Snow, Cranes and Wind

Last year Colorado had a drought. This year, thank goodness, no. But…

In my youth, I remember avalanches most often as a phenomenon of fall snows, when the base laid by an early snow had melted and refrozen and more snow fell on top — basically a slippery slide for future snow layers. This year is the heaviest avalanche year on record, not just down here in the San Juans, but up there in the sexy parts, Summit County and nearby environs (Black — High Avalanche Danger — in the map below).

The Rocky Mountains are generally not as sharp and pointy as the Alps and avalanches are somewhat less common, but they do happen. In ski areas, avalanches are triggered ahead of opening in the morning.

As I’ve followed the stories of the avalanches, I’ve been amazed at how many people interviewed believed that avalanches in our mountains are ALL manmade. Several people (in cars) were trapped in an avalanche yesterday — all are OK.

Meanwhile, here in the San Luis Valley (Alamosa and environs on the map) spring is forcing itself upon me. Yesterday, right on time, my crocus bloomed.

Sigh…

My friend E and I headed out in Bella (my new Jeep) to see cranes. It was an intensely windy day and it was a little difficult to find the cranes, but we did. I don’t have any great photos since I went out to look more than shoot pictures. There were thousands of cranes in a barley field on the far east side of the wildlife refuge. They were a lot of fun to watch.

The wind was blowing like a mofo and E and I just enjoyed it. E has a wonderful capacity to be enthusiastically in the moment, one of the great things about her. The featured photo is primarily of a cloud at war with the wind. The wind from the east is blowing it toward the San Juans. At this very spot, it has crashed into a Chinook. The only camera I had was my phone.

No Longer a Hot Spot

Here in the San Luis Valley (like much of the world) we have some awesome geology. The west side of the valley — the San Juan Mountains — shows evidence of a gigantic volcano. The La Garita Caldera volcanic event was:

“…the second greatest of the Cenozoic Era. The resulting Fish Canyon Tuff has a volume of approximately 1,200 cubic miles (5,000 km3), rating it an 8 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. By comparison, the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mt. St. Helens was 0.25 cubic miles (1.0 km3) in volume.

By contrast, the most powerful human-made explosive device ever detonated, the Tsar Bomba, had a yield of 50 megatons, whereas the eruption at La Garita was about 5,000 times more energetic. However, because Tsar Bomba’s reaction was complete within seconds, while a volcanic explosion can take seconds or minutes, the power of the events are comparable if measured within the respective bounded timeframes. It is the most energetic event to have taken place on Earth since the Chicxulub impact which, at 240 teratons,[7] was approximately one thousand times more powerful than La Garita.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Garita_Caldera#cite_note-livescience-2

The La Garita was enormous, obviously and all around the west side of the San Luis Valley are smaller (but still very large) calderas such as the Bonanza Caldera, parts of the main event, with a caldera some 15 miles (24 km) across (Crater Lake is 5 miles across).

On the west side of the San Luis Valey, there are signs everywhere on the of all this ancient volcanic activity. There are lots of small, pointy piles of rocks eroded from some long ago splooches of magma and canyons with beautiful rock formations, such as Penitente Canyon. (Featured photo, taken by me in March 2017) 

The San Juan volcanic field is part of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado. There are approximately fifteen calderas known in the San Juan Volcanic Fields; however, it is possible that there are two or even three more in the region.

The region began with many composite volcanoes that became active between 35 and 40 million years ago and were particularly eruptive in the time period around 35-30 million years ago. Around this time the activity changed to explosive ash-flow eruptions. Many of these volcanoes experienced caldera collapse, resulting in the fifteen to eighteen caldera volcanoes in the region today.

Wikipedia “San Juan Volcanic Field”

______________

Map of the Caldera Rim and surrounding area. Map provided by Bill Hatcher.

The other side of the Valley is pretty interesting geologically, too. There is Great Sand Dunes National Park and the sharp peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, much younger than the San Juans.

Dusty T. Dog and my neighbor at the Sand Dunes, October 2017

I haven’t explored much in “my” valley yet. I hope that this summer, when the blessed snow has melted and the ticks and mosquitoes are rife, I can get out on the trails and see what is in my reach.

Christmas Concert

Yesterday my friend and I went to hear Christmas music performed by the Valley Community Chorus and accompanied by the San Luis Valley Community Band. The event was held at Sacred Heart Church in Alamosa, a beautiful hybrid between Romanesque and Gothic in style, patterned on the prevailing style of mission churches in this part of the West. It has wonderful acoustics. The community to which the chorus sang and the band played — and from which they draw for members — is as a big as Connecticut with a population around 60,000. There’s a lot of driving involved for some of them.

