Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Apocalyptic Horizons of a San Luis Valley Summer’s Evening

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine....

I’m looking out my office window when I notice a startling glow behind the trees in my neighbor’s yard. This photo barely captured the sense that hot yellow plasma was boiling over the southern horizon to consume us all.
Looking due south, straight ahead from my upstairs office dormer window.

It’s that time of day, somewhere between seven and eight p.m., that the light slants just so, bronzing, gilding, and sometimes inflaming the things it touches on its slow slide behind the San Juan Mountains. In this case, it was lighting the thunderstorms riding along the ridges of the Conejos Range, an arm of the San Juans that curls around south by southeast of where I am. 
The street in front of my house runs straight north-south. We’re looking south by southeast here.

On hot summer days the storms build along the mountains on all sides of the valley and generally travel due east, as seen here. Sometimes, albeit rarely, one will travel across the valley proper. Even more rare is rain. In Colorado, especially in higher-altitude environments like the San Luis Valley, the air is so high and dry the moisture evaporates before it gets a chance to hit the ground.  
Zooming in.

You can see this from a distance (not in these photos, though), the purple curtains of water hanging from the clouds, fading to nothing above the earth. This phenomenon is called “virga.” The air displaced by the falling, evaporating rain creates cool, pleasant breezes, so there’s that.
The painter Maxfield Parrish did not exaggerate the lighting in his paintings. On some evenings, and with the sun and the clouds just so, this is what you see. Imagine what this would look like if I had a real camera. Feel free to donate to my PayPal so I can afford a proper DSLR.

We got some cool air from these clouds, which is remarkable given their distance, and that, for all their dramatic lighting, they’re not built up into proper thunderheads. These, as with the ones that followed, slid off to the left/east. Sometimes at night I can look out my south-facing office window and see the lightning play on the horizon.

Storms or no, the sunsets this June have been nothing short of breathtaking.