Added 11 November 2012
27 September 2012, Buckskin Gulch/Paria Canyon
The original plan for the day was to day hike down canyon, but while I was interested to see any changes down canyon due to the recent flood, I also DIDN'T want to see the changes down canyon, so I decided to stay close to camp and focus on the details of my immediate surroundings. That's when I penned the following poem.
A Truth About Floods
Silt and clay have filled in the voids
between sand and cobbles,
working even on the boulders.
The footprint of a flood
two weeks back.
I love floods;
and, of course, the power.
But not this flood.
This flood made me a victim.
Though that came weeks later.
Upon reaching the confluence
there was awe, there was excitement,
there was . . . power made apparent.
A place I had camped before
now a deep, odorous goo,
anything welcoming washed away
down the dense Paria River.
Moving down canyon, realization came:
this isn't the same place
so dear in memories.
I know floods. Why, how,
and roughly how often.
I work with them, map them, explain them,
console other people who've suffered them.
I know geology, too.
I like to think I think like a mountain,
taking the side of epochs over seconds.
But now, walking down
this canyon of bright memories,
slogging over shores covered in mud
wondering where whole tree covered
benches ended up downstream,
only now do I deeply know
that this place that I once
thought effectively eternal
is as transient as I am.
Trees will grow tall and fall away.
This river will rage and die.
Even these mighty, massive walls of stone
will be buried or decay back
to the sand from whence they came.
The flood has already washed away
the part of me who thought he knew something.
Perhaps one day I will return
to discover how wrong I am, even now.
While I wrote, Chuck and I sat in the alcove and talked most of the morning. Then we both concluded that we really should do more than just sit around all day so we went down to the river and let our whims take us where they willed. We checked out some animal tracks in the mud, which lead us to a mud pit that seemed especially mucky, and possibly quite deep.
I threw a good sized rock into the mud pit and sunk as though it had been thrown in water, except that the entry point was preserved, creating a crater which was a splash frozen in time. As we marveled at that, the crater started to fill up with water from below. The water eventually overtopped the edge of the crater, which was itself higher than the original surface of the mud pit, and spilled out over the surface. Throwing the rock into the pit somehow disrupted the balance of forces that had formed within the pit, likely by breaking through a layer of low permeability clays on the surface, allowing water which was apparently under hydraulic head to escape out of the hole. The mud hole was next to a higher bench of mostly sand. When Chuck had walked on it earlier, he started sinking in like it was quicksand. After throwing in a few more rocks, and thus causing more water to drain out of the mud pit, Chuck walked on the sand terrace again and it was firmer than it had been. My hypothesis is that water trapped in the higher bench was creating the head that pushed the water out of the craters we created. It was all quite cool, and we had fun playing with the mud.
After that, we wandered around, often separately, but coming together from time to time for something particularly interesting that one or the other of us found.
We eventually returned to the alcove for lunch, and after that I decided that I need to move a bit and I hiked up to the Buckskin Gulch confluence then up Buckskin Gulch a ways. There appeared to be less water flowing down Buckskin Gulch today. As I hiked I wished that I had brought my tin whistle. The canyon gave me an incredible urge to play some songs, or just make some noise out of it. I ended up singing Three Ravens quietly as I hiked. It seemed appropriate somehow.
While on my little excursion I met three guys who came down Paria and were camped up canyon from us. They had originally planned on hiking down Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch, but changed their plans after learning about the conditions in the canyon in the aftermath of the flood. We talked to a few groups that told a similar story. It seems that we were one of only a few folks to brave post-flood Buckskin Gulch, and I am extremely glad we did, because it was an awesome experience.
When I got back at dusk (much later than I planned on returning) Steve was back from his day hike. He went 7 miles downstream and at one point walked into a pit of quicksand that was at least knee deep. He didn't stick around long enough to find out if he'd hit bottom. When he said that the canyon remained mud coated as far down as he went, it reassured me that I had made the right decision by staying near camp and the confluence.
That evening when the moon came up we watched a re-run of the shadow play on the opposite canyon wall while we talked some more. The performance was slightly different tonight, but largely recognizable.