Arroyo (wash) landform

Arroyo (wash) landforms have 2 main characteristics:

  1. Creek (small river) bed
  2. Sometimes gets dry

Example of an arroyo (wash) landform:

  • San Lorenzo Canyon, New Mexico, USA

What is an arroyo (wash) landform?

An arroyo is a dry river bed or seasonally active creek. They are usually found in deserts or other arid climates and completely dry up between periods of activity due to water-less conditions.  They are filled with water and become active again after substantial rainfall and floods.  Sometimes they can have vertical walls that cut into the desert with a gravel valley floor between the walls.

What Does an Arroyo Look Like?

An arroyo can be a shallow stream bed covered with mud or sand. It may be dry with cracks in the surface. An arroyo can also be cut deeply, forming a narrow channel in the ground.

How are arroyos formed?

Arroyos are indicative of a river that formerly coursed through the area that is presently dry.  Sometimes there are shrubs or bushes along the edges of arroyos that point to a possible underground water source.  Most arroyos form as a result of flash-flooding in areas that do not get regular rainfall such as deserts.  The flash flooding cuts through the dry ground to create these geological formations.

 Famous arroyos:

  • Gobi Desert, Mongolia
  • San Lorenzo Canyon, New Mexico, USA

Arroyos are very common in desert areas. Occasional heavy rainfall can cause water to flow over the land, forming a stream bed when the water dries up. Dams can help to create Arroyos. During the dry season, the Salt River below the Granite Reef Dam in Arizona will stop flowing when the dam is closed to conserve water, forming an arroyo.

Parts of India experience heavy rainfall during the monsoon season which feeds the Mayrukashi, Bhurbhuri and Sabamati Rivers. During the dry season, these rivers dry up to form sandy arroyos in the ground. Arroyos are also common in many mountain areas.

They are formed during the wet season when water flows down the mountainside and through mountain valleys. When water isn’t flowing, arroyos in some regions are also the primary transportation routes for many people who live there.

Man-made Arroyos

Arroyos are also artificially constructed in some areas to prevent flooding during heavy rains in some cities and towns of desert regions. Farmers sometimes construct arroyos to control the flow of water to their fields and prevent flooding during heavy rainfall. Some cities of the Southwestern United States have built large arroyos that are covered with concrete. These provide a path for water to drain and prevent flooding from heavy rainstorms.

An Arroyo Can Be Dangerous

When heavy rain falls in the desert, the hard dry ground cannot absorb the water quickly. Flooding takes place very easily in the desert. A thunderstorm can create a flash flood very quickly, rushing through an arroyo and carrying away everything in its path. This can happen in a natural arroyo of the desert, or in an artificially constructed arroyo of a city. Signs are sometimes posted to warn of this danger.

Arroyo definition:

A creek or river bed that is sometimes dry due to an inconsistent water source.

Other names:

Another term for an arroyo landform is a wash.

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