Monday, March 11, 2019
BIG SULPHUR CREEK’S BIG LESSON
Hydrology always wins
The atmospheric river having abated, several roads and trails in the area are closed as high-water damage is assessed. The bad news is that some nice paths along the river, while being checked out, are not open to the public. The good news is that some gnarly, windy area roads, while closed to vehicular traffic, are open for walkers. It being the first sunny day in recent memory, Edward and I decided to explore.
Big Sulphur Creek drains a deep canyon of clay and shale and limestone. Its confluence with the Russian is on the side opposite town. Tracing the creek’s south-facing slope, Geysers Road winds and rumbles through stretches paved and stretches gravel to the site of one of California’s largest geothermal power facilities. (I’ve driven Geysers Road only to discover that access to the power sites – rightfully – is restricted.)
We parked at the road closure only a few hundred yards up from the Alexander Valley. The barricade was passable for residents and workers of the area. A few steps on, I came to one of those photo-ops that I find irresistible: a shot of a road disappearing at a vanishing point or over a hill or around a bend – the quintessential Church of the Open Road image – at least to me.
Also enticing: The early wildflowers invited me to practice close ups. I call these blossoms “yellow flowers…”
…And this cluster “white ones.” (I’ll bet these are asters.)
I’m always amazed at the places folks feel the need to “mark.” I took this shot shortly after hiking companion Edward left his.
The road had certainly suffered some damage over the past month or so. There proved to be ample evidence of saturated clay and shale slumping onto the thoroughfare.
The ravage is understandable, however when one checks out the detritus carried by a raging Sulphur Creek that is hung up in this snag about sixteen feet above the current level of the stream. There was a lot of water – both in the sky and in the stream course – coming down for that forty-eight-hour period.
How high’s the water Mama? Five feet high and risin’.
– Johnny Cash
Go back to the first picture in this post and enlarge it by clicking on it. Note the patch-o-heaven residence with the green swath of lawn at the crook in the canyon. Now, compare to the shot of the snag. How high’s the water, indeed, Johnny?
The creek’s bank took its share of hits. Some small…
Some not so small. Check out the boulder stuck in the middle of this slide. Imagine that, sodden, it broke free from the top of the clay, shale and limestone dike that courses from the center right to the upper center of this frame. If no one was there when it came down, did it make a sound?
Scenes like like what Edward and I were walking through happened throughout Sonoma County and neighboring environs last week. Homes were flooded or knocked off their foundations. Trees felled. Roads blocked that may remain blocked for months. That which happened on Geysers Road is small potatoes compared to occurrences forty miles down the Russian. Still, it was exhilarating to place a few temporary footsteps and paw prints on a rearranged topography this day.
Mayor Bagby and I spoke in passing the other day. She told about the water over-topping the levee on the town-side of the Russian River, swamping two fresh water wells and raising concerns at our water treatment plant. Here’s what happened:
The Russian River was flowing mightily through its established channel as it approached the confluence with Big Sulphur Creek. Big Sulphur Creek, running high and mighty itself – remember the snag? – undercut and washed down large volumes of clay, limestone and gravel. When the creek’s burden ran into the rushing Russian, much of it was deposited in an alluvial arc that spanned the river’s normal channel. The path of least resistance for the Russian was to edge the flow to the west side of the channel and its associated bank. There, the churning waters easily ate away at the human-conceived embankment inundating the water facilities and, downstream, our little airport.
Hydrology always wins.
Church of the Open Road Press