Last spring, I was showing the problem to my friend and colleague, Jason Hodges, who happens to be a landscape architect. Jason causally suggested building a dry arroyo in the garden that could double as a bike path. It was a brilliant idea, and so over the past few days, I've been busy at work implementing it.
This is the "before" view, showing the narrow space between the drive and a decorative split rail fence.
The river rock has been delivered, and I am starting to put down several layers of newspaper (for weed suppression) in the area I've dug out for the decomposed granite I will use as the bed of the arroyo:
The decomposed granite arrived in a very fancy red dump truck:
Decomposed granite, or "DG," is the same mix used on many walking/running and cycling paths. In time it should pack down nicely and provide a firm base over which our bikes can roll.
Here is the same view of the "before" picture, now showing the "after:"
And the view we see as we wheel our bikes out:
I've always had a soft spot for arroyos (pronounced uh-roy'-o), which are what we call dry stream beds in this part of the world. Arroyos fill with water only when we've had either several days of rain or a really good thunderstorm, and then usually only for a day or two. The rest of the time, they are bone dry and make excellent an way to explore the desert on foot. I grew up in New Mexico, and some of my favorite childhood memories are from wandering up and down arroyos on the outskirts of our small town looking for rocks and arrowheads (probably the start of my career as a geologist).
Building the bike path brought back a lot of those memories, particularly as I worked on the edges of the arroyo, trying to distribute the river rocks so that they would look as though they'd traveled there naturally as part of the stream processes. My Masters and PhD are in geology, and I confess to a little unease as I did this, since these particular rocks--granite, sandstone, and limestone--would probably not be found in the same stream bed together. But you have to work with what you find at the stone yard, so I swallowed my misgivings and tried to imagine where the water would carry each of the components and deposit them. I also left some of the plants spilling over into the stream bed itself, as if they had established themselves there between floods. Spreading the rock, trying to think like a stream, re-living the memories--an exhausting but pleasurable day.
I'll leave you with a few detail shots:
That last photo is a nice shot of how good the buffalo grass/blue grama mix looks when it gets a little rain...it is the "prairie" that meets my "arroyo."
P.S. Nancy came over when it was all done and said she liked it.
P.S.S. Another friend named Nancy--a biologist colleague--sent me this email after seeing the photos of the bicycle path/arroyo. It's something interesting to think about:
I like the arroyo! I was envisioning a bunch of tumbled boulders and wondered how you’d steer your bikes along it. I guess I was thinking too literally. ;-)
It also made me think about curves in nature, since one of the edges is curved and the other (by the driveway) is straight. I tell my students in landscape ecology that nature doesn’t use straight lines, but people do because it’s more efficient (less fenceline to use, easier to steer a plow or combine, easier to survey property lines, etc.) and it represents a way of taming the wilderness—these straight lines are proof that humans are controlling this land now (which is a comforting thought to some). In my yard, I have deliberately put in straight lines in order to feel like I have some modicum of control. It’s absurd, but there it is. I wonder if the “clean lines” of modern design—as opposed to older baroque, arabesque, or rococo design—represent an increasing gap between humans and nature.