There are a half dozen major drainages along the northern perimeter of the Sutton Mountain Wilderness Area (WSA). They all cross a well-maintained gravel road that runs generally east-west between Twickenham and the Bridge Creek Road. This is one of the first you encounter after you enter the WSA from the east. I've passed it by a dozen times, but this trip I stopped and took little hike up its dried out stream bed.
Generally I try not to hike up the middle of any stream bed, wet or dry. Partly that's to protect the bed of the stream, particularly if it is still carrying any water; but I also like to avoid the treacherous footing typically encountered when navigating the torn up bottom of a stream. This stream bed came with a well-worn pathway that ran along one bank or the other all the way to my intended destination - a spring.
There are perhaps a dozen springs along the northern flanks of Sutton Mountain, most of them classified as "intermittent." The few perennial ones typically sit at an elevation of roughly 2150 feet. Thats just 200 feet higher up the mountain than the elevation of the trailhead. The one I was on my way to visit sits at an elevation of 2240. I was curious to see if it was truly perennial.
Less than a half mile up the creek I encountered the first of four big surprises - a relatively new stock tank.
I hadn't seen any sign of cattle in the area, so I was a little surprised to see such a clearly valuable piece of equipment just sitting there. I was also puzzled to find a good third of it was filled with a very fine, sandy clay. The 3" diameter pipe led uphill, and I began to follow it. I didn't get far, however, before I had my second surprise.
Just as the creek bed freshened, it's flourishing wetland had been covered by large trees, most probably junipers. These had been old trees, some of them 14 to 16 inches in diameter. Almost certainly they had been dropped there on purpose. But why?
A short further distance up the creek I got my third surprise of the outing. Perched on the rim of the embankment was an entire stand of pampas grass.
I could not have been more puzzled - or more dismayed. This is a terribly invasive plant, particularly in semiarid climates. It is also prone to going up in flames whenever there's a good wind and a little fire around. Absolutely not a good plant for this part of the world. So, what's it doing here? It almost certainly had to have been introduced. Perhaps it was put there in an attempt to stabilize the very steep and heavily incised walls of the creek bed?
A pathway of sorts led down to the stream bed. I slid-hopped down to the bottom and ran into my fourth and final surprise: The spring was gone - either dried up or buried under the dirt - apparently replaced by a metal post.
My GPS and the contour lines on my map all told me I was standing on, or very near to the spring. Was it buried in the ground, and was the post an "X" marking the spot? I was tempted to start digging, but common sense overruled the impulse. Better to make inquiries of some folks familiar with the area, I decided.
The skies were lowering fast and there were raindrops on the wind. More significantly, the seconds between flashes of lightning and the subsequent rumbling reports had dropped down to five seconds or less. Ever since I witnessed a cow get blown up by a bolt of lightning, I've been very leery of getting caught in the open during a serious lightning storm. I cut short my trek further up the creek and headed back to the truck. Along the way I reflected on all I'd seen in the last hour. Then a question struck me like a ton of bricks: how the heck do you get something like a spring to flow, in any sort of controlled way, into a 3" pipe? What does that technology look like? Maybe a little research will shed light on that topic and help me make a little more sense out of my trip up what I've decided to call "Calamity Creek."