Flash Flood in Anza Borrego

Our last morning in Palm Desert (the Coachella Valley) was rainy and surprisingly cool. It rained hard off and on for a couple hours as we prepared to head for the coast. Rain is not much of a problem here so there are swales along the road edges and then concrete riverways that collect water instead of sub-surface drainage like we have in the east. There is no (or very little) sub-surface drainage in areas where rainfall is limited and freezing rarely occurs. I drove in the rain to wash the car and then we headed south toward the Salton Sea and then west through the Anza Borrego State Park. This is a remote and large region with limited vegetation and great scenery. Ansel Adams did much of his photography in this area. The gray clouds and the rain followed us. It was eery to be in cactus-lands and have thunder and lightning.
We arrived at the park headquarters in the small town of Borrego Springs just as a downpour began. We stayed there quite a while despite them having lost the ability to show movies. Finally we decided to head out and see what we could see from the car’s windows. What we discovered was that the town was awash with flooding. There were places we had to detour through a parking lot or driveway. It was fun in a way. 
We headed out into the bush country where we hoped to find LeConte’s Thrasher. The rains were intermittent and when it rained we would head down the road to pass the time. We found a flash-flood of silty water coming down a dirt track and cutting across the road. At first it was just a foot of very brown water filled with old tumbleweeds. After a while the vegetation was gone and the water was a bit deeper. Then there was a wall of tumbleweed and water that raised the flood about three feet or more. It ate through the roadway and broke a 3″ pipe gate. At this point is was scary not just fun. I was watching the water to see if rattlesnakes were going to flash by – none did.

After starting rather small the water surged filling the road crossing and swelling against the gate. There was noise from this but no where near as loud as expected. The water was so brown with dirt  that it was more like a slurry of mud flowing past rather than bubbly as water would be. It was easy to see this river of sand wearing down rocks and changing landscapes. The water is the medium but the particles are the grit.

The second surge of water rose up against the gate and broke the chain and knocked half the gate down after digging out its footing. The tumbleweed acted as a dam once it lodged against the gate. 

The town landfill was the only thing further up the road and local landscapers arrived with trailers of brush – but they couldn’t get through the torrent. After the torrent abated there was a washout that was easily two feet deep and they still couldn’t cross. Rocks as large as bushel baskets were rolled downstream.

We went back up the road and met up with a British couple that was looking for the thrasher as well and we wandered the rather barren landscape for an hour or so without any luck. We then continued west toward the coast but with a couple hours of mountains, and then hills, to cross. Along the way we stopped for a look at Canyon Wrens and then had a good look at the Black-throated Sparrow (shown below). 

Sparrows have a rather drab and brown reputation. However, as you can see some of them are pretty cool looking. This bird, the Black-throated Sparrow, should be called the Desert Sparrow because it is really limited to dry areas. It is a rather common bird in the right habitat and seeing these guys in the wild makes all the sand, and cactus, and heat worthwhile.

I am attaching one more sparrow image; that of a White-crowned Sparrow. This is another of the crisp, brazen, flashy sparrows. Maybe some day I’ll stick in photos of the plain ones; Song, Swamp, Lincoln’s, and so on.
Anyway, we arrived on the coast in the dark and in the rain. We have kind of settled in for the next few days and are ready to travel the Freeways of Orange County.

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