Friday, September 14, 2012

When it rains it pours

The new bike survived its initial shake-down rides around the neighborhood without any problems, and I have acquired a few necessary accessories (water bottle mounting bracket, emergency tool kit, proper lights), so yesterday I took it on its first long ride. Well, it turned out to be 11.5 miles, which is long for me and my old, old bones, though just a warm-up for serious cyclists.

I have a map of the city's bike trails put out by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (available online here). A few miles due east of downtown is sort of an S-shaped trail, which then intersects near its southern end with another east-west trail. I set out to find these. Smoothly prepared paths with no motor vehicles to plow me down seems like a good way to put in some miles.

And I found them!

(Right-click and select "open link in new tab" to see the pictures full-size.)

Both of these two were opened in 2009 alongside some of the city's washes. A "wash," for those of you who have never lived in the desert, is a drainage area for floodwaters.

Here's the intersection of two washes. The bridge visible on the right is the connection between the two multi-use trails.

Tuesday we had a nasty downpour, the kind that always makes the news with shots of stupid people being rescued from their cars because they tried to drive through water without knowing how deep it was. It was only 1-2" of rain, depending on where in the valley one measured, but given the impenetrability of the soil and the amount of concrete, that's enough to cause all sorts of problems here that it would not in, say, the Midwest. Here's a news story about the resultant mess. Today we learned that at least one person drowned in the flooding.

Anyway, I was seeing these two washes about 48 hours after the rain had hit, and there was still water in them, though only a trickle. But what impressed me was that there was sand and debris up on the paths. It's possible that this has washed down from above, but I suspect that the water had risen to the level of the paths, which means that it would have reached as high as the bottom of the bridge in that photo. I wish I had seen it.

Floods around here are nasty problems, though very different from the ones that hit places like the Mississippi River. They hit fast and hard. I particularly remember news stories from the summer of 1984, one of the worst years for water in the valley. I had lived in Vegas from 1980 to 1982, so I was familiar with the streets that I saw on the national news--except that I was not used to seeing them as the rivers that they had become.

Since then, the county has established a flood control authority, which has spent billions of dollars on a still-unfinished 30-year construction project, building drainage channels and holding basins, so that these periodic floods don't cause the kind of property damage and loss of life that they have done in the past.

Here's a quick overview of a hundred years of Las Vegas floods, plus a sampling of news stories from the especially bad years of 1984 and 1999, and a ten-year retrospective on the 1999 floods.

If you're here when one of these things hits, don't mess around with it. The danger is almost always over within a couple of hours, so just wait it out where it's safe.

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