A favorite walk of mine is along an irrigation ditch near where I live. Although it is a natural rural area it offers the advantage of easy access by a dirt roadway alongside. The ditch itself is large enough to perhaps accommodate small vehicles in the bottom but is never used this way due to the steep sides. From May until September the steep sides contain cold swiftly flowing water. It makes for a cooling scene but such ditches can be dangerous and are no place for swimming.
During the remainder of the year the ditch may be dry in the bottom or hold some water. When the water level is low it is rather like a small stream with ripples and deeper pools interspersed with sand and gravel bars. While some streams go through seasonal variations in flow, few if any are as extreme as ditches. Also, a stream may have a wide meadow here at streamside or a rocky area elsewhere while a ditch always has steep sides. Just the same, the ditch in autumn seems much like a stream. There are schools of small fish, crayfish and various other animals still present. Raccoon tracks and bird nests suggest other visitors.
It offers some great nature lessons for adults, children or dogs. Although they are usually dispersed by September, the swallow’s nests under the bridge and the kingfisher’s nests in the dirt banks are easy to view. The lush streamside with moss and occasional willows shows a marked contrast to the top of the banks arid areas where yuccas and cacti grow. Edible plants such as asparagus and rose hips can be identified. Pick rose hips (seedpods) now to make a tasty and high in vitamin C jelly. Note locations of asparagus for future picking.
The sculpted ditch bottom shows the effects of water currents. Sandbars may have wave marks showing the current. Inlets and outlets typically have deeper pools nearby. The curves of the ditch, like most streams, are marked by sandbars where the water moves more slowly.
Although your dog can’t tell you the details, his sense of smells reads the area to be alive with wildlife and occasional sign can be noticed on the roadway or streamside.
Viewing the local soil layers in the steep banks offers some lessons in geology and soils.
It is amazing to think that many of the ditches were dug long ago before modern earth moving equipment.
The engineering problem of moving water to fields is another subject to study and marvel at. The gentle drop of the ditch and its curves which follow hillsides and natural streams have made arid areas into farmland. Overall a ditch makes an interesting place to explore and learn nature. Put on your sloggers, roll up your jeans and gather up the kids and dogs and learn about nature with a fall hike along a ditch.
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