Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What A Change: Mesquite Offroading

If there's nothing else that can be said about Mesquite it's that this years snowbirding adventure has been different than any others – anywhere! Well, perhaps not anywhere; because, if we went anywhere else one would expect it to be different. Coming back to a spot where we've been before, we expect it to be the same, or at least a little similar.

The Kokopelli club is still here. Nancy, the lobbyist is still at her paid job to turn Gold Butte into a "hikers only" coffee table book for the Sierra Club. And the Mayor is still here - for a little while more.

But, right off the bat we found that many of the washes had substantially changed from rains either last spring or early this fall. Charlie said that things had washed out a little – and boy was he right! We almost didn't recognize Mud Wash for all the rocks. BUT, little did we know that was merely the beginning.

After a first couple of rides it got overcast and rainy. When it didn't show signs of letting up we took a couple of rides in the SUVs to ease the withdrawal pains.

Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.”Roger Miller
Then, it got colder and snowed! Not just for overnight but for weeks. Being overcast, it didn't melt and even stayed on the ground clear out on Bunkerville Flats. Across the desert, toward Vegas, there were even areas of standing water where the desert sand was saturated. Lime Kiln Canyon was impassable. Cabin Canyon has turned into an "E" Ticket ride.

Plan "B" has always been for me to work on digitizing trails from map books that I'm able to obtain; either from donations or from lending institutions. But that can only go so far. I have been able to obtain access to three of Roger Mitchell's great SUV books full of Geology and history. It turns out however, that even though they contained some really great trails, they were some of his early books which came out before someone had beaten him into reluctantly including some GPS coordinates, so quickly had me tearing out my hair. [Another story for another time]

But, how long can this last right? This IS the desert after all. Well, then the sun did come out; but, the temperature really didn't rise much. It stayed in the 40's seemingly forever – which was probably lucky for us because what seemed like all the water in Wyoming, Montana and Utah decided to snowbird down here too… all at once!

Gordon called to tell me that there were actual waterfalls all through the Virgin River Gorge between here and St. George. Never saw that before, so we had to bundle up and ride up to see.

He was right. Cascades of water were pummeling over the high cliffs all along the canyon making it hard for drivers to stay focused. Everywhere, sometimes even at official pullouts, cars were parked with their occupants out taking pictures in the continuing rain.

Snow on the mountains, water over the cliffs, rain on our heads, and the river… oh, the river! Now there's a tale. Absolutely anyone who has driven the Virgin River Canyon in many years wonders if someone hasn't re-channeled the river into some underground culvert somewhere, because it just isn't there anymore where you can see it.

There was no question about where it was last month! The river careened around bends, bounced off canyon walls, redefined its banks and undercut roads from the moment it entered the canyon confines. Horrendous amounts of water, muddy blood-red from the canyon walls it had "autopsied," roared high against the cliffs amplified to Niagra-like levels by thundering echos.

By the time it reached Beaver Dam the poor old town didn't even stand a ghost of a chance. Large hunks of the city were forceably annexed downstream into Mesquite during the floods of 2007; and this year it seemed like the river had recieved a "contract" to finish the "hit" and was determined to "take out" the rest of it. Fortunately, it wasn't able to subdue the "new, improved," higher off the ground, bridge even though it isn't even completed yet.

What always is a mere peaceful trickle meandering back and forth down the ancient, sandy, bush-ridden flat-bottoms; Now was a banshe whose moans could be heard in the hills across town. The 'ol Virgin was bulleting, hell-bent-for-leather toward Lake Mead determined to disgorge the broken remnants of trees, bridges, houses and other flotsam it had stolen during its rampaging tantrum!

The new past-time in Mesquite shifted from watching paint dry to driving the town to see which part of it was gone today. Sandbags helped save some; but much, if not most, of the environmentalists' carefully landscaped, planted and roped off, so-called "restoration" area had been truly "restored" to the way mother nature intended it to be in the first place!

After weeks of forced confinement under a roof, we jumped on a rare, two-hour opportunity before dark to take a quick ride down at "Canyonlands" to see what, if anything, was left standing. Gold Butte Road was covered with tons of flooded material, small washes were now ravines and the paved road was undermined in multiple areas. Many of the trails along the Virgin River were still under water and we watched as massive clumps of Willow and Tamarisk were excavated from the banks on both sides. Logs, torn members of buildings and water heaters raced along with the torrent, slamming into each other at the mere whim of the water gods.

And it still wasn't over! For weeks longer we had to be content with the few stolen days here and there where our frustration level from being indoors outweighed the 40 degree - minus the wind-chill on exposed parts from riding - temperatures.

But, the river did eventually regain control of itself. Once it decided, almost as fast as it had blown up. Pretty much overnight, water turned to mud and the recalcitrant thing sheepishly found its way back to the center of the debris field of its own making, like a flatulent teenager pretending "it wasn't me!"

Even still, except for the rare welcome day in the 60's, the cold hasn't left yet. It's now February and I'm reading 40 degrees outside the window at noon. The wind has been (is) blowing first one direction and then the other with every front that moves over us.

The first year we were here nearly every single Joshua Tree in the desert turned into giant, yellow, Lilac Bushes laden with flower clusters in the spring. It was the first time we'd ever seen that, but it hasn't happened any year since. People say that, before, it was because of a prior cold snap. They say that the trees need a period of cold before spring rains and warmth in order to bloom. If they don't get it, they don't bloom.

Well, this spring should be one flippin' bloom!

Learn A Little More

A truly great tragedy would be to forget what president Regan accomplished for us on the international front.

[[ Sorry, apparently YouTube decided to capitulate to "someone" claiming 'rights' to a fairly low-quality, off public airways, recording of the US President speaking. ]]


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