A Desert Wash in Springtime

The wash was wide and gentle, at first.

The wash was wide and gentle, at first.

Cross cut reveals layers of soil and rock

Cross cut reveals layers of soil and rock

I leave the Pyramid Trail where it crosses a big wash, before it begins its tortuous ascent. At first the wash is wide and flat as it sweeps around the western edge of the mountain, sandy underfoot. The sides of the wash range from low mounds to steeply cut banks fifteen to twenty feet high. These cross cuts of exposed bank allow me to mentally lift the earth’s crust and see how the substratum varies. At this point the desert soil is deep and many critters have burrowed homes in the bank. Different sized rocks and boulders also jut out, fists punched through from the other side.
A rocky channel lines the lowest point of the wash and higher ground is claimed by wildflowers and grasses. These tiny plants are subtle yet the overall effect is powerful, giving the impression of Ireland instead of a desert. Bright yellow poppies sparkle. Blue lupine is shyer, but as rich in color. Finches trill as they peck for seeds in the shade of bankside palo verde trees. Cactus wrens call from the tops of saguaros and gnatcatchers sing and buzz while they forage among the branches of an ironwood tree. Desert lavender and brittle bush are wash migrants as entire plants may be swept downstream in a big rain, roots and all.
Voices float from high above on the Pyramid Trail and I see tiny stick figures outlined on the ridge. I have to stop to look because the footing is ever rockier. Stickery wolf berry and palo verde branches reach for my pants, my skin. In a glen where sunlight hangs visibly in the air I’m caught in a cross fire of bird song. A big snag of ancient ironwood hosts a flock of warbling finches.
The north side of the mountain reveals dizzying cliffs of ancient stone streaked with desert varnish. The wash falls into the shadow of the peak and changes mood. I’m soon pulling myself up over gigantic boulders and finding puddles of brown water, remnants of recent rain. Bees drone along the narrow channel and hover above the pools; buzzing with intensity.
I assess my route through the next boulder choked stretch and realize water has gradually washed layers of soil from this tumble of rocks, and deposited it in broad strokes downstream where my hike started. The dark cliffs tower to my right and a gentler ridge flexes its own muscular rock to my left. I arrive at the bottom of a dry waterfall. The white rock falls like a stone robe draped from the knees of a giant. Luckily for hikers little ledges form toeholds.
The wash winds on through the valley to the east, bristling with shrubby trees. I find a comfy boulder and sit for awhile. The air has a misty quality. Birds sing, bees drone and a green hummingbird comes briefly to the wolfberry at my elbow. A few minutes later I hear what sounds like a fairy clapping. I turn my head and a gnatcatcher flies away – her wing beats make that magical sound.
Next time I visit the wash most likely the puddles will be dry and the wildflowers gone to seed. There is something about washes, that attraction and dread of hidden places. Secrets lie not only beneath the crust of the earth but within our own ability to look and discover something new, something that nevertheless has been there all along.


3 responses to “A Desert Wash in Springtime

  1. I am humbled by your ability to express verbally what I see! Thanks.

  2. Washes and the wonder of what water does in the desert- lovely views simmer in my mind. Thanks!

  3. Pyramid will never look the same again– thanks, for noticing!

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