High Desert Hoofbeats
by Sena Taylor Hauer
Jan 24, 2013 | 1139 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The sound of an out-of-place “pop” distracted me from the story coming through my ear buds as I cross-country skied over the desert in Professor Valley. On this recent shiny, bright morning, where the hoary frost glistened like giant Tiffany diamonds from the unusual snow carpet, I was jerked from a world of castles and Olde English wars to the present tense: Did I hear a lone gun shot from a duck hunter? Was it my imagination?

This winter has been challenging on many levels for those of us accustomed to living in this – supposedly – more moderate weather zone. Yes, yes we know this is the desert; it has extremes! Extreme heat, extreme dryness, and even extreme cold.

“Does it snow here?” people ask me as we ride hot horses across the dust in the dead of summer, when most people have time to vacation here. “Yes it does. It’s the desert. It has extremes, and you would be surprised,” I reply.

Well, even I’ve been surprised this year by the extreme wintery-ness of the season. “Baby It’s Cold” doesn’t even come close to what we’ve been enduring. “Baby It’s Frigid” is more suitable to the old saw. I am starting to feel like some of those old pipes around town: I can take these temperatures for a while, but if this goes on for much longer, I’m going to burst!

Back to that popping sound, my attention shifts to the world around me. To the now, which is where we’re supposed to be, right? On this most unusual winter, I have a two-mile single track for my skinny skis that leaves from my front door of all places, and loops down around Onion Creek and the edge of the Colorado River. These skis, which haven’t seen the light of day for the past decade because I’m too lazy to drive up to Geyser Pass to give them a workout, have been steadily employed since Christmas Day. They are one of the reasons I can smile about this winter. It has been fun to ski in the Nordic style, on our desert. I will be a little sad when the red sand peeks back through.

Even in this cold I ride horses every day, and take long jogs with dogs, and on most occasions I am happy to share my trail with others. I believe that making one’s own tracks is overrated, but not when it comes to my ski track! “Stay off of there,” I warn my mule-riding husband. “Can’t you ride somewhere else?” And even to the dogs I bark, “You would get better exercise if you cut your own trail.”

But it’s been cold, and the track has been well preserved by the temperatures and a recent dusting of powder. I pause to determine from whence the popping sound came. I gaze down valley and up, but I focus across the river, to the high, sheer sandstone cliff that is one of the biggest testaments of greatness in my little world. I stare at that cliff, which towers there day after day, letting the morning sun hit it, and the evening glow linger and linger. That cliff is a barometer of sorts for me. It charts the time of day and the weather conditions. And now, there is a little wisp of cloud – or is it mist – that hangs like a cowlick strand of hair on a grade-school kid on portrait day. That bit of fluff is out of place, as I gaze along that stretch of wingate that I tell visitors is really the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Right now there are no other little clouds flocking the high cliff, so this doesn’t seem to be part of a weather event.

And then CRACK and BOOM! It’s thundering on the clearest midday of winter. The mighty cliff lets go of itself, and I see grand slabs and boulders tumbling to the talus and beyond, into a pink mist of dust that billows up from the many rocks as they pound their way to the desert floor. The weight of the rocks, the terminal gravitational force of that ancient geology MOVES! And it makes mushroom clouds built of sand and snow and mighty force.

I stand in awe. Who wouldn’t? I take it all in, wishing I had a video camera – or even a cell phone camera – to record this geologic bombing. At the same time I’m grateful that my mind’s eye will record it better than any electronic device ever could, with the narration of my wonderment.

I do wonder at the spectacle of this desert we live in. How this moderate environment really does very little in moderation. One winter sees excess precipitation. Another is excessively balmy. Too much water, then too low a flow in the Colorado River. “It’s not global warming,” one visitor tells me, “It’s global weirdness.”

And so it is. It’s all those extremes that make up our norm, even on this seemingly abnormally cold winter. The calendar, if not the forecast, tells us there will be a thaw. And our focus will move to other rockslides as the melting snow wedges its way into the cracks of our consciousness, freezing and expanding until it has our attention.

This winter is making us pay attention to nature’s way. Listen for those subtle sounds you don’t expect to hear when following a predictable story line. We are not in charge of this world we live in.

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