My experience in Colorado has been so different from Canyonlands in many ways. Really, they’re similar only that my jobs both primarily involve/d interacting with and teaching people, and of course, that I’m once again in a spectacularly beautiful and natural setting. But the way I’ve experienced this place is so different. Most of the epic sceneries I’ve witnessed have either been while driving in the car to and from work, or at work itself, rather than on foot as was the case in Utah. Unfortunately, neither of these opportunities allows for very efficient photo taking (and even at moments that do allow such a chance, the sub-freezing temperatures often discourage me from pulling the fingers necessary out of a warm glove to snap the shot), so after a month and a half in this place I have very little physical evidence to show for it.
But that doesn’t mean my daily commutes are any less spectacular. The mountains here act much like the red rocks of the canyonlands – playing different roles each day, each minute, with every angle of light and dark. The clouds add a particularly cool dimension, working their way through the area as the mountains do their best to stop their paths. There are three phenomena specifically that I love and look out for, and that lucky for me appear relatively often. I don’t know their scientific names or the mechanics of how they work, but I know that every time I see one of these surreal scenes, it takes my breath away.
The first mountain/cloud combo I love occurs when a thick, low (if you call 14,000 ft low) cloud meets a mountain peak. Sometimes the cloud is big enough to simply hide the peak inside it’s yummy marshmallow goodness. But sometimes, whether the cloud is too misty or the wind is too strong, sometimes the mountain wins out, and won’t let the cloud hide the glory of it’s highest reach. When this happens, the cloud seems to wrap itself around the peak, curving up and over and hanging on to the very sharpest point with a stretched wisp of hand. It almost feels human.
The second mountain/cloud combo that always leaves me staring is something I’ve lovingly termed the ‘mirage effect.’ This happens when the clouds come low, or it’s snowing hard enough that an entire mountain is covered by a blanket of white and, at first glance, seems to have disappeared all together. But if you get the right combination for cloud/snow and sun, the rays will penetrate the white barely enough to see the silhouette of a mountain. In it’s most spectacular moments, the mountain will appear just strong enough to make out the contrast of her necklace of trees and hair of fluffy white, and if she’s in a good mood, she’ll reflect the rays of the sun back on the falling snow, and they will sparkle. The combination of dimly lit outlines and shine make me do a double take every time just to make sure she’s real back there behind her translucent curtain. It reminds me of what a mirage might look like in the desert.
And the last amusement these summit county clouds play with the mountains is the reflection game. When a thick mass of clouds rolls in in the late afternoon, the falling sun, too low now to be covered by the clouds, will point it’s rays upwards for them to reflect back. Sometimes the clouds light up in bright pinks and oranges and yellows (as the picture I posted a few weeks ago shows). And sometimes their fluffy gray bottoms turn a shade of liquid silver instead. They are totally different experiences, both reflecting their colors back on the lakes and mountains around them, covering the entire place in the vibrant glow of their choice. They are both beautiful.
They are all beautiful. My life is beautiful. Sometime, I will try and take a picture to show you just how.