Meditation on Desert Waterfalls

I miss home so much sometimes. You know, I love Washington dearly, and I wouldn’t want to live in Arizona again, but I grew up in dry country. It got right down into my soul and it’s me. I’m looking at photos of that high desert with the cacti and the lizards and the rocks – so many rocks everywhere – and I remember how it smelled and tasted and felt. I remember the wind. I remember the relentless sun. There is nothing quite like that sun.

And it’s definitely dry. Bone dry. Suck-the-moisture-from-your-skin dry.

So those places where there’s water, they become magical. They’re completely enchanting, in a way I can’t explain to someone who’s used to seeing creeks and streams and rivers with actual water in them. To come to a place in summer, and see cool, clear water flowing over the rocks in the desert, continuously, makes you stop and stare and question your senses, because it doesn’t quite seem possible. And then you sit, and you let the water speak to you. There is nothing on earth like the sound of a waterfall singing in dry country.

This one was unexpected.

Image shows water trickling over light tan limestone rocks. There are a few scattered green plants growing amongst the rocks.
Temporary waterfall at Montezuma Well.

The Sinagua came to this desert over a thousand years ago and found this one place where water never stopped flowing, and they tamed it. They dug canals and contained it and directed it to their crops. Portions of those canals still exist. You can go and sit beside one, and listen to the water flow, under the shade of enormous old trees. When my intrepid companion and I visited Montezuma Well, some of the water had escaped the canal and was dancing merrily over the path, leaping down the hill to the creek. I got my feet into it. I laughed in delight. I wanted to stay there forever. And right now, I would give almost anything to go back.

Image shows a narrow channel of water flowing alongside a limestone cliff, with limestone blocks containing it on the other side. It curves around out of sight. You can see the sandy bottom, the water is so clear. Plants are growing inside the water, and in the distance, a healthy green maidenhair fern grows from the cliff at water level.
Sinagua canal at Montezuma Well. This Northern AZ indigenous tribe was named “Without Water” because they made their homes in dry country – but there was water, and they knew how to find it, and use it, and build infrastructure that is still in use a thousand years later. Brilliant people, those Sinagua. We don’t know what happened to them, but while they were here, they built beautiful villages and had a thriving, remarkable culture.

But only for a visit, because fuck Arizona politicians.

Per Stephanie Zvan’s request, I’ll be doing a post about the geology of Montezuma Well over at Rosetta Stones soon. I’m just wating for an expert answer on one detail, and then I will be able to tell you something you won’t find in any easily-searchable source. How neat is that?

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Meditation on Desert Waterfalls
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2 thoughts on “Meditation on Desert Waterfalls

  1. 1

    You know I lived in Tucson for 14 years, right? And before that, I lived in LA, really a desert no matter what they plant, and in the Sahara. Water in deserts is always a delight to the senses and necessary for life. Before desert living, I used to take baths, full tubs of water to laze in. Now, I’m back in North Carolina (and fuck our politicians, too) and can’t justify the profligate water usage, even though we’re in a temperate rain forest region and get 40+ inches of rain a year. I just can’t do it and wince when I see people doing it. Water is our most precious resource. But I treasure my memories of Sabino Canyon in the hot hot summers in Tucson, lying on rocks in the stream and feeling the water wash over me.

  2. 2

    I have property in the sagebrush country of the Eastern Sierra, in Northern California. There’s a “creek” on our property, actually the usually-dry wash of an alluvial fan. In 2011 we had a heavy snow year, and the dry wash ran with a serious flow for a month or so. It was so serious that the state highway maintenance crew dug a temporary drain along the side of the highway, else it would have overflowed the highway.

    I was enraptured. To see a dry wash run is something magical, especially if you know something about how water moves earth. The stony bed, the cut banks, that had only made sense intellectually — now they were alive, being changed, being resorted and carved anew.

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