Monday, March 11, 2013

Magic Light, Magic Place, (Two)

Kettleman City, California

This area averages about 7.5" of rain per year, while a standard definition of "desert" is a place that gets 10" or less, or a place that might get more rain but is subject to high evaporation rates because of intense heat. The San Joachim valley also has intense heat and evaporation so it's a double hit. Yet it is an intensely cultivated agricultural region, all based on water flowing here from elsewhere, in open canals.

Stratford, California

The canals are subject to extreme heat—daytime temperatures well above 100°all summer long. As global climate change continues to raise average temperatures you have to wonder where the tipping point will be, when this extraordinarily extravagant way of using water for agriculture will become obviously unsustainable. Evidence of drought was everywhere on the western leg of last year's Giant Road Trip. Also, on four different occasions I encountered temperatures of 113°F. Once was at El Centro, California, at the depths of the Imperial Valley, where that's more or less normal. A place also used intensively for irrigation based agriculture. That temperature was way out of line in the other three places. Perhaps the strangest though was at Buena Vista, Colorado. When I arrived in the afternoon, late in June, looking for The Comanche drive-in theater, the temperature on the high plateau—just under 8,000' elevation—was 104°. There's nothing normal about that.

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