July 11th – The Rain shadow effect

My eyes opened to the pleasant sight of the inside of the tipi bathed in brilliant white light. I really can’t fully express how nice the lighting in a tipi is. The white canvas diffuses the sun perfectly such that there are no shadows, and no glare. For you photographers, it’s like being inside a light tent. Wrapping myself in my nice fuzzy jacket, I shuffled slowly inside to the main kitchen to brew some coffee. They had an instant-hot tap there, which makes brewing french-press pretty much effortless, and actually faster than using a drip pot. An older man sat across the table from me, reading the newspaper. Lol, print media. I just sat and sipped my coffee quietly for a few minutes, until it began to kick in, and my table companion looked up.

As I’ve said, if nothing else, hostels are great for conversation. We traded stories about life on the road for an hour or so, comparing camp cookware, techniques for staying warm and dry, preferred vehicle for travel. He’d done the motorcycle thing, but now had a fully equipped jeep. By this point, Gianna had joined the table, and we’d both grown rather hungry. With a final loud rumble from our stomachs, we excused ourselves, and headed across the driveway to the secondary kitchen designated for use by the outdoor hostel guests, like us. Taking advantage of the rare use of a refrigerator, we had picked up eggs the day before. Fucking breakfast taco time. A fellow hosteler by the name of Spoda (or Jaguar) offered us the use of his tortillas, and we shared our eggs. Being true Texans, we had anticipated the lack of good salsa outside the state of Texas, and accordingly brought our own. “Texas Brew: Honey Roasted Chipotle: HOT!” has become my go-to jarred salsa when I am too lazy to make it fresh. As expected, our non-Texan companions were completely blown away by the salsa we’d brought.

If you can talk yourself into waking up early at a hostel, it’s a pretty amusing experience to watch everyone else wake up. The slow, half-delirious shuffle from the tipi to the bathrooms. Back to the tipi. Then to the kitchen. All in complete silence until about that 5th sip of coffee. Then the lights come on behind sleepy eyes. It’s really something to watch a large hostel like the Snowmansion, which has capacity of over 100 guests, get up in the morning like this.

At this particular hostel, most of the guests wake up with more than just coffee, and I was happy to share some of Humboldt’s finest with our breakfast friends. I’ve noticed that pretty much no matter where I am, I have the best weed in the room. It certainly has it’s advantages sometimes, but mostly I just really like the good stuff. As we passed the peace pipe around, we fell into the sort of silly pseudo-philosophical conversation such early morning smoking conjures. It remains one of my favorite ways to start the day.

The previous day while talking to Spoda, he had told us of a spot with a great view not far from the hostel. There was a ski resort town up the mountain a little ways, with a ski-lift that would take you up the last 2500 feet to the top. We saddled up, and headed up the windy mountain road, stopped to appreciate the babbling mountain stream running alongside the road. How different all this was than Texas. It’s a beautiful thing to find yourself in a landscape so beautiful, somehow alien and familiar all at once. We reached the ski village, finding it to be a good 15 degrees cooler up at this new altitude than it had been down in Arroyo Seco. Clouds hung overhead ominously, foreshadowing the downpour that was to come. There had been some lightning, so the lift was closed for a few hours. As the sky opened up, dumping the heavy precipitation necessary for the heavy vegetation, we ducked into an open coffee shop. I purchased a large hot chocolate for us to share, and we sat outside on a covered patio, watching the rain. It wouldn’t be safe to ride down such a steep mountain with the roads so slick, so we decided to wait it out for a little while. Conveniently, the sky finished raining right about the same time we finished our beverage, and decided to take the break in weather as an opportunity to hopefully safely descend the mountain.

I’ve never really had such a good opportunity to observe the rain-shadow effect as the drive down the mountain that day. Halfway down the slope, all signs of the weather had vanished. It was again a sunny, somewhat warm day. Since we hadn’t spent as much time up the mountain as we’d planned, our afternoon was wide open, and we decided to go see the nearby Rio Grande Gorge. Coming to the base of the mountain, and driving back through Arroyo Seco, it was actually rather warm, and we stopped to remove a layer of clothing before continuing. We drove across probably 30 miles of flat, dry, mostly dead grasslands between the base of the mountain and the gorge. The difference was striking between this landscape, and the dense forest found just a few miles away up the mountain.

Spotting a rest stop with restrooms across the gorge, we decided to cross it by vehicle before coming back to inspect it on foot. A narrow two-lane road extends 1280 feet across the 650 foot deep chasm, bordered by a sidewalk on each side. The bridge rumbled noticeably with the traffic over it. We pulled into the rest stop across the gorge, relieved ourselves, and went to smoke a bit in one of the many covered picnic shelters overlooking the deadly gap. Once in a state to get properly frightened by the experience, we began the walk across the bridge. Holy fuck that is quite the drop. At the center of the bridge, a small observation deck juts outward from the sidewalk. I lean over the edge, and feel an immediate sense of vertigo. Sadly, it seems many people have decided this a great place to dump trash, including many, many televisions. While I’m sure it is indeed pretty epic to watch a TV fall 650 feet and then smash violently against the rocks, it does serious harm to the gorge ecosystem. A large truck drove over the bridge behind us, shaking the structure noticeable. Whoa. We dashed across the road to look down over the observation point on the other side. Holy fuck. Still quite the drop. I linger over the edge a minute, letting myself be fully consumed by the fear of falling, the gorge floor seemingly rushing up at me. Finally, I pull myself back from the edge, and begin the walk back to the bike, still shaking off the feeling of ultimate mortality.

As we rode back to the hostel, a combination of the hot afternoon sun and the caffeine wearing off began to lull me to sleep. Once we arrived back at the tipi, I collapsed on the bed and drifted off into a beautiful nap. While I slept, Gianna set about making some granola, which came out very well. I awoke from my nap a couple hours later, and we fixed dinner. I know it was something else with the Yak meat, though I can’t really remember at this point.

There were some guides from the nearby Philmont Boyscout ranch on leave partying at the hostel that night with a seemingly unending supply of whiskey and beer. Also, there were some chaps from England, one taking on a fictitious “professional gambler” persona while his friends worked to discredit him. Needless to say, the party Finally retiring pretty late from the party, we went and crashed HARD in the tipi. We’d have a long ride through twisty mountain passages the next day, to Pagosa Springs, CO.


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