Saturday, August 15, 2015

More about washes

Mammatus clouds forming over the Mojave Desert
We've lived in the Mojave Desert going on two years now and have spent the time observing the natural processes around us. This involved a lot of sitting on the porch, and often beer. Now that we've been through two large rain events, here's what we've pieced together regarding washes.

Washes run to the roads.
All washes run to the roads. Most roads have been overgraded and so are lower than the roads. The only place I've seen roads at the same level as the desert is far out in Wonder Valley. Because of this the roads become flood channels. Instead of staying on the desert, water is diverted to flood channels and, I guess, eventually the ocean.

The water coursing in the middle is our driveway and the water is congregating there and running to the street.
Washes go wherever the hell they want to go.
You can doctor your washes: adding swales, one-rock dams, gabions, zuni ponds, whatever, but when that heavy rain comes, it's going to laugh at you. A flash flood may take a previous route, or cut a brand new route. It will wreak havoc with your permaculture designs.

Water pooling before it begins traveling in a wash.
To divert water away from this porch you might put a berm where the split rail fence is.
Rain and washes mound the plants.
As water cuts through the desert it cuts away the sand around plants, leaving the root ball and the sand it holds. Over time, more sand blows up against this and the plant looks like it grows on a mound.

Mounding has many causes: erosion from water and wind, sand drifting around plants, and displacement of earth under the plant from animals digging shelters.

The plant in the middle of the picture has had the sand washed away around its roots.
When this wash begins to flatten out, due to more wind and rain, the plant will remain on a mound.
Washes can be diverted, to a degree.
Rocks and berms will divert flooding to a degree, but it may be just the degree you need. Determine which direction the water comes to your cabin and gently angle the water away with a row of the biggest rocks you can find. Or you can rent a backhoe and build the biggest berm you can across from your cabin. This will not last forever as water laughs at sand.

We cut a swale to the left of this wash. The last storm filled it with sand, making it disappear entirely.
Washes are called washes because they wash stuff away. This seems obvious, right? I see plants on the sides of washes and plants IN washes. You can plant in washes but you might lose your plants. We did not lose the plants we planted in the washes, but they were hanging on for dear life and most lost their cages which is an easy fix. We'll see if they do any better for the placement.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

An interview with Suzanne "Mumsie" Buckley

I haven't posted lately because I've been working on an interview for The Raven, a new quarterly being launched in Joshua Tree on a date yet to be decided.

Suzanne "Mumsie" Buckley, 81, was the subject of my interview. I spent the morning with her a couple of weeks ago at her house in Joshua Tree, and we had a wonderful time.

Suzanne "Mumsie" Buckley and her hippie van
What I didn't write about was how much the two of us had in common. We were both born in Idaho. I was born in Moscow, where she worked for the University of Idaho. She was born in Burley, in Southern Idaho. That's just 20 miles north of Oakley, where my family first landed in Idaho.

Both our families started out with the LDS church - the Mormons. Suzanne's family was from Denmark. Mine was from Sweden.

Suzanne and I both lived and worked in Ketchum, Idaho.

I worked at the Traveleze Trailer Factory my first summer out of high school, and Suzanne has a Traveleze Trailer on her property. (Now it's starting to sound like that embarrassing scene in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.")

And last but not least, we both have an abiding love and respect for the creosote tree.


Look for my interview of Suzanne in the inaugural issue of  The Raven, and if you'd like to throw a little cash their way to help The Raven get off the ground, you can do so at GoFundMe.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Our house is built on sand

Flood damage in far North Joshua Tree. See the rocks on the surface of the sand.
My neighbor calls them desert mushrooms.
These are the first tire tracks across brand new virgin desert. That was a driveway.

A heavy storm laid waste to far north Joshua Tree last Wednesday dumping rain and hail for most of the day. Wind ripped roofs off carports. A neighbor told me flash floods lasted for two hours - it was the worst he had seen in 15 years. Tons of sand were pushed onto the road, making passage nearly impossible. Scores of  residents were stuck and needed to be towed out - mostly by other dear neighbors with trucks and chains. It's the desert way. Dogs were lost and dogs were found, fences having been ripped up and undermined.

Tons of new sand were deposited on our driveway. Our street is a literal sandbox. One end is impassable, a flash flood carved into the roadbed and replaced it with 8-12" of sand. We speed and fishtail through sand as deep as eight inches in our little rice burner. White knuckle driving and the smiles of the gods have prevented us from being stuck so far. We did pick up at least one nail in the sand and survived a blowout on the freeway. We made it to the shoulder and waited for AAA as cars sped past us at 80 mph rocking our car in their wakes.

The power of the storm is mind blowing. The landscape on our property is completely different. I'm not sure where to begin. The plants and trees are all still there but the water berms are all gone. Some cages are missing. Some washes are gone. New, deeper washes have appeared. My swales are gone - all filled up. I'm glad I didn't put too much effort into that.

A turbulent flash flood carved deep pools into the wash at my neighbor's house. This wash used to be flat.
All the trash that marred our portion of the desert is blown away, so now I'm glad I didn't pick it up. It's been replaced with new trash from other areas of the desert. What do they say? "A change is as good as a rest?"

I love living in a place where nature laughs at you.