“In the desert, water in any amount is a tincture, so holy that it will burn through your heart when you see it. . . . If you want to study water, you do not go to the Amazon or to Seattle. You come here, to the driest land. Nowhere else is it drawn to such a point. In the desert, water is unedited, perfect.”
– Craig Childs, The Secret Knowledge of Water,(Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2000)xiii-xvi
A quote from one of my favorite books on the desert by Craig Childs, The Secret Knowledge of Water. It is unlike any other nature or desert book I’ve ever read. Simply marvelous.
My photograph is from Big Bend National Park, on the flats of Terlingua Creek. I was hiking to the right-hand fracture, called Brujo Canyon (meaning magic or sorcery). I almost did not make it back across due to lack of water and overexertion. A hard lesson. I almost died in that awful, bright, oppressive, scintillating, intriguing, dangerous, wonderful place. It was a white hot dance and a reducing to that which is most simple. Beckoning and deadly.
Whatever one’s opinion may be about the Incan empire, it is a fact that they were amazing engineers. Before I made my first trip to the Andes, I was not aware of the sophistication, extent, durability, and outright beauty of the Inca’s stone water works and fountains. Their hydraulic engineering was extensive and very impressive, often surpassing what was being done in Europe during those times. Much of it still functions perfectly today, more than 500 years later.
To make sluiceways, they hand carved channeled blocks in solid stone using bronze and stone tools, bringing fresh water from sources to wherever it was needed. They surveyed landscapes and slopes, built water tunnels and reservoirs, and designed sophisticated drainage systems and pipeworks.
This beautiful sluice is in the courtyard of the famous Coricancha, or Temple of the Sun, the most important and impressive temple of the Incan Empire. This was the capital or main center of the empire, and before it was destroyed by the Spanish, the temple was covered, walls and floors, with solid gold.
Here in this courtyard, a crop of corn once stood tall, but the corn and the stalks were all made of solid gold. It was a sight that amazed all who saw it, including, of course, the greedy conquistadores. Now, under the Incan stone wall and the Spanish church that replaced the temple, there is only grass and this lovely artistic watercourse made of stone, still pouring water into the Incan fountain today.
The great citadel of Machu Picchu was a retreat for the Inca himself and he had the site plumbed and drained with great care. A stone canal about a half-mile long brought fresh water from a spring.
The Inca emperor had the first use of it, then the water made its way down a series of sixteen other fountains for the rest of the city.
His bath water drained off separately to maintain fresh water for all, and the entire city sent its used water off through building walls and other structures into more than 130 drains that nourished their farming terraces.
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