Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Ephemeral Nature of Water - Waterfalls

In much of the country, people take water - both its presence and availability - for granted.  Here in the desert, however, water is seldom plentiful more than a handful of times during the year; yet, the flora and fauna are well-adapted to handle the intermittent precipitation in a variety of ways.   For most people living in desert regions, rain is usually a welcome event.

The El Nino storm that blew through the pacific coast, west and southwestern regions of the country last week definitely left more than its fair share of snow and rain in its wake: Flagstaff got a whopping 50" of snow, more than it has seen from a single storm in 40 years.  That snowpack will help replenish the nearby lakes and underground aquifers that the community relies on for its water supply.

Here in southern AZ, precipitiation from the storm was much more modest - I had about 2" of snow on my car Friday morning.  The surrounding hills and mountains got a bit more.  One of the things about living here is that snow generally doesn't last more than a day, and that melting snow has to go somewhere.  The Mule Mountains, particularly in the area west of town known as "the divide", are formed of pink granite, and as one drives up Hwy 80 into town, creekbeds and washes that collect the runoff and snowmelt are seen, and have always been dry since I've lived here.  Locals know of one area in particular, simply known as "the falls", where water cascades off the side of the granite during monsoons.  Speaking to someone at the bar on Saturday, I found out that area was indeed flowing due to the snowmelt; the photos he took were compelling enough for me!  So, on Sunday afternoon, I drove down for a hike and some pictures of my own. 

The falls are visible from the road, and there is a turnout right at the creek that runs under the highway.  A guardrail protects cars from the creek and v.v., and a short trail was immediately visible on the other side of the guardrail.  The drainage is primarily a series of large and small granite boulders, and some areas of granite slickrock.  Following the drainage up requires some climbing and scrambling over large and small boulders.  The water was fast-moving, crystal clear and ice cold. 

Below are some selected images of this seasonal creek; the view changed dramatically as I headed up, lending a different feel to the falls from each vantage point.  Photos are shown in the order they were taken up the drainage.  This will be dry again within the next few days, or until another storm rolls through.

Falls from the Highway
Taken from the road, this shows the rugged granite of the south face of the mountain.  Scrub oak dot the cliffs and slopes.

 Small Falls and Shadows
The shadows cast from the surrounding trees add a sense of depth to the rock, while the small waterfall remains sunlit.

Cascade with Grass
A slower shutter speed provides a pleasing softness to the moving water and helps define its curtain-like form. 

Chosen Path
After coming off the vertical rock, the water briefly disappears from view before heading down this section of slickrock.
Exceeding Expectations
This large spire, previously obscured by the higher background of the mountain, now comes into view.  And the closer vantage point reveals a beautiful rainbow of colors formed by the mist of the falls. 

Had I left earlier in the afternoon, I would have continued up closer to the falls.  However, shortly after I took this photo, the sun dropped behind the mountain side on the south side of the canyon, reducing visibility for the hike back down and causing a rapid drop in ambient temperature at this time of the year - not a good combination when one is out alone. 

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