Tornado within a mile or two


Last night in Spearfish, S.D., we noticed the sunny day turn black, then green, which Claire said meant tornado. Hah. It did look funny though. So we turned on our little yellow weather radio (never travel the great plains without one!) and heard a line of violent thunderstorms were due to arrive in Spearfish at 7:45. Right. 7:45. Sure. At 7:43 a light rain began. I laughed. Some storm. At 7:44 the breeze picked up a bit. So what.
At 7:45 (I swear) exactly, we were hit by a downpour and 60mph winds, lightning and thunder. Turtle shook violently. I will never doubt our little yellow National Weather Service radio again. We were somewhat protected by Wal*Mart, but when some hail began to pepper us (we have a history with hail) we drove close to the wall of the building and were well protected through the worst of it.
Then we heard about a tornado bearing down on Spearfish. We are still debating whether we should have gone into Wal*Mart. I could see that huge roof sucked off and dropped back down on us in pieces; Claire could see Turtle sucked up the tossed onto the Yellow Brick Road.
Wal*Mart is on the far eastern edge of Spearfish. the tornado touched down three miles east of Spearfish, perhaps a mile or two from us. Yikes. Glad we didn’t know until morning.
The wind backed and stayed force six until about 2:00a.m. when we again moved to the lee of Wal*Mart so we could get some sleep. I think I like 107 degrees in Tucson better.
We met a nice couple from N.C. heading for Alaska in their View (like Turtle) and spent a couple of hours talking about little glitches, and how much we like our Skinny Winnies. During the storm, we looked like two white beetles scurrying around in the horizontal rain, looking for shelter.
Not the the two pictures, taken a couple of minutes apart, are not the same. Picture number one, a heavy Wal*Mart cart is being blown uphill, out of its corral; picture number two it is long gone; we never saw it again after it passed our stern at about 20 mph.

Devils Tower (not Devil’s Tower)

I think I’m being watched.

I don’t know how many times we have passed to the N.S.E. or West of this place and never stopped. We finally decided this was the time. Often things you have always wanted to see are underwhelming when first finally experienced. This was my reaction to the columnar basalt plug that somehow became named Devils Tower (it was supposed to be Devil’s Tower, but a clerical error in the bill forever gave our first National Monument an incorrect spelling). After so much red rock in the southwest, the greenish gray of the tower was a bit of a disappointment. Set down in any other country in the world it would be the most visited place. shame on me!

However, the surroundings, pines, grass and wildflowers were a welcome change, and we enjoyed two days in the campground. There was a prairie dog colony between the campground and the tower, and they were somewhat habituated to humans; nobody shoots them here, and it’is possible to get a good look. When they are hunted, as they are on most all private property in Wyoming, they won’t let humans within a couple of hundred yards of them.

Our campsite was in the middle of a grove of cottonwoods, and the rustle of the leaves sounds like a gentle rain falling, even with the sun shining. Our sunroof gave us views of the small, heart shaped, leaves against a starry sky each night. Last night thunderstorms to the east added depth and interest to the stars and broken clouds. We got a sprinkle. Or was that just the cottonwoods?

Vedauwoo Wahoo!

June 10, Vedauwoo, Wyoming. We decided to check out a SE Wyoming bouldering spot; the photos we saw at the Wyoming Welcome Center reminded us of a place in Australia called Devil’s Marbles. It is on BLM land, so the camping was cheap, and half price for me, so we decided to make a day of it and stay the night. The hike around Turtle Rock, from the campground, was four or five miles, just right, and we had lots of daylight. We got distracted by a little bouldering of our own: Claire surprised me by asking to try a little climbing and she did very well. If I remember the old system, we might have done some 5.2, hard core! It was really fun, but the top was truly vertical and we had no gear, so we passed and made our way back down to the trail and finished the hike.

The campground was basic, picnic tables, raised fire grates and no showers, but $10 and every site with a half-acre of space and a spectacular view of the granite piles of rocks. The wildflowers were thick and the scent of pine strong, and at 8,000 plus feet, breathing deep. The sleep was long and deep and the dawn was bright. Ahhhhhh.

Steaming Past Steamboat Springs

June 7. Steamboat Springs, Co.

When we first arrived we had elevensies in Turtle and watched a teen girl’s softball tournament; that was great, and the best part of Steamboat as far as we could see, since the town seems to be mostly about boutique shopping and real estate, neither of which interest us. The weather was deteriorating by the minute and we were told not to attempt Rabbit Ears pass after 3pm. We looked all over town for unsecured wi fi and failed, went to the overcrowded library (bad weather drives active people into the library) and finally decided on such a day there was nothing for us in Steamboat. We decided we’d try the pass and give Steamboat a chance another day. We had wet snow and slush at the top, but nothing to worry Turtle. Not what I had in mind for my birthday, but things improved on the other side of the pass. We found a fine quiet boondock in Walden, along our original Zippy (tandem bicycle) route around the U.S. in 1995, and shared memories of that very special time in our lives. We has a special dinner and slept well.
June?
June 8, we met with disappointment in the fading village of Cowdrey.
The small coffee shop/music shop/ lunch place we were hoping to enjoy again, had made it until three years ago and failed. On another cold June day in 1995, after an even colder pass from Wyoming, we’d found steaming mugs of herbal tea, a radiant woodstove, some cakes, wonderful classic jazz and the conversation of a lovely 17 year old girl, about to be married and head off to college. It was nothing special really, but somehow, at the right moment in the early stages of our first big adventure together, memorable, very memorable. Now we wish we could know where the parents went, did the girl’s marriage go well, was college a success for them, did they indeed move to West Virginia? We’ll never know, like so many lives that have somehow enriched us, we’ll never know the rest of the story; but maybe that’s not so bad, we can write our own: the girl and her new husband moved to West Virginia for cheap land and cheap education and found both. But soon, he found the hills oppressive compared to the openness of the West. She began a garden and learned to quilt, set down roots. They began to fight… No I don’t like that beginning. Needs work.