My friend and I are both retired teachers. It’s pretty obvious, I think. Strangers have said, “You must be retired teachers.” I don’t know how they knew that (I think I’m a punk rocker, yes I am) but as I looked around me yesterday, at the listeners and the performers, I reached the same conclusion. A lot of retired teachers. One giveaway was the prevalence of Christmas sweaters of a certain style. 

At one point in the concert, the director (who, I assume, is also a teacher) asked, “How many of our choir and band developed their love of music in public school?”

Most of the participants raised their hands. I started to clap loudly, and there followed a ripple then a roar of applause. I might never want to teach anyone anything again as long as I live and regret that I didn’t stay with Head Ski, get free skis and do marketing, but damn. Without schools? We would all miss out on what matters most in life — and that’s not our job. It’s what the band leader referred to as our “avocations.”

The high school in my town takes its band very seriously and the band wins prizes. There’s a big sign on the east end of town listing all the times the band won best in state. Since the high school is two blocks from my house, I get to hear them practice marching for parades. I love it. I’m proud of them. I get goosebumps when I see them going up and down the streets trying to keep in time and walk simultaneously. It’s the teacher in me. I look at youth in the act of aspiring and I’m moved.

Yesterday I looked at the retired teachers all around me, and I thought, “We never fully drop that torch. We always believe in it,” and I was moved. 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/rdp-monday-ripple/

Weather Report

Winds in the San Luis Valley blast between the San Juans and the Sangre de Cristos. Spring winds carry newly turned soil in dust clouds from one side of the valley to the other. Winter’s bitter winds drive drifts against snow fences and mountains. Summer winds ahead of thunderstorms clear the air awakening somnolent crops. Fall winds scatter golden cottonwood and aspen leaves across a blue, blue sky. The oldest trees lean, knowing that resisting the wind is the easiest way to break.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/15/rdp-monday-blast/

Life in the West (and a PSA — get your flu shot and don’t argue with me)

I’m as rugged as they come, being, as an old friend used to say, a “Modern Western Woman,” western meaning the West which is right here where buffalo roam and every second pick-up has a driver wearing a c’boy hat. I am self-reliant, don’t mind getting dirty and laugh at pain. Haha, pain.

So today I made my way to the big city and the supermarket. I never make a list because I’m rugged and don’t need frou-frou like that. The store was pretty empty except for the usual c’boys, farmers, Amish, and retirees. I went to find probiotics (since the antibiotics of the surgery, my digestion has been a little rugged) and saw there was NO ONE IN LINE AT THE PHARMACY.

“Get a flu shot,” said a still, small voice within. “Now’s the time.”

Always listen to the still, small voice within.

It takes a lot of guts to march up to that window and say, “I want a flu shot” and then they offer you one for pneumonia, too, because you’re a rugged OLD person which is even more rugged than a rugged young person. You’ll find out.

So I filled out a paper, handed over my Medicare card, and waited. People came and went. A cute little Hispanic boy about three showed me his very excellent Kung Fu moves, but since I’m so rugged, I just smiled. His mom informed me that the kid is a character. A little later a Hispanic farmer sat down beside me and said in the magical accent I’ve loved since I was a kid, “You getting a flu shot?”

“Yep,” I said which is how rugged Western people say, “Yes.”

The pharmacist called me and I went into a little room where I discovered I couldn’t get my long sleeve up high enough for him to give me a shot. No worries. Us rugged Western women wear undershirts, so I slipped my left arm out of the sleeve.

He did a good job with the shots. I hardly felt anything — and I told him.

“The pneumonia shot often hurts,” he said.

“Life is pain,” I said, grinning, embracing the misery of existence as any rugged, stoical western woman should.

Then he said, “Before you put your sleeve back on, let me see if it’s bleeding.”

I said, “I want a Band-aid. Even if it’s not bleeding, Band-aids make it feel better. Especially a Mickey Mouse Band-aid.

“Right?” he said, rummaging around in his Band-aid cabinet. “Oh!!! Wait, I have Loony Tunes Band-aids, wait!” As if I were going anywhere.

I am now wearing a Daffy Duck Band-aid on my rugged left arm.

I walked out, and the Hispanic farmer said, “I saw on the news there’s a new flu strain that kills people.”

“That’s fun,” I said. He grinned.

“Pretty soon we’ll all be wearing masks.”

