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The power of water

Special to the Star

One sees signs of erosion all over the arid Mojave Desert. Most people seem to believe it’s all wind erosion. But it’s not! Most of it is erosion by water, and most of it started eons ago.

Millions of years ago most of the Mojave Desert was, believe it or not, at the bottom of a vast inland sea, which stretched eastward to the Rocky Mountains. Proof, you ask. Geological evidence proves it. We have vast limestone quarries, and limestone is formed under water. People can still find seashells on the desert too!

Then plate tectonics and uplift occurred, building the mountains around us. The Sierras, San Gabriel, and San Bernardino ranges are uplifted mountains. Plate tectonics, the clash between the Pacific and North American plates, gradually lifted the inland areas of California to almost 3500 feet. The remaining mountains were once “islands” beneath the sea. Deadman’s Point is what geologists call an “inselberg”—a pile of rocks once beneath water and piled there by forces we cannot even imagine.

Then water erosion set in. The mountains began to experience rainfall, stronger as they grew higher. And streams and gullies, at first very wet, scalloped the landscape. The Mojave River, which in places is over a mile wide in its floodplain, is excellent proof that water was once plentiful here. So are our underground aquifers. The Mojave River has in historical times flooded far beyond its traditional banks. A notable historian, whose name I don’t remember, recalled that after one such a flood, the entire Jess Ranch development area was on the Hesperia side of the river. The actual floodplain extends from the tall banks in Hesperia and the “bluffs” of Spring Valley Lake, all the way east to just below Kiowa Road. Given the right circumstances, the Mojave River could reclaim all its flood plain.

And then there’s the various washes - the Oro Grande Wash starts beneath the foothills of the San Gabriel’s and runs approximately north all the way to the Upper Narrows at the Mojave River. The Antelope Valley wash, commonly know as “Honda Valley,” and its smaller tributary that diverts through the Hesperia Golf Course, and also empties into the Mojave River, is another prime example. Hesperia has several other moderate to large washes.

Most of central Apple Valley actually stands in the midst of an area identified on old ordinance maps as “Apple Valley Dry Lake.” The infrequent washes from the Granite Mountains all drain into this area, which is why Apple Valley is so prone to flooding. Areas of Hesperia and Victorville and other communities also have this recurrent problem, and all it takes is a wetter-than-normal winter for them to show.

Most of the Victor Valley has been sculpted by water, not wind, contrary to popular belief, and communities and developers need to practice caution, not their pocketbooks, to avoid hazardous areas. I hope you don’t live in a flood prone area!


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