Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Water is life. Anyone who has lived in the world's drier places knows this, and appreciates the gift of moisture. On the Colorado Plateau, water is seldom found in abundance, with only isolated high mountain peaks receiving anything resembling generous amounts.

There is one saving grace in the form of seasonal rains, known locally as the monsoon. This vital delivery of life giving water generally begins in mid-July, often lasting into September. It results from a nearly stationary ridge of high pressure which advects large, moist air masses from Mexico, transporting it northward over the deserts and mountains of the Four Corners region. Rising columns of warm, wet air cool and condense, forming massive anvil-shaped clouds which tower over the landscape.

These thunderstorms feed off the heat of the summer sun, using hot air to form updrafts which push the cloud tops higher and higher. Recirculating air currents lift droplets of water into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, where cold air freezes liquid to ice. Depending on the energy contained within the cloud, this process can repeat over and over again until frozen pellets of hail become too heavy for the winds to suspend any longer.

When the burden of water frozen or liquid becomes too great to contain, the clouds unleash their fury. As steering winds are generally light these storms can remain nearly stationary, allowing a localized area to receive copious amounts of rain and hail in a short period of time. After dispensing its fury the storm may dissipate, only to reform later as additional heat energy is added to the picture.

These storms are impressive, and often produce amazing displays of electrical activity. They are also responsible for terrain altering flash floods, as the generally poor soils of the region cannot absorb the tremendous deluge in such a short time, causing many dry washes and streambeds to flow with a muddy torrent of debris. The power of sediment laden waters rushing through narrow channels cuts and carves thousands of canyons and valleys, creating the incredible landscape we have today.

The monsoon thunderstorm is much more than a spectacular display of natures power. It also signals an end to the dangerous and destructive fire season, a period of heightened anxiety and frequently inconsolable loss. And for a short time it transforms the often barren and austere desert into a place of phenomenal color and beauty. The rains trigger a new explosion of life, with the plant world in a frenzied effort to flower and seed for future generations. The light fresh greens of spring are supplanted with deep, dark emerald leaves and grasses, as vegetation matures with the solstice.

This time is a feast for the senses, with stunning color and form in summer flowers, smells of fresh rain washed air and damp earth, and sounds of birds and insects working to gather food and unwittingly pollinate their hosts. For me, the monsoon season is a welcome visitor who brings gifts beyond compare. My door is always open to such as these.


The show is in town
It's hard to miss

Black veils drape the stage
Behind the scenes torrents of compassion bathe the earth in a wet caress
The curtains part;
The performers appear

Arizona Rose
Purple Loco

And a cast of thousands

In the wings, squadrons of butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees
attempt to subdue the riot of color
without success

The audience reveals their appreciation with a sigh
the release of apprehension
and heartfelt gratitude

I am witness
The cycle continues

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