The sudden flood that swept more than a dozen people to their deaths in and around Zion National Park in Utah on Sept. 15 was one of nature’s genuinely stunning forces. The arid plains and canyons of the southwest are normally bone-dry places where hands chap and lips crack and every beast and plant is fitted by genetics to hoard each drop of moisture.
Few people understand how quickly a line of thunderclouds on the far horizon can turn from raindrops in the dust to ankle-deep gully washers, nor how violently these little streams converge into a single wall of water.
The late Edward Abbey was one who did understand. Hard-bitten bard of the American desert, Abbey rendered a memorable description in his 1968 masterpiece, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness: