Water in the Desert

Spring often brings rains. And rains, when you live in the desert, are most often violent. Caused by warm, wet air rising up over our cold air, the edge where they meet triggers downpours and high winds. In the summer, we wait for the Monsoons, but in the Spring, they are thunderstorms of threat and high water.


Spring storm coming.

Every arroyo has been running since it started raining this morning. These dry river beds fill up and race at amazing speed.

highflowThe same path that I walked down a week ago is now six feet under racing brown water, so heavy with silt and trash that just eight inches of it on a road will push an SUV off a two-lane highway and 200 feet down the arroyo before anyone can get out.

Octotillo buds set and bloom quickly once the plant soaks up rain.

Octotillo buds set and bloom quickly once the plant soaks up rain.

We still need the rain. It would be best if it were not three inches in 24 hours, rain that falls that hard can’t be captured successfully. The wildflowers will benefit, but sadly, the orange blossoms are getting beaten off the trees, so that crop is as good as gone with a frost.

Pencil cactus in growth phase.

Pencil cactus in growth phase.

This pencil cactus, planted so it gets hit with rain from the roof, is already starting to put out new, red growth.

Spring4And one of my blue agaves is setting pups. It will take eight years till I can use this plant for tequila, but until then, I’m enjoying that it’s going to hit a growth spurt with the rain. Hose water keeps them alive, but rain makes them grow.

Spring3One of the few shrubs with thinner, larger leaves also has large, white flowers. It’s a type of primrose, and it blooms frantically in April (usually).

Spring6The fig tree, bare three days ago, leafs out at the first rain. In a few weeks, I’ll be glad that the big leaves will shade the side of the house. Now I’m hoping the fig wasp will not drown. No fig wasp, no figs.

As with all things, the rain brings delight and pain. I’ve heard fire engines and ambulances most of the evening. Much of our neighborhood doesn’t have storm drains–we really don’t need them. In a heavy rain, the streets, particularly those with speed bumps, fill with water.

As the water washes off the roof, it carves arroyos in the xeriscaped yard. It’s a harsh climate, but still beautiful.

—Quinn McDonald is a naturalist and journal keeper.

22 thoughts on “Water in the Desert

  1. Sigh. Rain. I would love to see rain. Meanwhile here in Edmonton the daytime high was -15 c – bright sunshine though. That’s 5 Fahrenheit fer you ‘mericans.

    • I’m in Cincinnati, filming the DVD for the book, and this morning is was 7 degrees above zero F. That was plenty cold for me! Having fun, but will be glad to get back to the desert.

  2. I imagine that it is not easy to adapt to the desert climate if you haven’t been used to it. I myself don’t like hot weather, it makes me ill. One year we went to the south of Spain in summer; I felt too weak to visit places and even eating cost me too much effort; maybe I should go again …. on a diet trip…..

  3. Hope your trip is safe and you dress warm enough (until we get a blast of winter, it’s easy to forget how many layers you need to avoid hypothermia)! We got your ‘rain’ but it’s coming down semi-solid and we now own a quarter-mile ice rink that used to be a street and driveway!

    • It’s such a dressing problem when you go from on climate to the next. Layers here will be hot, but once I get there not enough. I’m remembering a hat this time. Last time I didn’t have that, and it makes a huge difference.

  4. Thank you for sharing! I liked reading your post and looking at the photos of the world surrounding you. It all sounds so very exotic to me living in the middle of Europe with our 4 seasons, although the climate has been changing these last years with no real winters and no real summers. I like to observe the nature surrounding me and noticing the little changes happening along the year. The cranes have already returned but what makes me really happy is the return of the barn swallows in a month or two…

    • I, too, am noticing our winter birds leaving. It always makes me sad, as for us, it means that soon it will be too hot to do anything outside. We have another full month of great weather. The first year was harsher than I thought, and then I adjusted.

  5. Thanks for the tour of spring in the desert. I love the stark beauty of the desert. Here in Colorado everything is a frosty world of white this morning, which is equally beautiful. Once the sun appears it will all be gone though. But fleetingly, the brilliant blue sky makes the crystals sparkle even more. I hope my description helps you see what I’m seeing.

  6. The sun is shining now, but in the last 24 hours the land near our casita had 1.8 inches of rain, the most rain I’ve seen fall in one prolonged storm since I’ve been here. What a sight! We are fortunate that all is xeriscaped and there is minimal pavement, and for the most part the water has soaked in or traveled through the arroyos.

    But 3 inches! That is a lot of water in a city. No wonder the roads were full and your walking path underwater! Sounds like it sure could be dangerous, it’s always a necessity to be aware of conditions when one mixes desert and rain.

    But the desert is such an amazing place. And in a day or two there will be a tiny covering of green across parts of the Sonoran Desert!

    • As you are a naturalist, you are familiar with the weirdness of arroyos. You have probably seen them fill and run in your area while the sun is shining, because it is raining upstream. I often walk in arroyo beds, but stay alert–if I come to a stretch with a steep wall, I’ll climb out first, even if the sun is shining. Arroyos can fill in under a minute.

    • Making tequila is labor-intensive, requires a LOT of plants, equipment and time. And I don’t drink anymore–alcohol is carb-laden. So no, but it’s a joke out here that if you have more than one blue agave in your lawn, you are planning on tequila.

  7. Such an interesting post and beautiful pictures. Thank you.

    Stay safe from Ilsa in Wichita where it is 6 degrees outside and snowing lightly.

      • Any tips on how to act like it’s not midwinter? Could come in handy around here, where winter has a very big middle. It doesn’t exercise much; just settles in and loafs.

        • Great description. And you have had a super-tough winter. My son lives in New England, and I have relatives in your neck of the woods, and everyone is sick of it. I’d suggest forcing bulbs indoors. Paperwhite narcissus are easy to force, but not everyone loves the fragrance. I forced three amaryllis starting in January, and it was cheerful.

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