A rumbling upstream: Flash flood sweeps past my Indian Creek campsite

By the time we left the Super Crack parking lot, it had already begun to pour. This unusual desert rain had plagued us for two days now, and we rushed back to the campsite to make sure the van would still be able to trudge through the thick mud. We stayed huddled in the van with Jeremy for a bit before the storm eased up, then set about the usual evening musings in preparation for dinner and a fire. Seeing the desert landscape in a storm is a special treat at Indian Creek.

Earlier that day, Niko and I spent a few hours rummaging around a small creek running behind our campsite. It was charming, a six-foot wide stream no more than knee-deep, and often just barely skimming over rock beds. I’ve always been attracted to rivers and creeks, so I made plans to return and trek as far up the waterside as I could.

A result of the flash flood in Indian Creek.When we finally made it back to camp that evening, Jeremy decided to check out the creek while the rest of us began to chop onions and fire up our stoves. A few minutes later, we heard him shout.

While eyeing a path of stones so he could cross the little creek without getting his toes wet, Jeremy heard a deep rustling in the trees upstream. He thought our Australian companions were perhaps out exploring as well, but quickly realized otherwise as the rumbling sped towards him.

He thought it best to take a few large steps back from the water’s edge, just in time to watch a tall foaming wall of water gush up the once trickling stream, churning forward in a chaos of broken tree limbs and red mud. The flash flood raged past him, turning the once small stream with a clear view of the bottom into an angry, murky mass quadrupled in size.

We hurried down the wash, and stood astonished at the newly created scene. The little creek from this morning was now unrecognizable, and the rushing water created loud rapids that sped past small brush plants clinging to the remaining embankment. Floating logs frequently amped past, leaving crackling echoes in their wake as they crashed against stones in the flood.

I had never seen anything like it.The flash flood that swept through the wash just below our campsite at Indian Creek.

Our little crew stayed and admired the flood until the sun set and the wash began to grow too dark to navigate. When we returned the next morning, all that remained of the flash flood was a vast stretch of wet mud where the water had surged the previous night. The little stream now ran a cloudy red color. It was hard to believe that this was the same wash that had been gushing with violent water the night before. The creek was calm once again the morning after the flash flood.

By the time we left Indian Creek, the entire creek bed dried up, leaving nothing more than a few muddy patches of thigh deep quick sand and sad little puddles of stagnant water. During the past few months spent in the desert, I’ve heard a lot about the dangers of flash floods – but it has always centered around places like slot canyons. Experiencing the flood first hand was really eye-opening about how surprising and influential flash floods can be. For Jeremy, the landscape morphed in an instant, changing from docile and manageable to a volatile place where he easily could have been in harmed if he hadn’t taken those steps backwards from the water’s edge.

I guess that’s why you’re not supposed to set up camp or hike in dried up washes!