This great river was slicing its way through the earth on its journey to Glen Canyon and the Grand Canyon beyond. It was high and even siltier than usual, swirling like red-stained milk.
Waterfalls toppled to shelves and terraces along the cliffs finding new spots to collect, pool and overflow, cascading ever downward. Multiple thin white streams appeared against the red cliffs, streaking the desert patina. The rocky expanse of the Utah desert was far above, invisible to us, causing the tumbling water to appear as if from nowhere.
The sand, rock and dirt was too dry, too packed to absorb the sudden deluge of rain. Drops gathered into tiny wormlike rivulets and then into larger streams and eventually into the surging frothy gush of a flash flood. Eventually, like unsuspecting lemmings, the gathered droplets fell over precipices, giving them all the experience of free fall, hurling them down to the red dirt floor of the canyon. It was hard to leave but I was scheduled to give a talk; the rain was beginning to subside, spelling doom to the waterfalls.
After meditation and a stop for coffee and conversation, the rain picked up again. What fortune! Susie and I returned to Moonflower Canyon to see if the flash flood waterfalls were flowing again. Since our first visit a few hours earlier, a huge boulder had fallen from its high perch and landed in the middle of the road. Multiple cataracts also spilled onto the asphalt.
The large falls at the far end of Moonflower was a breath-taking torrent. The waters first fell onto a ledge, then ran to the right before it created a second tall cascade. The normally dry, dusty canyon floor now had a sizable stream running through it.
We stumbled back-and-forth across the short-lived widening creek to get closer to the waterfalls, carefully finding our footing on submerged rocks, testing the depth of the opaque waters. The waterfall created it’s own wild wind, whipping water and the nearby shrubs and trees into a wet frenetic dance. It was impossible to tell the rain from the flying spray.
Negative ions made the air especially refreshing and invigorating; we yelped a few times in delight. The falls roared and splattered in response. Susie pointed out the spot where a mutual friend of ours had been married, right where the big torrent hit the ground. Previous floods had carved out a natural amphitheater usually perfect for gatherings and ceremonies . . . . but not now!
Other waterfall watchers had arrived, staring in amazement. Some were in full rain gear, risking their expensive cameras for a shot of this rare and magical event. I didn’t have my good camera, only my iPhone which had a protective cover. The rain began to lighten as the sky brightened, some blue showed through. These falls would soon run their course and finish emptying into the river. The flash flood, like a liquid catharsis, like a sudden ritual cleansing of the desert, was over. The canyon walls would soon hide any evidence of water and the canyon floor would again be arid.