The San Luis Valley is famous for cold winter temperatures, potatoes, Great Sand Dunes National Park and high winds. Any month can be very, very windy, but March usually wins the prize.
Yesterday we experienced a lovely Rocky Mountain phenomenon known as the “Chinook.” The word has several meanings — it’s a type of salmon, a type of people, a helicopter — but out here it is a particular wind. We all understand it to mean a warm wind from the west that can melt a foot of snow in a day. It was blowing yesterday, raising our temperatures to 12 C (50 F).
It’s not usually a hard wind, and people generally welcome it. When I took Bear out for our walk I felt the Chinook immediately. For the first time in months I was not wearing a goose down sweater, Buff and cap, just a fleece lined sweatshirt.
“Chinook, Bear,” I said. She shoved her nose into the soft snow remaining on the golf course, unimpressed. I savored the sight of my ski trails memorialized in snow now too soft to ski.
Once out in the big empty, I looked across the fields at the two “town” mountains — Pintada and Bennet — and saw the unmistakeable signs of chinook on their shining, white summits. “Summit” is a relative term here. Bennet is a 12k foot hill and Pintada is a thing of beauty shaped something like a gentle ocean wave.
A chinook wind is a lovely thing even if you like snow, never want it to melt and are sad at the coming of spring.
“The warm wind kept blowing
…like a low chant from the land
or like the flurry of far wings…
lapping up the snow…
until the whole body of earth
lay brown and breathing
except for the topknots of buttes
and, away and away,
the high float of mountains…
Promise of Spring.”
A.B. Guthrie, Jr., from These Thousand Hills.