Some people change their ways when they see the light, and those who come to Sand Valley when they feel the heat. How hot is it today?
An hour after sunrise, I open the propane fridge door, and a four-foot Rosy Boa crawls between my legs and inside to wait out the day on the milk shelf. Two 16” white desert iguanas gallop and jump on my feet to get off the hot sand. By noon, chipmunks, lizards, and honey bees quarrel about the five-gallon automatic waterer fashioned from scavenged toilet parts. Bees begin diving into my navel to suck moisture. ‘Sting me,’ I taunt, ‘and I’ll kick your Queen’s butt!’
We’re all grouchy at 120F in the shade, 180F on the desert floor, and rising.
I strap on my Batman ankle weights, stuffed not with lead but with emergency supplies: compass, rope, snakebite kit, matches, and a pad and pen. I’m going to create my own breeze by walking when a honey bee stings me on the tip of the penis, and flies off. I get tweezers with an attached magnifying glass, find it, and pull out the stinger.
Sand Valley is a desert basin like a big round sandbox, crosscut by 10-yard wide dry washes and ringed by 600-foot mountains. Cumulonimbus clouds occasionally crash these and dissipate in the hot uplift. The skies are not cloudy all day. Rainwater may flow into the Valley, but rarely does a drop fall within the ten-mile radius.
I step into the large Milipitas Wash that’s a sand walk edged by Ironwood, Palo Verde and Smoke trees. It narrows in an hour up in the mountains to a stubby canyon where thousands of Cicadae buzz. Bees hive up in small caves in the sidewalls. A tailwind spins me, and I peer at angry clouds rolling westward, an anomaly. Soon a gust nearly pushes my face into the wash. Sand pelts the skin like a shotgun and thunder sounds.
In minutes, my world is lightning, rain, blowing, and flowing water. I veer up a feeder canyon for shelter, and thirty minutes later – lost – halt at a budding trickle in a box canyon. Thousands of these creases in these hills join into hundreds of larger dry creeks that fasten into Milipitas Wash that drains the Valley sixteen miles away into the Colorado River. The pool of water in front of my boots becomes a revelation: The answer to how flash floods start even as one forms! Yesterday, it rained short but hard to saturate the ground; today the water waits under a baked surface; now rain strikes the shell, it cracks open before my eyes, and yesterdays moisture oozes to meet the forming trickles. It’s an upside down rainstorm, as well as the one drumming my head.
I quiver in the freezing shower above the ground, but walking in pools of yesterday’s water shuffled up from under the hot ground, that water is warm. They combine like a geyser at seashore to make a tepid slog to safety from a mounting flash flood.
Still walking, at sunset, the downpour abates but lightning flashes like angry bee stings. A bolt strikes one hundred yards behind me! Lost, I take the jungle wisdom of following small creeks to larger ones hoping to finally reach home. Brimming washes block the path every five minutes: some I wade, and others run too deep or fast, and I hike up and around them.
I think to drop my shorts to examine the member… It’s swollen to triple size distal to the sting, like the Nutty Professor. In a flash, I recognize a set of peaks in the distance and drop everything to take a bearing home.
Water flows madly in every direction. Yet the sky is clear as stars emerge. The trailer sits under a rising crescent moon a mile off, on the shore of the widest wash in the Valley. I splash through dozens of shallow flowing washes in a determined march home, until blocked on the shore of Milipitas Wash, that was dry as a skillet eight hours ago. The cut is ten-yards wide, two-feet deep and as swift as an Olympic sprinter at 18 mph.
I think I’ll give it a try. I point my toes upriver to watch for bobbing limbs and start to cross, sidestepping. Unforeseen, the current undermines each boot at a half-inch per second. I slowly sink into the quicksand while attacking limbs entwine my legs so I can’t lift them. Suddenly, a six-inch tidal bore spins and nearly knocks me downstream where, miles and years ago, a car in the same general wash was swept off and the driver drowned inside it in the Colorado River.
Tonight, I’m lucky to escape the Queen’s wrath, and scramble up the far bank, hang my dripping Batman weights in a tree, and sit exhausted on the bank. The trailer is silhouetted a quarter-mile away, yet before it is another wider frothing wash. Exhausted, I sit at the edge of the final torrent, and decide the better game is to wait.
The moon sets in a star dusted sky. I pull duct tape from my Batman weights to devise a compression bandage to keep my member from splitting, and quarter-inch rope to fashion a sling to elevate and throw it over my shoulder like a Continental Soldier. Damn the Queen! I will discover from the locals that a funnel cloud has kissed the valley today, roofs blew off three dwellings, and all the washes ran bank-to-bank.
In an hour, the river is safe and I wide to home.
The next day dawns cool in Sand Valley. The washes dry, the member shrinks, and the Queen’s rage vanishes.