“I want a Batman mask,” I said. Only Batman is more rugged than I am.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/rdp-tuesday-rugged/

They’re BAAAACCCKK

In the fall in the San Luis Valley, everything is in motion. The kids migrate back to school. The workers migrate to the potato and carrot fields. Trucks migrate the cattle back to the lower pastures. The elk and deer migrate to the valley floor from the high mountains. People in camo migrate to the foothills to shoot some meat. Some birds migrate away, heading south, and some birds stop their migration here as their winter destination. Some birds hang around to see if the river freezes, and if it doesn’t, they’ll spend the winter. Most important to tourism is the migration of the Sandhill Cranes.

You’d think they are the only birds that matter, but I love them, too. They are an ancient species that found a way not to migrate into extinction, even after thousands and thousands of years. I wish I could read their minds.

All this motion stimulated by the sun’s apparent migration south.

It’s one of the loveliest and most profound poems I know.

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/25/rdp-tuesday-migration/

This is NOT the Sexy Part of Colorado

In my 20s, I hung out in the sexy parts of Colorado fairly often. I would say that Aspen is the sexiest of the sexy. I had a good friend who’s parents owned a condo at the bottom of Little Nell (a ski lift). These excursions were usually in the summer when, back in the 70s, the population was less glamorous than during ski season. It was nothing for us to drive up there from Denver for the weekend. I spent a lot of time with them. The sexiest parts were getting dolled up (“Take off your glasses Martha!” “But Bess, if I do that I can’t see!” “You don’t have to see. You have to be SEEN!!!”)  to dance and drink at the Red Onion.

People don’t think of it this way, but Aspen is surrounded by legit Colorado and on those summer nights, if I took I took my Jack Daniels outside the Red Onion for a little fresh air and break from the noise and sat down at one of the tables set up on the sidewalk, I was likely to share the space with a cowboy and his beer.

I spent some winter times there, too, skiing at Snowmass with my boyfriend’s parents and watching women in restaurants drop their fur jackets on the floor beside their chairs. There were also lines of cocaine (it was the 70s, and I was young) that left me wondering if I’d ever sleep again and why anyone found that fun at all (I didn’t). In the swirling 70s mystique cocaine in Aspen was part of the sexiness. I even happened to be at my friend’s apartment when a scary dealer showed up with a bag of uncut coke. My friend — a young, talented Aspen architect — bought it, we snorted some. I was “up” for three miserable nights and days, hating every minute of it, and that was the end of that social experiment, for me, anyway. My friend died a few years later at 35. Nothing sexy about that, nothing sexy about a wasted life.

I spent time — and skied some hills — in less sexy parts of Colorado, too. My favorite not-all-that-sexy ski mountain was Arapahoe Basin. Still, it was sexy in its way, too, sexy in the “I’m the highest ski mountain anywhere” kind of sexy. It was sexy in the “Only extremely cool real Coloradans who are able to drive over Loveland Pass come here.” I was there every weekend one winter. I do not know if there is a pass anywhere that my VW Bug wasn’t ready to take on.

So here I am in South Central Colorado in a flat, mysterious, ancient valley ringed by mountains, a hard-working valley where potatoes are cultivated and giant trucks carry them off to points north, south, east and west. The other night, a visiting friend and I drove across Heaven’s fields — potatoes, alfalfa, hops, barley — and she said, “This is the Colorado people don’t know. It’s not the sexy part.”

A small herd of cattle was running across a pasture for reasons only they knew.

I said, “Yeah, but you know, last time I drove out of this valley to go to Colorado Springs all I could think was ‘every other place is bullshit’.” My friend agreed. She lives in proximity to a somewhat sexy part of the state (Durango and Telluride) but her town might be smaller than mine.

I pointed to the Sangre de Cristo mountains, about to be hit with late afternoon light and I said, “See those? Those are MY mountains. And these fields here? They’re mine. And that immense changing sky? That’s mine, too. There’s a river over there. It’s one of the perqs of living here. It’s my river.” I said “my” but in fact, I belong to them, heart and soul.

She’s the friend who acted as my real estate agent when I wanted to move here. She said, “I was so worried when you said you wanted to live here. I couldn’t imagine you not hating it.”

“I knew I wouldn’t hate it.” My heart filled as it often does here in Heaven. “It’s the best thing I ever did, move here. But no, it’s not sexy. It’s legit.”

Today I went to visit the dogs (since I still can’t walk well enough to bring them home) and take a drive through the legit part of Colorado where I live, past the neat, rich Amish farms, the small herds of sheep, the cattle on the distant fields, the two beautiful mules near the kennel. Summer birds swooped and hunted. The behind the San Juans made them silhouettes. Fields that had been irrigated were filled with wild iris.

