August 25, 2011

Western Vocabulary Quiz: Drainages

Californian reacts to the place name "Schoolmarm Draw" in Colorado
The following terms are listed in alphabetical order. Re-arrange them in order from smallest to largest. Support your conclusions with examples or arguments.
  • Arroyo
  • Canyon
  • Coulee
  • Draw
  • Gorge
  • Gulch
  • Gully
  • Ravine
  • Valley


Janeen said...

Gullies are hardly bigger than ditches, so they come first.

Ravines and gulches are similar to each other in size, being bigger than gullies and smaller than arroyos and coulees. The term ravine is used in wet climates and gulch is almost exclusively used in desert areas. If you called something here in Minnesota a 'gulch', they'd call you crazy.

Arroyos and coulees are small to medium sized erosional features that hold ephemeral streams in dry land as arroyos and perennial or ephemeral ones in the wetter areas (like the unglaciated zone where I live) as coulees. Note, however, that there are a lot of different regional definitions of the word coulee. Spring Creek (where I live) flows in a coulee. If the same body was in a desert and flowed seasonally, I'd call it an arroyo.

Geomorphically speaking, the difference between a draw and the rest of these features is that a draw trends perpendicular to a ridgeline. This is the only feature on the list that has a definition that really sets it apart (at least as far as I know).

I'd put canyon and valley together at the end because both can be enormous in size. But - they can also be much smaller, overlapping coulees and arroyos in size in some cases. The chief difference between the two is structural. Canyons are steep and have narrow bottoms, valleys are v-shaped and have broad bottoms. And I thought that gorge was, generally, a synonym for canyon. Examples of huge ones are Grand Canyon, the Shenandoah Valley and and the Yangtze Gorges. Topo maps provide thousands of examples of small ones.

Chas S. Clifton said...

I hesitated about adding "ravine." Perhaps it is heard more in the wetter Cascade range?

"Arroyos and coulees are small to medium sized erosional features..."

Three words: Grand Coulee Dam. So sometimes large.

Janeen said...

Good point - but I think that, generally speaking, coulees hold dry or ephemeral streams. And I'm pretty sure that that was the case at Grand Coulee before the dam. Isn't it part of the channeled scablands? Valleys and canyons, at least in my mind, speak of perennial waterways.

And of course, I may be completely full of crap!

Geologically speaking, coulee is also sometimes used to refer to terrestrial lava flows, active or solidified.

Chas S. Clifton said...

You are probably right about the scablands. I noticed when hunting and visiting the cousins in northern Washington and southern B.C. that people there tend to employ "coulee" where I would say "canyon."

So maybe it's just a language thing: a borrowing from French instead of the Spanish cañon.

The Wikipedia entry for coulee seems to show no settled definition!

mdmnm said...

Gully, ravine, arroyo, coulee, draw/gulch, canyon, gorge, alley.
To my mind, draw and gulch are about the same size. Being a bit south of you for most of my life, I'd say ravine, arroyo, canyoncito, canyon, valle. A ravine is almost any small watercourse, a draw about the same but stretching to something you can drive a truck down, ditto arroyo (think Arroyo Hondo, north of Taos, which could also be a canyoncito and verges on canyon). Canyon gets danged big, up to Black Hole of the Gunnison size. By the way, where is "gorge" or, particularly western, "box" in there? Trout fishing in boxes is usually pretty good, but if it is the Taos box, pack a lunch!

Great post-

Chas S. Clifton said...

"Gorge" is there, since I once lived at the mouth of the Royal Gorge (of the Arkansas R.).

"Box" I thought of later, as in Taos Box.

We can assume that "canyon" includes its diminuitive?

Arroyo Hondo is another good example; one of the bigger "arroyos" that comes to mind.