Saturday, June 18, 2011

Courthouse Wash

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.


Returning to Courthouse Wash, I followed it down past several wide curves until the day got hot.  I turned around and came back to the bike and car.


  1. Gail RadiceJune 18, 2011

    Such lovely settings to wet my artistic palette : ) Step by step, I'm melting with each beautiful scene! Tell me Sharon, what, if any, wildlife have you encountered? Even with its dryness, the Colorado is not far. Surely, there must be many critters that are roaming high and low.

  2. Gail, I have seen and photographed a squirrel and a chipmunk. I have seen hawls, ravens and canyon wrens along with other birds I don't know. Many lizards cross my path. tracks of deer and what I think are bighorn sheep dent the sand and mud in the wash today. traces of snakes, but no sightings. I admire any creature who mekes it here.

  3. Waving at you and your cowhands and feet from free wireless at the Hong Kong airport, I am glad you are not a cow and did not go waist deep in the water or walk straight up the wall, and stop when it gets too hot. Your early morning solos in the cooler air, muttering in "rock" language and being a rolling stone gives you a good perspective.Glad you can dance your way through the desert... don't forget how to speak English, you write very well but I know there's a difference between reading writing and speaking a language ... from traveling from one language to another here... next stop Japanese! Waves to Gail and her inspiration and creature questions... it is good to meet you here and hopefully soon at home!

  4. Steven RadiceJune 19, 2011

    "Muttering in rock language." Oh, how I like that!