Not in the least sexy.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/06/09/rdp-9-ragabash/

“But When the Trees…”

Things around here feel chaotic, but I think it’s the wind. The wind blows in the San Luis Valley (it’s famous for it) but not (so far in my experience) as it has this winter and spring. You can almost see the moisture evaporating from the flowers. Whoever set up my yard had the wind in mind. The side yard (where my garden is, usually) is sheltered on all sides. Outside my back (side) door is a concrete ramp with a wall and a covering over it. It’s wonderful in winter and the wall blocks the wind from the west. On the east side of the yard is a tall lilac hedge the blocks the wind from the east. A fench blocks the north wind and I put up a privacy fence on the south that blocks any remaining stray wind (and some traffic noise).

The yard is a little oasis, shelter from the storms. I’ve even figured out how to set it up, finally. I look forward to being able to do that.

The other day my doc (a sincere, caring young woman who spent a couple years in Africa helping people with HIV) confessed that the wind makes her grumpy, all other weather is fine, but wind? My PT was very stressed out because of the wind on one of the days I went for therapy. “I can’t stand this wind,” he said. It was a very windy day; that is true. I didn’t park in front of the light post. Who knew? It made me think of James Michener’s Centennial, 

It was not a roaring wind that deafened, but it had a penetrating quality that set the nerves on edge, so that at some unexpected moment a farmer, or more often his wife, would suddenly shout, “Damn the wind! Doesn’t it ever let up?”

In June the howling subsided, and residents of the lonely homes across the prairie looked back with wry amusement at the way they had responded to it. “It really set my nerves jangling…”

To me a steady wind is no problem. It’s when the wind decides to become dramatic and interesting that I start to lose it. I know it’s because of fires and Santa Ana winds in my California life. The last spring I lived in California, we had the highest winds ever recorded in my tiny area. During the night I heard the wind (70 mph) start abruptly, suddenly, with a roar at the top of my street. I lay there and listened, following its “whoosh” as it blasted past my house. That night barns were lifted and dropped. The power company turned off the electricity in the mountain towns that morning for fear a random, otherwise innocent spark would set the world on fire.

Gusts that high are rare here in the San Luis Valley, but they happen sending the tumbleweeds racing.

I adapted Christina Rossetti’s poem for the San Luis Valley…

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the roofs start flying past,
The wind is passing through.
 Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees their branches throw,
The wind is passing by.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/abrupt/

Fires…

 

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This map is the fire in the south central part of the state with the little house over it (evacuation center)

 

We’ve had wind up to 60 mph today here in Heaven and the San Luis Valley (all of Colorado) is very, very, very dry. Innocent thing spark brush fires, like a guy showing up for his job as a welder.

I’ve gotten to see second hand (I’d like to keep it that way) how a large brush fire is dealt with here in Heaven. The area covered in the map is thousands of acres. I’m (again) astonished at not being in a big California city any more.

Everyone in the area was evacuated to the recreation center in Alamosa. You look at that HUGE area on the map and you think, “Wow, that’s a huge area on the map!” but it’s not a lot of people. One of my friends lives near the airport in Alamosa — my artist friend with whom I sometimes go to Taos. She was evacuated and happy as a clam because they opened the ceramic studio at the rec center for her to work. She later let me know that Dominos brought pizza for everyone.

I don’t yet know the extent of the damage or how many people lost homes, businesses, stock, anything. But I do know that when that’s made public a few GoFundMe’s will pop up, families will ask for help on the various Facebook pages, and people will just pitch in.

In my fire experience in California (a lot more extensive and intensive than I wish) there was the setting up of Red Cross shelters sometimes in places as big as the stadium where (once upon a time) the Chargers played. With millions of people to contend with, there’s. no GoFundMe or direct pleas for “We need bedding and clothes for a 2nd grader” kind of thing or “Our home was burned” getting a response like, “We have a big 5th wheel we can let you have.”

That is rural life in a sparsely populated area, I guess. I’m grateful for it. I think we’re in for a long and scary fire season unless the July/August rains come and give us a break. There’s also the (slim?) possibility that we could still get a good, wet snow.

UPDATE:

All is well. The fire (in my area) is under control. Everyone’s home.

 

1P.S. It’s roughly 70 miles from Creede to Alamosa ❤

P.P.S. SLV = San Luis Valley, a little bit of America most people have never even heard of.