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Desert hydrology and earthworks

 
Ichabod Shorthouse
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When discussing projects it is sometimes hard to do so without some sort of visual comparison. I went on Google Earth and found some projects completed in the desert around Terlingua Texas. It also allowed me to have a good look at the watershed and the general dynamics of hydrology as seen from above. very cool.

I added some pics for talking points and to aid in helping with some of my plans.


Here is a picture way above one of my lots. The water flows from north to south towards the Rio Grande. The areas in gree are plants aided by water


Here is a somewhat closer picture showing the hydology. My lot is the little yellow pins but thats not important to this picture.


Close up over head shot of my boundaries. Water flows north to south. The green swaths of vegetation have gullies running though them that are about three foot wides maybe four cant see them but they are there. Lkewise, there are gullies in the center of most of the vegetation in these pictures


The red line on the top of this picture is my southern property line. This picture shows the affects a dam in the form of a road has on the flow of water here. Otherwise dry turns into a swath of green with small trees and grasses.


Now for some local examples of eathworks. This is a catch basin and small pond probably for hunting. It is to the south of my property.





 
Ichabod Shorthouse
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Here is another example of a earthwork catch basin.


Now on to so bigger projects. Here are some furrows built probably to slow the water coming from the mountain. The result is the fanning of the vegetative area. this is desert scrub but could just as well be trees and other planted flora.


The furrows here clearly show the fanning. The water otherwise would be constrained in a small gully.


Here is an overhead of the Chrismas Mountains Oasis. The Lady that owns it used damming, diversions and catchments to plant an Oasis filled with flora not usually seen in the desert southwest. She has a blog if you are interested...The Christmas Mountains Oasis blog...


Now on to another one of my lots just a hop skip and a jump south. You can see the general hydrology of the area from this pic. It flows from the Christmas Mountains from THe northeast to the south west from here.



All in one shot of the lot, water flows from top right to bottom left. Widest part of the wash in the center is over a hundred feety wide the lot has over two hundred feet in relief.



This is the top right of where the water enters my property. The washes form deep canyons. The large clump of stones is maybe a seventy feet tall both clumps of stone in the center are narrows. easy to dam. the first one has an eleven foot drop the second about five.


 
Ichabod Shorthouse
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The bottom half of the forty acres. The wide part of the was is over one hudred feet wide. The far left on the property line is a narrowing that would be an easy place to dam it is like ten feet wide bordered by rock. on the right side of the pic you can see where a wash is starting.


Both lots have possibilities. Time, money and equipment are prohibitive and building a liveable structure and improvements will come first but eventually. The first lot is twenty acres and has flats for growing and building. Lots of improvements possible if water is diverted. The second lot is forty acres and has a much bigger watershed that drains through. It is very steep property that has over twoom hundred feet in elevation difference but it would be a cool long term and scal project. The washes are my primary cancern as the lot is too steep for me to consider furrows swells or large scale imprinting. Damming the washes won't fix the dry on this lot but will provide water. It will also catch silt and possibly add to the general water table in the area just too far down slop to see green from any projects I would think. still would be fun. So much stone and sand would lend itself to masonry projects with little mone.

As far as the general hydrology of the area and local projects you can see what have been done. Most of these projects have been around awhile and the increase in vegetation is shown. You can easily imagine what could have been planted. The catch basin were used to attract game and it has been working. The increase in vegetation could have been any type and the increase in the water absorbing into the land is obvious. Nifty watershed management by folks that have never probably heard of permaculture but understand results.
 
Ichabod Shorthouse
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Basic look at the type of land.

Typical of the large stones


one of the narrow areas

 
Devon Olsen
Posts: 1066
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
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you have REALLY beautiful land from the looks of those pictures, that looks amazing to me, one of the prettiest desert looks ive ever seen, love the diversity of color in plants

also, this is a great thread for observing how things are and how they might change by slowing and spreading water that otherwise erodes rapidly
 
Ichabod Shorthouse
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Thanks for the complement on the property. When you move up from the creosote flats to the mountains you get into some grass lands that make it nicer. The reds in volcanic rages add even more color. Not all of the property out there looks the same. Here are a few other pictures of my other lot, you can see the differences. First I'll show a couple of pics on the hill so you can see the grasses and then I'll move down into the flatter area so you can see the difference.

