There is a special meadow near a village called Red Feather high in the Rocky mountains of Northern Colorado where magical things happen. If you sit still and watch you may see a coyote slowly hunt across it’s grass-covered surface, pausing here with cocked head to listen, leaping there if it hears a mouse scamper through the new grass. Or see a Red-tailed hawk glide majestically out of the surrounding timber to splash its shadow across the land below as it too looks for it’s next meal.
Hummingbirds flit from flower to flower sipping the nectar from the new blooms and helping to pollenate the plants in this untamed garden. Before long the grass will be knee-high and cover the shorter blooms leaving you to discover them as you walk slowly through the dew covered stalks early in the morning.
There is an old fence line that divides the meadow into unequal portions, meaningful to the humans who like to section things off and say that’s mine, but meaningless to the life that occupies or uses the ground on either side of the old rusty wire. Silent things that grow and stand tall and wave in the fresh breezes that occasionally wend their way down from the Never Summer mountains, their color dotting the meadowland like jewels left to catch the sun.
Now that the last of winter’s snow is making up its mind whether it will melt or not the earliest of the spring flowers are starting. The Lenten Rose and Pasque flowers are peeking out beneath the snow close to Easter. Winter Aconite and the Common Snowdrop are breaching through the snow-covered meadow displaying their blooms, plus a favorite of all who see it, the Wyoming Indian Paint brush is beginning to appear. That pyrotechnical colored perennial that migrated down from the open plains of Wyoming and Montana to gently settle here and become a favorite native in this high meadow. It’s red and orange and yellows the exact colors of newly lit campfires. Scattered throughout the tall grass these brilliant flowers give the appearance of fire in the meadow with their brightly colored heads waving in the wind.
Spring is here, even though we just had a blizzard that produced a couple of feet of snow. The snow is nearly melted already and leaves in its wake what the locals call Mud Season, those several weeks of melting snow and saturated ground and mud everywhere. That’s spring in the high country. Enjoy it while you can. And while you’re at it go see the fire in the meadow. That’ll make you feel good.
And thanks to those gentle stewards of the land, Jack and Peggy, for the opportunity to photograph there. Enjoy your special place.
This is Monument valley. The same Monument valley John Wayne road thru in Stagecoach and many other films. Usually when you see pictures of the valley it’s under bright sun and clear skies, with the buttes in stark relief against the sky, hardly a cloud to be seen, the timeless desert shot from countless calendars. But that’s not always the case as can be seen in the image above.
Monument valley averages around 7″ of rain a year and as we drove towards the entrance in this storm it looked like it was getting all 7″ at once. If you ‘re from the Midwest or the northern tier of the our country you are used to seeing rain storms that last all day or longer sometimes. That’s usually not how our western storms go. With few exceptions our storms race in with an unconstrained fury and drop all of its moisture in a hurry. Our storms don’t fool around. The energy builds up over the mountains, the clouds grow into the very upper reaches of the sky then all hell breaks loose. Rain, hail, sometimes even snow if you’re real lucky, and wind to blow your lawn chairs into New Mexico.
This storm has just about completed its job as you can see by the sun trying to break through the clouds, yet it is still raining hard enough on the highway that the windshield wipers are having trouble handling it. When a storm like this happens you just wait it out. The ground is going to be saturated and you want to stay way clear of any arroyos or small ditches, even low depressions in the highway as all that water has to go somewhere and it all doesn’t soak into the ground. It moves through the area with enough force to wash away cars and trucks as it they were rubber ducks and it happens real fast.
The roads in the valley are unpaved and made up of a combination of clay, decomposed sandstone, some gravel and that combination, when water is added to it, turns into an adhesive mixture that will coat your tires and fill up your wheel wells until you cannot turn your steering wheel. Besides having the adhesive strength of gorilla glue it turns into a cement-like substance that nearly has to be jack hammered out when it sets up. The general rule of thumb is, don’t drive on those roads until they’ve had a chance to dry out some.
This shot was taken during April in the mid-afternoon and the next morning you could drive the roads with no problems, in fact in some areas you could raise dust as you drove. That is if you didn’t make the mistake of parking in some low area where water runs through. If you did you’re probably in Lake Powell right now. Things happen quickly out here and you need to pay strict attention to your surroundings, but that’s just part of the drama of the West. Some folks thrive on it.
