September 17, 2013 at 10:10 AM

For Better or Worse, Recent Downpours Shape Our Land

"...these abrupt, but relatively low volume storms have given us the fantastic shapes of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, the canyons around Bandelier Monument, and even the shapes of the Sangre de Cristos."

By Karen Denison

At Home Outdoors

Karen Denison is owner of Outspire Hiking and Snowshoeing guide service, a former biologist, and a shameless admirer of the outdoors.

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Wow!  Santa Fe's average annual precipitation is about 14 inches.  Over the past six days, we've received about 2.25 inches, considerable over our September annual average with most of it coming as one storm last Tuesday.  But that's nothing compared with our neighbors in the area.  Los Alamos and Pecos received between 6-7 inches from the week's storms.

In a semi-arid landscape, this amount of water has significant consequences.  The soils of the Rio Grande Rift arrived here in the valley by erosion and are just as quick to continue their journey downhill.  Vegetation is not thick turf to absorb water and hold soil.  And much of our topography is steep mountain with high gradients, or steep-walled canyon which concentrates the flows.

Our summer is characterized by "male" rain: brief, hard thunderstorms rather than the soft, steady, soaking drizzles of elsewhere.  Over time these abrupt, but relatively low volume storms have given us the fantastic shapes of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, the canyons around Bandelier Monument, and even the shapes of the Sangre de Cristos.  But these bigger storm events change things more quickly.

I toured around the county a bit yesterday and found some areas eroded or muddy enough to make driving even my trusty Jeep inadvisable.  Some were barricaded.  Rule of thumb for our roads: even if you think your vehicle can make it, please think of those who will come after you.  Leave deep, big trenches with your tires and everyone suffers.  Out on public land, this is also how roads widen as other folks drive off-road to get around bogs.  If you possibly can, take other routes and wait a few days we'll dry out soon!

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