Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pillar of Sand

Leave it to the Europeans to schedule a business conference in Phoenix in mid-July.

You know how sometimes when you go back and look at pictures of a trip from many years later, you see a sign in one of the pictures that clearly says “Stop!” and you wish you had noticed it back then when you took the picture?

As I rocketed south and east, I enjoyed the scenic cloud formations building around my route.

We have been seeing a lot of wildfires (something like 1,500) in California over the past few weeks, and when I saw this dark smudge rising in the sky up ahead, I knew I’d want my camera out in case I had a chance to capture open flame, heroic work crews, or a dramatic helicopter retardant drop.

I had never seen fire clouds merge with weather clouds quite like this; I had trouble deciphering which way the wind was blowing and which clouds were rising and falling and where they were coming from.

I kept getting closer to the head of the cloud, over on the right side of the road.

Suddenly the wind redoubled its strength. All the wild brush on the side of the road tossed and tugged in a frenzy. I realized this was no fire I was driving into.

The color was an eerie darkened yellow, but it was much like driving in snow or fog in terms of visibility. When you can see, you drive. When you can’t see, you crank the speed way down, put on the flashers, and make sure you’ve got an out in case someone ahead has come to a full stop. You keep a nervous eye on the rear-view mirror and sigh with some relief when you see someone back there with his flashers on: He’s going the same speed you are, and you’re not about to be rear-ended. So you both crawl along, at the same speed as the big rigs, until you get through the worst of it. If it gets worse, you’ll pull off on the shoulder, but being stopped in this visibility could be worse than moving slowly.

There were a few minutes of driving when it really seemed as if getting off the road would be the better move, and then I looked around and saw I had punched through the worst of the cloud, and the road opened up again. Slowly the sky brightened, and I could see landmarks on the horizon.

As I headed on out of the cloud, in my rear-view mirror I saw flashes of lightning as the thundercloud over the sand storm opened up and started its own show.


Kangamoo said...

Or when the visibility is so bad you can't see 2 feet in front of your windsheild, take pictures!! You will be sure to remember it then. And you thought Arizona was boring.

CaliforniaGirl said...

I went through one of those dusty things which was about 100 yards across on my bike this week in a windstorm by a construction site. Be glad you had a windshield.

I am sure you were using the camera hands free, or is it OK to use a handheld device in Arizona?