Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Nature’s Sewer System

Wash 1 (8671)

I know that I’ve written about slot canyons and washes before, and I know I’ve mentioned my complete fascination with these natural sewer systems on a few occasions, but I can’t help doing it at least one more time.  How could I not?  Once I get down into one of these things and start exploring it, I’m hooked.  It’s one of those “Follow the yellow brick road” experiences.  Once you start, you have to finish.  You have to see what’s up ahead.  Does it go straight or does it turn?  Are there still steep walls on either side or does it flatten out for a while?  Will it stay cool and out of the sun or will the temperature rise suddenly as the shade disappears?  And the ever present question (for me, anyway) – Is there anything else walking around down here?  Like a Desert Bighorn.  Probably something I shouldn’t worry about, but it does cross my mind.  I’ve seen them walking around in these washes.  This is, after all, where they’ll find food and water.  And shade.  And they’re out of sight.  So I think about it.  I end up wondering what I’d do if I came nose to nose – or nose to horns – with one of them up around the next bend.  There’s no place to go.  And I doubt I’ll outrun him.  If he doesn’t like my looks, I’m screwed.

Actually, I’m being a little paranoid.  From what I’ve read, a bighorn will probably be more upset (and frightened) by our “encounter” than I will.  When hikers and bighorn meet unexpectedly, the bighorn usually takes off in the opposite direction.  They don’t mind butting heads with other bighorns but humans, apparently, are quite another matter.

Aside from that little phobia, however, I’m like the proverbial kid in the candy store.  Lots of stuff to look at and nobody here but me.  What could be better?

Wash 5 (8670)

I’ve got soft, white (or sometimes pinkish) sand to walk on, red rocks shaped by thousands of years of erosion to look at, and a whole lot of other stuff that’s been deposited along the way (even tree trunks).  Stuff that’s been carried downstream through the wash until the water stopped running.  Where it will sit until the next deluge picks it up and carries it off again.  Those rocks piled up where the wash takes a hard turn to the right didn’t get there by themselves.  The water did that.  And if it can move rocks that big, try to imagine what it could do if we got caught down there when the water came rushing through.  Not on this day, though.  On this day, it was dry as a bone.

And once in a while, if you’re there at the right time, the sun hits an opposing wall just so and the reflection creates an amazing sight.  Like this one.

Wash 3 (8713)

In the right light, this Navajo sandstone literally glows.  Formed during the Jurassic Period – when dinosaurs were walking around – these formations are continuously being eroded by water and turned back into sand (that is, turned back into what they were in the first place).  Geologically, what goes around comes around.

Then you emerge from the canyon and the wash flattens out.  But just before that, you see a strange sight.  Pine cones, spread out like bread crumbs along one side of the wash.  Did the water do that, too?  Or is that just where they happened to fall?  I think maybe the former, since there are no trees in the immediate vicinity.  But I don’t know.

Wash 4 (8722)

What I do know, though, is that they’ll be gone after the next hard rain.  Swept away with the rocks and the logs and the sand.  Replaced by other stuff.  The canyon will be a little deeper and the rocks will look a little different.  Just as it should be.



4 Responses to “Nature’s Sewer System”

  1. oneowner

    I would guess the best thing to do, when encountering a bighorn at close range, is to shoot it. With a camera, of course, since bighorn are never “in season”.
    Pine cones in the desert is a very strange sight. Makes for a great photo, though.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Ken. Well, you can hunt bighorn in season, but not in a national park, of course. Which is probably a good thing since some of them will sit by the road and be unfazed by all the traffic that stops to see them. Their numbers had dwindled to dangerously low levels at one time, but they’ve definitely rebounded. Even so, I can’t see killing these creatures. It’s not like anyone actually eats them or uses them to make clothing…….Hunters just want the trophy.

      Lots and lots of evergreens in Zion and Bryce. This isn’t Sonoran desert (like southern California or Arizona). It’s high desert. Evergreens do pretty well here. Snow covered evergreens in the winter, standing next to chiseled formations of Navajo sandstone, now that’s a sight to behold!

  2. Cedric Canard

    Excellent photos, good post too. The photo of the pine cones was a little surreal to me; a case of: What’s wrong with this picture. 🙂

    I imagine I would be just as drawn to walking these “paths” as you are.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Cedric. Interesting comment (“What’s wrong with this picture?”). As I mentioned to Ken, pine cones are very common here. The “strange” thing was their alignment in the wash. You usually find them in small piles, sometimes mixed in with rocks and twigs. These were more or less evenly spaced, and pretty much on just the one side. Again, strange.


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