I’m at Arches National Park near the town of Moab, Utah. I don’t know if I’m looking at an arroyo or a wash. Is it both? We set up camp in a low-lying area surrounded by high boulders and pointy crops of red rock. The elevation reaches over 5500 feet.
I’m camping in the desert with photographers from RIT. They are strangers to me until this trip. I’m an MCAD student and see a flyer on the bulletin board for a summer exchange program. I make a plan for one man to swing by Minneapolis on his way to Albuquerque and pick me up. I meet him in a small town in Wisconsin, ride with him along the southern route through Iowa and Texas. We stop to chat with a friendly woman at an east Texas gas station that I would love to interview.
No time. We have to keep driving.
We visit and photograph a hot springs north of Jemez Springs, New Mexico — Spence Hot Springs. It’s a short hike across a foot log over the Jemez River, and up a wooded hill. Before that, I walked around Albuquerque and bought a pair of binoculars in a camera store. We stayed the first night in an old travel motel with a single squat room. Green linoleum floors, a refrigerator, a small stove. It smelled musty like decades of old sweat.
I don’t know what possessed me to sign up for the month trip. It was a time when I took more risks. I didn’t end up being friends with any of the RIT photographers. But the photographs – I’ll never forget pitching my borrowed Eureka! tent right on a ledge over Lake Powell. It wasn’t a smart move. I woke up in the middle of the night to tent stakes being ripped out of the ground by gale force canyon winds. Frightened, I quickly stirred, circled the green flaps and tried to pound the stakes back into the hard earth.
It was no use. I dragged my tent, with everything inside, further back into the grassy area. I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I went out to the edge of what used to be Glen Canyon (until they flooded her to make the lake) and took black and white photographs of the full moon. It was a lonely feeling. Yet the stars were so bright. The way they can only shine in New Mexico or Montana.
Arches Park. The wash. The arroyo. I’m back in Arches. Not long after we pitched our tents in the campsite, a thunderstorm approached. I was starting to get used to the afternoon rains, 108 degree daytime temperatures that dipped to freezing at dark, fierce lightening that cracked across the late night skies. But this storm was different.
The torrential rain hit suddenly and fast, pelting our sun burnt faces and skin. There were about 12 of us in various camping positions around the site. A flash flood rushed headlong down the cracks and gullies between outcropped rocks, sweeping into our campsite.
No time to think. I was taking a nap when my tent floor started filling with water. Unzipppppped the fly and poked my head out to chaos. Everyone was scrambling to get their camera equipment, clothes, and sleeping bags up off the ground and into the cars. Ankle deep water, rising to the knees. Then it was over.
The fire burned all night, flames licking sleeping bags, shirts, and cargo shorts perched on sticks in a circle around the heat. Eventually, we dried out. But I’ll never forget how quickly the arroyo filled with hot-blooded summer rains, scaring the living daylights out of me. A valuable lesson learned about the arroyo seco and the wash – dry to wet in the blink of an eye. If you are living on the land, beware.
-posted on red Ravine, Friday, September 18th, 2009
-Note: lost track of time when doing this practice. It ended somewhere between 15 -20 minutes, probably closer to 20.
-related to Writing Topic post: Standing Your Ground — Arroyo, Gulch, Gully & Wash