The Rocky Mountain

Pikes Peak on March 20, 2017, almost devoid of snow.

In the usual pattern of spring weather, the promontory on our northeastern horizon gleams white like an alpine stereotype. The broad hulk of Pikes Peak is fronted by layered foothills and crags, which cascade down toward a grassy pool called High Park, from whose western shore extends a line of dune-like rocky wrinkles speckled with pinion pine. These relatively lower regions make up the middle ground of our view, and snow doesn’t last long on that terrain. The sun’s light is wintry and the angle of its rays acute, but it’s still intense, and swiftly resets the color scheme from blue-shadowed white to tones of earthy tan and evergreen dark.

The winter just passed was indecisive, with months of erratic weather whipsawing between unseasonably warm and bitter cold as the jet stream threw loops, carrying Arctic fronts down over our portion of the Rockies and then retreating with tree-snapping Chinook gales. Snowfall was too skimpy and too scattered to linger between storms, most of which amounted to no more than three inches of snow. Many dropped just a trace, a skiff, or a dusting. In March, we were very nearly skunked: not one measurable snow fell until we got an inch on the 24th. The 2.5 inches that fell a few days later didn’t lift the tally over 4 inches, in what’s normally our snowiest month of the year.

A week later, on March 28, with a little more snow.

The fleeting storms would refresh the white atop Pikes Peak, but after a few days the rocks would re-appear, like gray veins emerging out of clean white marble. By the third week of March, the bareness was downright alarming.

Pikes Peak isn’t particularly tall; at 14, 114 feet, it’s number 30 on the list of Colorado’s “Fourteeners,” peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation. Still, it’s our nearest high peak, and a barometer of local snowpack, which is itself an indicator of spring runoff and summer water supplies. Moisture in the soil means water for trees and grasses; lack of water means elevated fire danger. The rocky mountain of March augured an elevated chance for a smoke-shrouded peak in June.

On April 4, we got soppy-wet spring snow, amounting to 10 hard-to-shovel inches. Pikes Peak, as expected, emerged with its snowfields refreshed, its whiteness newly whitewashed. Our snow melted in a few days. Up on the mountain, it lingered for a few weeks, but the purple is now reappearing.

Any respite from dry is fleeting in these parts, and I know that. In the sixteen years I’ve lived here, I’ve learned to draw inspiration from the beauty of the land and the toughness of the plants and animals that call it home. Whenever I start thinking I’ve taken on a measure of this native resilience, however, I find myself upended.

The normal wishes for this time of year are for green and for growing and for color. In its season, the stolid granite of the mountain’s top is reassuring and right, but under these April skies it leaves me unnerved, and I keep finding myself wishing for white.

On April 24, signs of winter still lingering on the mountain, but not a great deal of snow.

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4 Responses to The Rocky Mountain

  1. While our view from Colorado Springs is of Pikes Peak’s eastern flank, we, too, keep a close eye on its snowpack. I hope you received some precipitation out of yesterday’s storm. Here is to a wet late spring and summer!

  2. Andrea Jones says:

    Tanja, isn’t it interesting to be able to watch this ebb and flow of water on the Peak? Today (4/29) is yet another snowy one, promising that a whiter mountain will appear when the clouds lift. We’ll take all the water we can get right now, in any form.

  3. Hi Andrea, if the degree of whiteness of the peak’s eastern face is any indication, your view should be very white by now, after a few more storms. Yes, water in any form is welcome! Best, Tanja

  4. Andrea Jones says:

    The snowy peak sure is pretty against this blue spring sky, isn’t it Tanja?

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