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The HAVASU FLASH FLOOD of 1984

The HAVASU FLASH FLOOD of 1984

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Published by Jeffe Aronson
This is one of many stories from my unpublished collection of adventure narratives, River God, The Mis-Adventurer. In it, I am leading a group of clients on a hike in Grand Canyon, up a creek called Havasu. We are threatened, then chased, by one of the biggest flash floods in history. It is a thrilling account of saving two people from the wave, another that gets washed under our rafts in the mouth of the creek, only to be tackled by our biggest guide, and the wonder and beauty of the river.
This is one of many stories from my unpublished collection of adventure narratives, River God, The Mis-Adventurer. In it, I am leading a group of clients on a hike in Grand Canyon, up a creek called Havasu. We are threatened, then chased, by one of the biggest flash floods in history. It is a thrilling account of saving two people from the wave, another that gets washed under our rafts in the mouth of the creek, only to be tackled by our biggest guide, and the wonder and beauty of the river.

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Published by: Jeffe Aronson on Mar 13, 2010
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03/12/2010

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THE HAVASU FLASH FLOOD1984The clients are tired. They smile and drip, standing ankle deep at the edge of thewater, caressed by the sun. A cocoon of towering red cliffs and shimmering greencottonwoods rim our iridescent acre of plunge-pool, domed with a sky of indigo. Is thisMars? Maybe Jupiter? They fumble in daypacks for sandwiches, squirrels scatter.Wearing nothing but my customary desert costume of shorts, running shoes,floppy straw hat, full-wrap mirrored sunglasses, and daypack, I consider howling like acoyote. Instead I concentrate on my own rather crumpled salami sandwich.My gaze ascends leisurely up the full height of the improbable turquoise waterfallto where it first arcs over the lip, nearly two hundred feet above. There are a few othershere, non-rafting “civilians” who have climbed down from the campground abovethrough a maze of dusty natural caves and steps carved into the vertical cliffs. The routeinvolves clutching rusty old cables installed ages ago by the local tribesmen, movingthrough frozen waterfalls of sculpted orange travertine stalactites. Those who can manageto speak do so in hushed tones, as if in a cathedral, leaving only the sound of water.Destiny is at hand.“What the ….” The words, whispered to myself, desiccate into the dry air. Mysmile does the same.Appearing at the very brink of the falls, an uncanny presence, as yetunidentifiable. Is it part of the sky? I try to sort things out, like a wolf sniffing the air. A pressing blackness. Obsidian. Unmistakably monstrous, though I glimpse only its margin.
 
My sandwich, still in hand, unconsciously droops to my side. I stand like a statue in acorner nave, gaze aloft. 
 A cloud?
The question floats in my skull. Whatever it is, my skin tingles. Mylungs suck in one long, deep draught of air. The body prepares itself. The mind has yet tofollow.This black behemoth is ponderously but surely moving down canyon. Towardsus.
In the Great American Southwestern Desert, July and August are monsoonseason. The towering afternoon thunderheads tumble in, edged brilliant silver and whitein the blinding sun, bellies gray and somber, cast against a sky so painfully blue,grumbling and striking with flashes of raw electricity between firmament and space.Their immense atmospheric landscape dwarfs the stony one below. If it rains within your immediate sphere, the cliffs are painted shiny black or crystalline burgundy or moltensilver, unending ramparts on every side glinting like jewels in the slanting rays of the sun.After the drama of the rain pouring down, filling the potholes of your senses, a gloriousquality of peace swells, penetrating all space. Pure, unadulterated magic. Moments of speechless awe for some…discomfort for others. The river turns to chocolate coloredmud, splattering everyone and everything—a slippery mess. A safe path through rapids becomes difficult to read, obscured and colored all wrong. Bathing is for the intrepid odesperately stinky.For me, being in a monsoon in the desert Canyon Country is to be transported
 
 back to primordial roots, everything washed clean. Catching an elusive flash flood is akinto discovering buried treasure. Red or black or green waterfalls coalesce and roar downside canyons that may have been silent for lifetimes. A gift from the Gods. Mud sweepseverything in its path downstream, that much closer to the sea, swirling and cascadinginto oblivion. One must take great care not to join the detritus. Secretly I smile when theonce mighty Colorado, Spanish for 
red-colored 
, returns for a time back to its pre-dam personality. Once the spray settles, debris is left perched in unusual places—high intreetops, jammed in cracks fifty feet and more overhead. People point and wonder at howthat tree got way the hell up there…If hiking a slot canyon—the sky a thin, meandering indigo thread directlyoverhead—we boatmen covertly, nervously sniff the air for the telltale fecund smell of wet earth, for something…
different 
. Perhaps a peculiar sound where only the flawlessdesert silence existed before. Something in your subconscious whispering like amessenger…The sound of water.It is, of course, better to sense the whisper well before it becomes a clarion call.Guides too often tempt fate as it is. Personality trait. Keep an eye out at every bend for aquick exit route. Watch for a climbable escape crack as you slither between the verticalwalls.Better yet— 
don’t go
. Camp high. Keep your gear packed and ready for hastygathering, especially your life jacket. Sleep on your boat, one eye open. Clear your senseswith one neat shot of highland single-malt.

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