Saturday, October 15, 2011

Vagabonding Across the 39th Parallel: A Day of Black and White in the Rocky Mountains

I love the freedom of association that is geoblogging. Since I am the boss of my own little domain, I can write about something, forget about it for awhile, get distracted, do other things, and when I am ready, I can get back to what I was doing in the first place. And so it is with Vagabonding Across the 39th Parallel. We did a geological transect across Nevada, Utah and Colorado in July, and I've been blogging about our journey off and on since August. At first it was practically a from-the-road report, but now as the fall leaves are turning, it has become a description of a sweet memory of summer past. We had made our way across the Sierra Nevada, successfully traversed the barrens of central Nevada, found a unique valley in Utah, and reached our goal of Rocky Mountain National Park (with 5 other blog entries in between). We were doing things a little bit different than our normal, extensively planned trips. Our rules were:

... we had an ultimate goal of reaching Rocky Mountain National Park, but we would plan our route no more than a day or two in advance...

...we would try to visit only places we had never been before, or hadn't been since childhood...

...if we did visit familiar sites, we would search out something new about the place...

...we would come home when the time was right (not too road-weary, and not too homesick)...

...and we promised ourselves to stop any time either of us wanted to snap a picture...

When I last blogged on the trip in September we were walking around Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the main tourist destinations on the east side of the park. Later in the day, the clouds built to a menacing degree, and the day turned into black, white, and shades of gray (the pictures below are all actually in color). A storm was brewing...
It had been an unusual summer, with near-record snows persisting well into late July, and high river runoff. During our stay we experienced some intense thundershower activity that caused flooding in nearby parts of Colorado, especially in the Breckenridge area which received something like four inches of rain in one day.

Colorado natives see nothing that unusual in thunderstorms; they happen all the time. But for Californians like ourselves, such storms are a treat (and a little bit scary). We get one or two thunderstorms a year back home, and they don't last long. The storms in Rocky Mountain National Park were loud, raucous, and intense. We parked at Sprague Lake and had walked halfway around when the storm began. We rushed back in the downpour and watched the storm pass by (and kind of hoped that it wasn't pouring this hard back at our camp). It was delightful; I recalled John Muir's memorable and exuberant description of watching a Sierra storm from the top of 100 foot fir tree. I was cowering in a car, though...

Towards sunset, the storm's energy abated, and we went to check our camp, which thankfully had missed the worst of the downpour. It was a beautiful day, even though we were living in a black and white world.
The sun rose the next day and we saw a different world, a world full of color. We had a new day to explore! More in the next post...