Many of you are not clear on how things work here in the Rocky Mountains. Especially as it pertains to the changing of the seasons. You think it’s all just automatic. Some of it is but even so there’s science at work here. Big hairy important science. The kind they make television shows about. The most common misconception is that Winter and its attending snow and cold appear out of the North, invading us like the shock troops at the forefront of that cold weather blitzkrieg known as the Saskatchewan Screamer. Not so. We’ve been blaming our brothers to the North for our misery unnecessarily. Sorry, Canada. However that doesn’t let them completely off the hook. They deserve to be blamed for plenty else, Justin Bieber, to name just one thing, but not for Winter.
The real cause of Winter and this is substantiated if not like totally proven, with improbable theory, old husbands tales, Bigfoot followers, alien probing proponents, people who read those newspapers at the supermarket checkouts, Republicans, Democrats, movie producers, other people who should know better, and Eugene that guy who listens to talk radio 24 hrs. a day, is Snow Volcanoes. I will repeat that, Snow Volcanoes. I know, I know, a collective gasp of disbelief just went racing across the internet, but here is proof.
In the photo above you see the caldera of this awakening Snow Volcano as it spews cold misty clouds filled with moisture that will soon turn into snow. This is the beginning of many eruptions to come as we proceed into Winter.
But wait, you say, isn’t a volcano just a rupture on the crust of a planetary-mass object, such as the Earth, that allows hot lava, volcanic ash, and gases to escape from a magma chamber below the surface? Yes, yes, yes, it is but that’s a HOT volcano. We’re talking about COLD volcanoes. The ones you don’t know anything about, which is why we’re putting out this post. To inform you and bring you up to speed on the latest scientific stuff.
Here’s how it works. You all know about the freeze-thaw thing that happens, such as when you leave a bottle of beer out on the picnic table overnight when it’s really cold out and the next morning after you’re done heaving your lasagna into the porcelain cistern and you remember you left that beer outside and you rush out to drink it thinking it will make you feel better and you find that freeze-thaw thing has been at work. The frozen beer has been warmed by the sun and expanded, forcing its way out of the bottle, shattering it in the process, as the ice and cold try to escape from its confinement. Well that’s how a cold volcano works.
Underneath the mountain range is a pool of really cold material known as uhm, I’m not sure, but it’s cold, take my word for it. The caldera is bowl-shaped, just perfect for focusing the rays of the sun into its center where the super-energized sunshine, what is known in scientific circles as heat, makes it way down the chimney towards the pool of that super but unnamed cold stuff. As the summer progresses and it gets hotter, so does that concentrated heat that is racing down to meet the cold material. Nature, loving to blow crap up can hardly wait to see what happens as the pressure builds and builds until it is say, November 18th and then, back up, Loretta, it’s going to blow. The pent-up cold and snow seeing its opportunity to escape its confinement races up the chimney and sends a plume of snow and cold miles into the atmosphere. As it falls and lands on your house you are receiving the fulmination of the Snow Volcano. This continues until you are butt deep in fulminations.
That is the eruption, and it doesn’t just happen once. It happens over and over, all winter long until you just can’t… well you know, you’ve been through it before. This then is the beginning of winter and its cause isn’t Canada but Snow Volcanoes. Now you know why and how it happens and that makes dealing with it easier. If you have any questions or concerns about this process feel free to contact us using the concerned and confused email address provided on the site. Thanks and remember, Winter is just around the corner.
I’ve been thinking. Maybe we’ve been pushing this Fall stuff a little too hard. I mean talking about it and all, looking around to see if the trees are turning yet, thinking about making a big pot of chili. I mean things happen fast enough as it is, which is okay for some things, some things you want to happen fast, like right now fast. But for things like Fall that have a drastic effect on your quality of life I think you need to slow it the hell down a notch. I mean you do know what happens after Fall, don’t you? I mean like immediately after Fall. Yes, that’s right, the ‘W’ word which brings up the ‘S’ word which stands for snow and that rhymes with NO!, right here in River City.
Maybe its just me but didn’t it take longer to switch from summer to fall a while ago. I seem to remember noticing, like, one tree that had a couple of different colored leaves on it around the middle of September. And it would still be hot as Dutch love during the day but at night when you were going to the game down at the high school, or the CYO dance on Friday night, it would be cool but not freezing. You’d walk a girl home with your jacket unzipped to show her how the weather barely affected you, which made you really cool. Or at least you thought it did. And when the leaves finally did turn and start to fall it took like three weekends to rake them all up. But it was neat walking downtown to the movies because the sidewalks would all be covered with every single color leaves turned, and they’d make that kind of swishing-crunchy noise against your shoes as you walked through them. That seemed like a normal fall to me.
