The Ways Of Water – Paul Adams

Paul Adams takes us through rather different seasonal adjustments high up in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The stark differences are apparent in his writing, film and pictures. However these contrasts albeit being more pronounced do most certainly echo our own journey from the depths of winter into springs awakening.

Writing ahead of an April publication date, the rivers of England have lost the leaden flows of winter and fined down to a surface that flashes the light of the higher sun and lengthening days. They are bound by banks, alive with the sights and sounds of new life.

I hope this hasn’t doomed you to a cold, wet spring.

The streams and rivers in the Colorado mountains operate on a different schedule. Winter is long and severe. Ice starts encroaching from the banks in late October. Open channels narrow as the year reaches a close. Smaller and slower creeks freeze solid by February. Where snow is abundant or drifts, the water may be buried ten or more feet below.

Each stretch of water is of course unique. Faster water will remain open through the coldest winter, usually a narrow channel pinched by surrounding ice standing several feet above the water surface. Elsewhere, even modest flows will remain open if they are charged nearby by subsurface springs and their relative warmth. In the narrow, wooded draws above the valley floor, these spring-fed streams flow for 50 yards or less before ice re-asserts. Only inches deep and a couple of feet wide, the tracks of deer and elk will signal their whereabouts. An oasis amidst a winter desert.

On my local stretch of Tarryall Creek, ice cover is complete by late February. Ironically, because the area receives little snow by mountain standards, the river channel is starkly white against the faded greys and browns of the meadow and hillside that bound its path. From a distance, this is a silent landscape, broken only by wind in the trees and the occasional bird call.

But closer, using the ice as your path, the creek still lives. Ice cover is thin over the faster channels, and the sound of running water is sharp and amplified. Where the water overtops a beaver dam, with typically a two-foot drop, the flow may still be visible under the thinnest veneer of ice.

Ice, water, and gravity work their subsurface magic. Seemingly at random, the water will overflow the ice, presumably responding to some obstruction or change in level. This may be the smallest hole, or a shifting and tilting of ice from bank-to-bank. Whether the thinnest film of water or several inches deep, it will re-freeze overnight to a fresh, glass- smooth surface.

Winter eventually relents. The change is usually apparent around mid-March as the ice slowly surrenders to longer and warmer days. The first indications are audible. The ice flexes and creaks and may drop with a loud, dull thud. The first openings in the ice are where the flows are channelled and fast. In places, the channel will widen gradually over several weeks slowly exposing the low, clear water. Nervous trout bolt for cover under the remaining ice at the first hint of overhead danger.

Elsewhere, the open channel will expose a large air gap between the water and ice, and here the adjoining ice will collapse in large sheets. An ugly mess of ice dams persists for a week or two before higher temperatures and rising flows create a channel broad and fast enough to carry it downstream. In a matter of days, usually early April, the river transforms from broken but mostly contiguous ice to open water, with ice remaining on only the shaded banks and slowest bends. Now we can enjoy three or four weeks of low, clear water and hungry trout before flows climb dramatically for the spring melt and runoff.

The Gallery

A splendid gallery of images taken & compiled by Paul highlighting beautifully Winter & Springs seasonal colours and moods at Tarryall Creek

The gallery images are on auto-play. You may click on any image to view in a single image carousel viewer. Once in the carousel viewer you can stay there and use the navigation buttons to scroll through the images