Wet Playa at Twilight

by Mark Hahn


South of Wilcox, Arizona, are extensive playa landforms (mostly dry, but intermittent lakes). When these lakes dry up, the alkali flats that are left behind form an impermeable mineral crust on the surface. Any water that falls on or flows into these areas has nowhere to go. Playa literally means simply “beach” in Spanish, but in geologic terminology it means “sink,” as in a sink full of dirty water. It lies there in a trapped puddle forming a slick layer of mud over the desert floor as it evaporates. Even the hardiest and most drought resistant desert plants have a hard time taking root on these flats and those that do are often killed during the next flood. Other than the violent storms that periodically hit the Arizona desert, the Wilcox Playa is also the main drainage basil serving the nearby Dragoon Mountains (where these night photos were taken). We stopped on the playa right at twilight after a light rain. The mud was thick and stuck to our boots in thick sheets, though the stillness felt being out alone in the region was amazing. It is truly a no-man’s land. The military has use the playa for explosives testing and the locals rip it up with off road vehicles and leave shooting trash wherever they go. It is also an important area for endangered migratory birds. Everything in life seems to converge on this one place on earth while it makes you feel like you are completely nowhere.