Between swings of cold weather, there were two days that looked perfect for a quick, early-season outing–clear skies, warm temperatures, and an almost-full moon as a bonus. Shortly before the trip, the forecast called for a bit of wind and rain on the second day, but I’ve camped through Indiana summer thunderstorms (and a tornado outbreak), so I didn’t have much concern for a slight chance of a maybe-rain event in the high desert.
Compared to Indiana, Denver is pretty darn dry. Compared to Denver, Pueblo is damned dry. Truly, it’s been almost twenty years since I’ve spent significant time in the desert, but there is no mistaking the distinct feel of the air on the skin and in the lungs. It isn’t just the low humidity (which dropped to around 5%). It’s the smell of dust and–if you’re lucky–the heat-pushed scent of twisted little trees and determined brush. Breathe it in long enough, and you’ll be able to discern the distinct scent-feel of plain water, too.
When I stepped out of the car and took a few deep lungfuls of that air, I felt as if I were visiting a long-lost home.
It didn’t take long to set camp. I was one of two campers on the loop, with my nearest neighbors way on the other end, and we couldn’t see each other without stepping around the stunted trees and table covers between us. We waved from afar, a nice little acknowledgment and mutual agreement to ignore one another. Really, when you deliberately choose a campground as far as possible from everyone else–not to mention a short hike from the bathrooms–you recognize others who do the same.
In comfortable and quiet isolation, I settled down to bask in the sunshine with a bottle of water (my third since arriving, and I was still thirsty!) and my Kindle for a session of what was essentially self-chosen slush reading.
I looked up as tumbleweeds rolled between me and my tent. The next one rolled through even faster. Sitting in the shelter’s lee, intent on my reading, I hadn’t noticed the rising wind. But now grit was scratching my eyes and my mouth felt a little dusty, and the tent was rippling. Then a new gust shoved the tent, squishing it down to about half its height, and I thought I might have a problem.
After a few hours of checking and re-checking tent stakes, weighing down the leading edge of my tent to keep it from pulling up, keeping track of everything else that kept trying to blow away or blow over, and consoling Gambit where he’d decided to curl up under the table and shake, the wind abruptly stilled. My tent had not blown away, its poles hadn’t snapped under the strain, and I just might get a decent camping trip in.
The moon was so bright that night, I sat out writing notes for book-plotting long after the sun went down. And those other campers at the other end of the loop? Musicians. Every now and then, light guitar melodies provided a quiet accompaniment to the few insects chirruping in the night. Owls hooted. Coyotes yipped in the distance.
I turned in early, thinking to catch up on sleep, but awoke shortly before midnight with Gambit nosing me. He never asks to go out in the middle of the night at home, but does so when we’re camping. So we took a moonlit hike, not at all needing a flashlight, up and down the shale-scattered hillside around the campground with nothing but a light breeze for company.
The next morning, rested and ready to spend the day in combination of book-plotting and brief hikes, I checked the weather alert that had come through my phone. It was another high wind warning, set to begin late morning and go late into the evening, with predicted wind gusts exceeding 60mph for hours and hours. And Wednesday’s forecast was even worse.
Staying would have been little more than a decision to battle the wind all day in the hope I’d have enough energy left by nightfall to accomplish what I’d actually come to do. So I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, gave the sausage intended for the next day’s meal to Gambit (HAPPY DOG!), and packed up. The wind starting rising while I was taking down the tent. That made it extra fun, I tell ya. Driving through those winds coming home made for a long and tiring two hours, too.
And so it was, tired and dust-covered, I rolled up back home. It was not a wasted trip. After all, I screened a few novels, mapped out plot points and essential elements of two others, and plotted two novels of my own. Gambit was thrilled to scout new stuff of his own–he has earned the privilege to wander off-leash under certain circumstances–and I felt absolutely ALIVE to reach even the edge of a desert again.
But within a few hours of being home, the headache started. Out of curiosity, I checked the weather.
Surprise! Blizzard warning! Six to twelve inches, consistent winds around 30mph and gusts over 50mph. Set to begin in the very early morning, and be at its worst just about the time I would’ve been attempting to drive home had I stayed that extra night. Yep, I’d have been looking at a 100-mile drive in blizzard conditions.
Had the winds not been so terrible in Pueblo, I would have stayed that extra day. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to check the weather in Denver. I’m not an experienced enough Colorado resident to assume blizzard potential in March. Lesson learned.
Over a foot of snow has fallen here already, and it’s just early afternoon. We’ve at least three more hours to go. Denver International Airport shut down, as have numerous roads. Even the snowplows are getting stuck. And the winds around Pueblo, where I was camping? Today, they’re gusting over 80 mph.
Home is good. Really, really, good.