The Clouds of Change

March 17, 2010

Spring break was a very mild weathered time, at least until I, my wife, and our children embarked on our journey to Flagstaff for a few nights. For days prior to departing, no more than an occasional sprinkle touched the ground.   Forecast looked good, so by Sunday morning we were on our way

We opted to go the Payson route to get there, as in our opinion, it is the much more beautiful one. On the way down the roadway made into a two lane highway in recent years, the sky became murky. The billowing clouds churned into dark harbingers of dreary precipitation. On and off it rained, but nothing too harsh. Then through the fog which was encapsulating the top of the Mogollon Rim, a huge sheer walled edge of the Colorado Plateau, snow could be made out.

Almost the entire vertical stretch of some two thousand feet, (six hundred Meters), was blanketed, although, rather lightly. This was spring time, which is mostly warmer and much drier than this, even in this part of the state, so I wasn’t prepared for heavy winter weather. Although it appear threatening,  once we ascended toward the top, gaining in elevation greatly, and passing through different biotic communities, only patches of the the white flake piles were present.

Believing that to be all, as the fog was now scattering, We pressed on. All was fine  for about an hour, then the wispy whiteness enveloped us again. By this time we were located about halfway between the Valley of the Sun and or destination. Snowfall accompanied this new reduction in visibility. Although it was light, I had not the opportunity to drive through much of this before, so I proceeded cautiously.

The rate of fall became higher as the path became more difficult to visually follow farther ahead. Upon inspecting the road briefly for a location to pull of for a few minutes and let the flurry pass, it slowed almost instantly. A few seconds later it almost stopped completely, prompting me to continue toward the place named after a banner pole.

The snowfall did keep up, but the near white-out conditions came to an end and stayed that way. This way to the northern part of Arizona is less traveled, so  probability of a pile-up was remote if not almost nonexistent, luckily.

For another two hours we trucked on, along the white dusted highway, riding in the tracks of the few others ahead of our vehicle, who had come through just before us. Finding a place to stay that night wasn’t that difficult. I recall appreciating the feeling of a warm cozy bed,  steaming food, and a hot shower. These were all much more p[leasing than usual. A change in weather sure can make one be grateful for the value of the climate in where he or she lives!

Unfortunately, the next morning I and my wife had both found out independently that, in one of the worst snow related incidents in the nation that year, over one hundred people had lost their lives the prior evening. The freeway which they were on was much move heavily used than the little road which we were came up on.  Those cars and trucks had been heading west out of the city which we were then staying. The tragedy occurred due to a combination of almost instantaneous visibility and the dispersed light glow of the setting sun.  There was no where to go for these poor souls, as many were drivers of big rigs who just can’t stop on a dime, especially when the road is so slippery.

I thank the hand of fate that my family and I were fortunate enough that night to not be involved in something like this. I feel for those who lost oloved ones too. Freak strorms may happen at any rime. What I have learned is to be a little more prepared, or in many cases a lot more, or not to go at all!

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