This picture is on a hill looking north on the twenty acres



Another one on the hill



Here is a picture down off of one of the hills in a green swath. The trees I believe are honey mesquite in the dry period before new leaves come in.



Another picture in the green swath of the tree



Now on to some of the uglier degraded parts. Off slope on limestone soil. big difference



Another picture of the flats. Now the grasses are coming back but slowly. Could use some TLC and some good ideas to help it along...Not all of the desert is so pretty



Here is a picture of the vistas on that lot for some fun.



And one last one to bring some color back. This is a yucca in bloom. They are all over the place I ate the flowers on this one they were delicious




 
Ichabod Shorthouse
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As you can see it all looks different. The limestone soil on the one lot is har to work with as shown in the pictures of the barren spots. At one time it was all covered in grasses but probably grazing took it down. That is a guess.

Here is a coupple of links on the Chihuahuan desert and semi desert that explains degredation

http://www.tarleton.edu/Departments/range/Shrublands/Chihuhuah%20Desert/chihuhaundesert.html

and on semi desert grasslands

http://www.tarleton.edu/Departments/range/Grasslands/Semidesert%20Grassland/semidesertgrassland.html
 
Kevin Elmore
Posts: 63
Location: West Texas - near Big Bend National Park
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fungi greening the desert solar
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Ichabod,

Looks like you have some great locations to work with. You are very blessed to have so much grama grass cover. Do you live in the area now, or is this going to be a transition over time?

Getting water INTO to ground out here is the difficulty because so many of the rain events are short duration storms with relatively high precip. rates. Couple that with rock (or clay) that is relatively impervious, wind driven rain, and thin topsoil profiles -- and you have a recipe for rapid water runoff.

I have been playing with some things that I hope will show results like you showed in the pictures above, but only time will tell.

Keep plugging away at it!

Kevin
 
Ichabod Shorthouse
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I am transitioning,. was up there a week ago. Checked the soils real well, formulated a plan. Probably end up living in Big Bend Valley because the Gate Two lot is too far out at first, I know I'm lucky about the grama I picked the Big Bend Valley lot for that purpose. The other lot I picked cause it was pretty. Next time I come up it will be with a building plan and will start on digging, or...forming and pouring.

BTW my name is Jason
 
Neal Spackman
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If it were me on those flats, i'd probably do some keyline ripping (assuming you can get those tines into the ground. Either that or very small rock contour berms--that would be much cheaper and take more personal time. How close is the solid limestone?
 
Miles Flansburg
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bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
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Looks good Jason, any other lots for sale on your borders? Might be nice to have some other permies as neighbors !
 
Ichabod Shorthouse
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Neal Spackman wrote:If it were me on those flats, i'd probably do some keyline ripping (assuming you can get those tines into the ground. Either that or very small rock contour berms--that would be much cheaper and take more personal time. How close is the solid limestone?


In some places I could in others it is on top of the limestone. Funny how grasses will still grow right up out of it. The land is on transition from north to south so water will runoff if I don't dam it which is probably what I'll do. First at the southern property line and then maybe move up north from the property line every fifty feet or so. The dams will probably be masonry. I'm going to use the ground as bedrock which it is and add soil and organics in the backfilled portion before the dams. I figure two feet of backfill at each dam/terrace moving back. The lot is a quarter mile from east to west so i'll do this in small sections and maybe connect them as time goes on. There is not a lot of organics to back fill with with so i'll have to scrounge for it.
 
Tom Davis
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https://picasaweb.google.com/111260028013275681495/TucsonCCCSwales?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCNHGjZPu_L3P1gE&feat=directlink


Here are some pics I took of the swales Bill Mollision walks through in his 1980's videos, I think entitled "Global Gardener"
It's just west of Tucson, AZ. The land looks similar to yours in some ways.
It is just tall berms and behind the berms water slows down. The last pics are interesting to see what can be achieved in this type of landscape by soaking the water.

this is the map of the area, maybe you can get some ideas from this
https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/albumMap?uname=111260028013275681495&aid=5798268838872516273&authkey=Gv1sRgCNHGjZPu_L3P1gE#map
 
Jack Rose
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Try looking up a sand dam on youtube. They build them in Africa on seasonal rivers. Very interesting concept that I think would work well in your gully.
 
Devon Olsen
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Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
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Jack, thank you very much for the information, VERY INTERESTING
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