Water in the Desert: Cattle Edition

cattle and water

Originally uploaded by heinemanfleck.

Here’s one of the simple but classic ways we manipulate water here in the western United States. It’s called a stock pond. You carve out a little hollow in a drainage, pile up the dirt on the downhill side, and presto, you’ve got a water supply for your cattle. If not for the cattle, it would make a wonderful little wetland. You’d likely get cattails springing up, a nice marsh developing, etc. But the cattle beat down the ground all ’round. Though, I guess it’s accurate to say that without the cattle, it wouldn’t exist at all.

This is on the edge of El Malpais National Monument, on the dirt road that skirts the western edge of the monument’s big lava flows. Lissa and I were out there a couple of weeks ago looking for the site where Henri Grissino-Mayer found the old Ponderosa pine trees he used for his amazing 2,000-year-long New Mexico rainfall chronology. Up on the Malpais – the lava badlands – the Ponderosa grow low and slow, and are ideal for precipitation reconstruction. Henri sent me some satellite photos with little circles and arrows to try to help is find some of the actual trees. We failed, in part because tromping around the Malpais is a serious pain in the ass. But we found a lot of amazing old Ponderosa. And these lovely cows.

Further reading: