misfit stream

A misfit stream is one that is out of proportion to its valley. The reference is usually to a stream significantly smaller than the valley might accommodate. One place that exemplifies this term better than any other is Paradox Valley, near the settlement of Bedrock in southwestern Colorado, where the Dolores River flows across rather than along the valley. This is David Lavender’s impression of this stretch of the Dolores, in One Man’s West: “It pierces the bastion wall in a titanic, crimson-cliffed canyon of singular beauty, spills sluggishly over the table-flat valley floor in a series of horseshoe coils, gathers itself, and plunges out the northern side in another echoing gorge.” A less dramatic misfit stream is found in nearby Unaweep Canyon. Misfit streams may have lost water to climatic changes, to the capture of their water source by another stream, or to the seepage of water down into the floodplain. They are sometimes found in larger meandering valleys, where they carve new smaller meanders into the alluvium deposits on the valley floor. And occasionally misfit streams come about because the valley itself was enlarged during glaciation, though the right term here is usually underfit stream. Valleys cut by glacial meltwaters but whose stream channels today gather only the runoff from rainfall are common in the middle United States, but these disproportionate watercourses are also properly underfit streams.

Carolyn Servid