Now if you even say the word out loud, “Fall”, or even say something like “Man, it was cold this morning I think summer’s over ” Bam! it’s fall and there’s no leaves left on the trees because they turned in like twenty minutes, then the wind blew them off the trees and it was snowing. I hate that.
Case in point. The image above was taken back in 2008 up at Sand Creek, Colorado, near the Wyoming border. I had friends up there that liked Fall but they were cool about it so it didn’t get in the way. But that didn’t change the fact that Sand Creek is a place notorious for Fall. First its farther north than here, and it’s higher in elevation than here and it’s kind of isolated, in short a perfect place to have a short quick, brutal Fall. But check out those leaves. Do you notice the amount of green still left in them? See how the leaves are gradually turning to yellow. They’re in no rush. They’re taking their time. That’s only 6 years ago. You still had time to get adjusted to the idea that it was going to be cold and stuff. You were better prepared mentally.
Now it is totally different. Now some careless door-knob will walk outside and just blurt out “Hey it’s cold out. Must be getting Fall” and there you go. Before you can say “Where’s my down coat” or “I hope the car starts.” you are ankle-deep in snow and wondering where the hell summer went. It was here a minute ago.
So I’m going to stop talking about it so much. In fact I’m going to look at every leaf that’s turning color for at least ten minutes each just to make Fall last longer. I’m going to walk around with my jacket unzipped. Hell, I might even go to a CYO dance, if I can find one. This year I’m going to have the longest fall I can. If you were smart and I think you are, you might do the same thing too. And if you locate a CYO dance give me a call.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, it snowed again. We were coasting along, daring to go to town without taking a jacket because it was 78° out and you actually turned on the air conditioner because it was hot, and then this morning dawned, and there it was, snow. White, wet, cold, sloppy snow. It was almost like winter again. Everything was monochromatic but we were lucky because the monochromatic was in shades of ugly grey and dirty white.
Before you northern tier types all start saying “Yeah, So, What’s wrong with that?” know that out here in the glorious west, when it’s supposed to be Spring we don’t want any more snow. We want sunshine and green growing things, gentle breezes and pretty flowers, not images that resemble Yugoslavia in WWll.
This causes some of us to regress to winter mode which is like when Miklos the Scaly found out that all his slaves had died before he had a chance to kill them, slowly. Now we’re not all like that just some of us. Some of us like me for instance, who is mightily tired, not to mention weary, of anything even remotely resembling winter. It brings out my darker side and well, let’s not even go there.
So what’s the antidote for ugliness? Beauty! And if a sumptuous, gorgeous flower represents beauty what happens when you add a butterfly to the mix? I know, Don’t get all weepy. You get beauty squared! That’s enough to cancel out what is seen out of the weather viewing window and salvage what was nearly an awful stupid day and let me use two exclamation points in the same blog. Cool huh? I hope if it snowing where you are this helps. If not check the weather report it’s supposed to be 58° and clearing tomorrow. Let’s all go there.
We’ve had snow and the accompanying cold weather all through April and it has the feeling that spring is still along way away. It is virtually sacrilegious to speak ill of the snow and it’s moisture here in the west, especially since we’ve been in a drought and were worried where our water was going to come from. And of course the staff here at the World Headquarters of our Media Empire would never do such a thing, fearing to not only anger the gods but our neighbors in the
realm, I mean neighborhood as well. It hasn’t been too long ago that one saw torch-light and heard cries of “There he is. Get a rope!” echoing through the valleys. It is just that after a long winter facing the trek up and down the icy goat trail that leads to the headquarters you begin to long for a little spring, a little moist, damp, high moisture content, spring. To that end we have set the scientific members of our staff, the snowologists, the NOAA guys that have joined us because it was just getting too boring going down to the south pole all the time, Captain Colorado our janitor, excuse me, building maintenance technician, who reads a lot, and several others to develop a new weather phenomenon that I can’t tell you anything about because it is really, really secret. I can tell you though that it has to do with creating 70 degree snow. Oh man, did I just say that out loud. Listen if you heard that you can’t tell anyone. We are way ahead of the Russians on this and getting to the patent office first is crucial to our funding here at the World Headquarters of our Media Empire so keep it to yourself. In light of the important, I would say crucial work, being done here, I think it is only fair that we ask you to pitch in, if you can’t send money then at least help us with some of our developmental problems, for instance we are having some difficulty with the whole melting thing, so your input could be critical. OK then, to answer the unasked question, what does that have to do with today’s picture? Well, everything. meadowlarks are the harbingers of spring, they need to get to work here. They can’t do that if they are feathers deep in cold snow. We need to get this spring thing on the road. So give us a hand, we need you and America needs you!