>On the Cusp of Spring

January 30, 2010 at 8:15 am (Uncategorized)


People here say we’ve had a colder winter than usual, and that it’s lasted longer. The entire South has had an unusual winter, but our corner of the country has, for the most part, been a weather oasis. Sure, it got down to ten degrees one morning, and yes we had to close the road to the Chisos Basin a couple of days because of icing. But when people arrive at the sunny Persimmon Gap Entrance Station here in Big Bend National Park, they’re usually telling of snow, sleet, ice or rain to the north.

Many folk arrive with license plates from the really frigid places – Minnesota, Michigan, Alaska, Ontario. A few Mainers trickle in, too – from Whitefield and Augusta most recently. Lots of Texans, who may drive 12 hours from Houston or Dallas to get here. I keep checking Maine weather, and shudder at the little squares on the NOAA website with snowflakes all across the board, and zero temps. Then I type on our zip code, 79834 and get a much more pleasant forecast.

With the first frosts in late November or early December, the oaks in the canyons turned gold and held the leaves until the big windstorm in early January. The grasses are bleached manila and burnt orange, but the prickly pear still poke their green pads above it all. One species, the purple prickly pear, turns a lovely violet color at the onset of cold weather, sometimes stopping you in your tracks to see what kind of tree that must be blooming on the far hillside.

We got snow one day, which for most of us is an incongruous sight in the desert. Employees made tiny snowmen (well it was only a little dusting of snow) and took pictures of the cactus and ocotillo rimed with the white stuff. A park ranger and our 2010 Calendar photographer in the Basin, at 5400 feet elevation, sent some of the photographs he’d taken of the wild hoarfrost up there, and I was insanely jealous. I had to work that day and could only take a few snapshots on my way to work at the lower elevations, which really wasn’t that dramatic. A few weeks later we had an ice fog in the mountains, and my friend Shanna – a Southerner not used to winter drama – made several trips with her camera and Flip video to record the inch-thick frost crystals coating everything. I had to work that day, too, and again I was insanely jealous.

Hoodoos in light snowstorm

Just when we think winter might be over, we get another “blue norther.” Thursday’s storm brought us a huge clap of thunder, a bit of rain, a smidgen of tiny hail, and dramatic ground fog that flowed westward while the broken clouds above scooted east.

Ground fog and thunderhead (above) and closeup of ground fog below
To see the dramatic front side, go to Doug’s blog (I’m insanely jealous)

Then yesterday we had a huge moon. It was 30 percent brighter and 14 percent larger than usual because we were at the moon’s perigee – its closest point to earth on its elliptical orbit. I photographed it on my way home from work, rising like a beachball behind the Deadhorse Mountains, and this morning on my way to work caught it setting to the east of Persimmon Gap. Mars was close to it at two o’clock, not looking as red as it had several years ago.

Full Moon Jan. 29, 2010 – Deadhorse Mts.

The small hands of bluebonnet leaves are already clumping in the desert and we know these rains will help give us a spectacular wildflower display. Cactus will bloom soon as well, and the shirtsleeves will be short as we hike, and we will see young critters and hear more of the birdsong that is just starting to ring out in the creosote chaparral. We are on the cusp of Spring, and we are all awaiting happily.

The gratuitous sunset thrown in for good measure – Deadhorse Mts.


  1. Anonymous said,

    >Who was there from Whitefield. Cindy ?davidachase@gmail.com

  2. Cindy McIntyre said,

    >I think the last name was Gottlieb.

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