Several nights ago we were blessed with the sounds of hard rain on our metal roof, and that is always a treat. During these storms it is nice to sit under the porch roof and enjoy the smell of fresh water on the dry desert. But last week the strength of the storm drove the rain onto the porch and blew away the chairs. My little outside cat had to huddle in a corner on the only dry spot she could find.
As I stepped out of the house to catch the flying furniture, I felt a sense that the sounds were different. I sensed noises that I may only hear once every other year or so, the sounds of rock upon rock pushed by torrents of water emanating from usually dry washes. Every crevice of our valley was running with water.
“Flash flood in the creek!” I told my husband John as I jumped back into the house. “Let’s go watch it!”
We hustled into our old one-ton four-wheel-drive Chevy and headed down the road. But not far. Just outside our front gate, where the deep sand in the broad dry wash has been known for causing small cars and rafting buses to get stuck, there was a torrent too huge to cross. We were not going to be able to see Onion Creek in flood, even though it was just a quarter-mile away. We were temporarily stranded at home because one of the major washes that drains Fisher Towers was in full action.
Though it was midnight and the storm clouds were blocking any light from the stars or the three-quarter moon, our headlights shone through pelting droplets illuminating wave after wave of thin mud. Our eyes were transfixed on the mad water that was rushing to the river, carrying a sand sage here, a rabbit brush there, prickly pear and rocks large and small. It was hypnotic.
The changing water volume of the flash flood created waves into our driveway as if on a small ocean; at one time rushing toward our pickup and into the cattle guard, and at other times receding to a trickle. Then within seconds, another huge gush would come, sending white caps over a newly deposited boulder.
What regulated that water action? A change in the rain volume from the skies, or little expansions of the wash bed above caused by sudden erosion? Perhaps it was sporadic blockages and openings in the four large culverts that carry water under state Route 128. Those culverts, which offer home to desert bats and other shade seekers, were working overtime that night.
But not so much as the bridge over Onion Creek, where the water jumped the road and the guardrail, as it does every few years. Somehow the little cliff swallow nests made of mud that are affixed to the underside of this bridge box are left unscathed during these events. We’ve seen Onion and Professor creeks flood a few times in the past several years, and it’s one of the most impressive spectacles of nature that occurs in our area. This time it knocked out our phone service for a couple of days.
I look forward to the monsoons every summer. I love the thunder, the lightning, the waterfalls on the river road, the wondrous clouds and the smell of fresh rain on the tired desert. I can bear the sun-bleached days of long Moab summers knowing that the skies may suddenly darken, providing unequaled awe and entertainment, and that the desert can be re-sculpted and renewed by the priceless moisture.