Katchina Daisy

The Cedar Mesa Project

Water in the Grand Gulch Area

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"The southwestern arroyo is a fickle beast-one year nothing but a gentle little inch-wide rivulet, the next, a roaring torrent proportioned as a river, while in the third, it is reduced to naught but a dry bed with crumbling sides, its waters drained off by some new upstart arroyo in the neighborhood."
Morris, Ann Axtell, Digging in the Southwest, Peregrine Smith, Inc., Salt Lake City, 1978 reprint of the 1933 ed., p.99.

Select one of the following to go to sections in this page -

  • Too Much Water
  • Not Enough Water
  • Is the Water Safe?
  • The Disease, Symptoms and Treatment.
  • Protect Yourself.

  • Too Much Water

    In mid May, some years ago, we hiked to a popular ruin in one of the many canyons of Cedar Mesa. The day was mild, a perfect day for the 1.5 mile hike to this special site. We would have special desert experience while there.

    As we approached the ruin, the sky to the north darkened and thunder could be heard in the distance. We descended into the canyon, stepped across the narrow stream, and climbed up the 30 feet to the ledge containing the ruins. Shortly after reaching the ruin and the shelter of its cave, it began to rain softly. This provided a very relaxing background to out adventure within the ruin. More thunder could be heard in the distance and soon all the pourovers from the mesa top created waterfalls for us to enjoy. Since the rain was very light, we were not concerned about it, only at typical afternoon thunderstorm.

    Soon, however, the canyon was filled with a growing roar. The source and direction difficult to locate since the sound was reflected from wall to wall of the canyon. A glance at the creek below us provided the answer. A flash flood had been born somewhere to our north. The creek soon had become a roaring flood, the width now twenty feet in places. The reddish, brown froth looking like a giant rootbeer float from our position above. We would have to wait for it to subside to across the creek and reach our vehicle. A couple of hours later, the creek had returned to about its former size and the crossing was again just a step.

    We saw the remains of the storm as we returned to the highway a couple of hours later. Hail still covered the ground in places several miles from the canyon.

    The experience reminded us of the hazards of narrow canyons that may be the drainage for thousands of acres of surrounding land. Many of the trails into the canyons of Cedar Mesa are in the stream beds that formed the canyons and passage is not possible during an extended rain or heavy thunderstorm. Never camp near the bottom of such a canyon, and climb to safety in narrow canyons at the first signs of a storm.

    Not Enough Water

    Two days after our experience with too much water, I learned a lesson about not having enough water. This situation could happen in extreme dry conditions, where the pot holes and seasonal springs have dried up, but it can also happen, as it did in my case, when there is plenty of water around.

    We'd hiked into a canyon that intersects another canyon a couple of miles downstream. The plan was to hike there and hike back to the mesa by hiking up the intersecting canyon . We encountered a pour-over that we could not get around and had to back track.

    I was suddenly aware of feeling mildly uncomfortable, feeling hot, yet not at all sweaty, but not really knowing what was happening. By now, the group realized that I was having trouble. I was suffering from dehydration. They encouraged me to drink my remaining fluids and shared theirs with me too. We had carried a lot of juice that day and I think that it saved me. I put my head in the creek to cool down. (In a more serious emergency, the water from the creek could have been consumed.) My head cleared up some and I felt I would be able to get out of the canyon, although I was having leg cramps.

    After the hike out of the canyon, I immediately had more liquids from the cooler that I always carry. I felt better, but still weak and very tired. After driving a few miles I again had serious cramps in the legs. I had to turn the driving over to a companion. We reached camp and I lay down, a basket case. My thinking was still foggy even then. I started to feel better only after consuming more liquids and a large quantity of black bean soup. By the next day, I was pretty much OK.

    The extremely dry air and strong sun of the high plateau and canyons can quickly result in heat exhaustion and dehydration, even when the temperatures are quite mild. The old adage to drink a gallon of water a day is a good one. The key is to DRINK that gallon per day.

    Material for Protecting Yourself -- I found that the material in the handbook was published by the National Park Service, so its OK to use I think.

    By Morey Stinson

    Is the Water Safe?

    The Hidden Hazard of Giardia - Think Before you Drink

    We hope your visit to the canyon country will be enjoyable. . .and it will be if you avoid hazards encountered in the great out of doors. One hidden hazard you should know about is a disease obtained from drinking untreated "e;natural"e; water. It is an intestinal disorder called Giardiasis (Gee-ar-DYE-a-sis), and its effects on you can be quite severe. The disease is caused by a microscopic organism, Giardia lamblia.

    Giardia are carried in the feces of humans and some domestic and wild animals. The cysts of Giardia may contaminate surface water supplies like lakes, streams, and rivers. These natural waters may be clear, cold, and free-running. They can look, smell, and taste good. You may see wildlife drinking without hesitation from these sources. All of these indicators sometimes mistakenly lead people to assume that natural water is safe to drink. In spite of all that, Giardia may STILL be present; so for your own protection, all natural waters should be regarded as probably harboring this organism. Since the cysts can survive in water for at least two months, the problem is not limited to particular times of the year or sections of streams .

    The Disease, Symptoms and Treatment.

    While Giardiasis can be incapacitating, it is not, as a rule, life threatening. Following ingestion by humans, the Giardia organism (trophozoite) attaches to the wall of the small intestine for its food supply. Disease symptoms usually include diarrhea, increased gas, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, and bloating. Weight loss may occur from nausea and loss of appetite. These discomforts may first appear a few days to a few weeks after ingestion, and may last up to six weeks. Most people are unknowingly infected and have often returned home from vacations before the onset of symptoms. If not treated, the symptoms may appear to resolve on their own, only to recur intermittently over a period of many months. Other diseases can have similar symptoms, but if you drank untreated water you should suspect Giardiasis and so inform your doctor. With proper diagnosis, the disease is curable with medication prescribed by a physician.

    Protect Yourself.

    There are several ways for you to treat raw water to make it safe to drink. The most certain treatment to destroy Giardia is to boil water for at least one minute. While Giardia is killed at temperatures below boiling, even at high altitudes, heating water to a full boil for one minute avoids the need for a thermometer to measure water temperature. Boiling will also destroy other organisms causing waterborne disease, although at high altitudes you should maintain the boil 3 to 5 minutes for an additional margin of safety.

    Chemical disinfectants such as iodine or chlorine tablets or drops are not yet considered as reliable as heat in killing Giardia, although these products work well against most waterborne bacteria and viruses that cause disease. Until current research determines the optimal amount of chemical and duration of contact time at various temperatures that will kill Giardia certainly, chemicals cannot be recommended for routine disinfecting of water for Giardia. In an emergency where chemical disinfecting is necessary, use an iodine-based product, since it is more effective than chlorine under certain water conditions. If possible, filter or strain the water first, and then allow the iodine to work at least 30 minutes before drinking. If the water is cold or cloudy, wait at least an hour, or use additional iodine.

    For short trips, take a supply of water from home or from other treated domestic sources. The use of commercially available filters for water "e;purification"e; is also an option since most of the devices now can filter out particles small enough to eliminate Giardia, or other small organisms.


    Giardia can be readily transmitted between humans and animals. Dogs, like people, can become infected with Giardia unless they are carefully controlled, dogs can contaminate the water and continue the chain of infection from animals to humans. Feces (human or animal waste) can contain the organism. Waste should be buried 8 inches (20 cm) deep and at least 100 feet (30 meters) away from natural waters.

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    URL of this page: http://bcn.boulder.co.us/environment/cacv/cacvwatr.htm
    Revised '9-Mar-2003,19:56:26'
    Copyright ©1996, 1999 SCCS.