In the Spring 2009 issue, Justin Bendell, a recent MLS graduate from Northern Arizona University, writes reflectively about water in the highland forests of the region around the university. A sample:
In the Mogollon forests of northern Arizona, water is an illusionist. Now you see it, now you don’t. You can spot its arrival from a distance, the opaque rainsheets hanging from the lofty storm clouds of summer, or the swirling masses of snow and ice that, upon approach, make mountains invisible as they blanket the brown landscape in delicate white. When water does arrive in its various forms, it might spend a few hours, a day, or a week, but soon it has gone, the urge to move being strong. In its fury or benevolence, water is noncommittal, even evasive in its encounter with the southern Colorado Plateau.
Water’s terrestrial journey begins unassumingly. It filters through needles of pine that hang high above the forest floor. It slides down the culms of blue grama and the stems of penstemon. Snowflakes melt and dribble through the jigsaw-puzzle bark of downed ponderosa pine. Then, reaching the thin soil, water burrows in, scurrying through rocks and roots into the subsurface darkness where it proceeds to find its course ever down, ever out. Once again glittering in the daylight, it drips or splashs, warbles or whispers, surging forth like a salmon hell-bent for the sea, richoting through the stream beds of the highlands. It flows, naked and transparent, from the forests and meadows of the Mogollon, through the Painted Desert, to the opaque red waters of the Little Colorado River, and down further into the distal gorge, where it finds confluence with the Colorado River deep in the Grand Canyon.
The Colorado River watershed is the largest in the Southwest, draining 246,000 square miles in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, California, and Nevada. Technically, all residents of the Mogollon bioregion are also of the Colorado River watershed. But what of the smaller rivers, streams, and washes, are they not watersheds too? Like Matryoshka dolls, smaller watersheds exist within larger watersheds. The Little Colorado feeds into the Colorado, the San Francisco Wash adds to the Little Colorado, and ephemeral channels like the Rio de Flag, a watercourse which drains over one hundred square miles of forest near Flagstaff, are the smallest tributaries of all. Following the water from my vegetable garden to the Sea of Cortez, I devise for myself a watershed address: Rio de Flag, San Francisco Wash, Little Colorado River, Colorado River, North America.
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