The Colorado River passes just north of Moab, sliding across the state line at about ten miles per hour with snowmelt from the Colorado Rockies. Last winter, twice as much snow fell as usual, and June has been an extra-warm month so far. The Colorado had little choice but to spill over its banks and impolitely flood the campgrounds along its shores with muddy water, brown and red as bean soup. But even with its massive flow, the Colorado does not water the desert through which it passes. Just a hundred feet from its shore, the desert prevails in all its dryness.
Feeding into the Colorado, a usually-dry wash flows from the north, just outside of Moab. Edward Abby spent time here herding cattle back in the sixties and writes it in his book, Desert Solitaire. He and two other cowboys started on horseback in Arches National Park and worked down the wash gathering cattle that had grazed there all summer, held in by the vertical walls of the canyon and its tributaries, driving them to Moab. Cattle are excluded today, so I expected the grass and bushes to have grown dense and maybe difficult to get through. There is no trail, but I figure that vegetation permitting, I can go anywhere a cow can.
The Colorado River backs up into Courthouse Wash during high water, but its level has dropped about six feet from the peak a few days ago, and I figured it might be low enough to free Courthouse Wash of backwater.
I drove to the place in Arches where Abbey and his friends started the cattle drive and left my bicycle there, locked onto a sign post. Then I drove back to the Colorado River and started walking up Courthouse Wash. Backup water from the Colorado was deep at the start, but I was able to get around it along the side. After half a mile, I was nearly past it when I came to this lovely setting, and knew that a cow would have sloshed through the waist deep water where I was unwilling. Discouraged, I returned to the car, drove back to the bike, and began from the upper end.
Tall grass and bushes surely did slow my progress, but never stopped it. And now I was much too far upstream to encounter backwater. See here the high water marks, not from Colorado backup, but from a raging flash flood that thundered through here some time past.
I came to the first big side canyon entering from the north and decided to explore it. Abbey would have done this to see if any cattle had gone up there. The canyon narrowed, walls closing in, but I walked easily on its sandy bottom. Suddenly, it ended at a shear wall that no cow or cowboy could scale.