Andrew Terrill

The outdoor diary of a writer, photographer, and wilderness wanderer

Cloud Watching

I SPENT MUCH of last week cloud watching, lazy chap that I am. From a remote vantage point beneath Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains I spent five days doing little but watching clouds form, drift about, and then fade away. To some people, such a pastime probably sounds dull in the extreme. But to me – honestly – the five days couldn’t have been better spent.

clouds on mountains colorado sangre di cristo range
Cloud cap sitting behind the crest of the Sangre de Cristos, and occasionally spilling over it.

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains have always treated me well. No matter if I’ve visited to backpack, run, or simply to look, I’ve always received rewards. Solitary moments of connection with nature; the satisfaction of achieving hard-to-reach locations; emotions stirred by wild drama: the range has given much. I’ve visited many times now in many different locations, and have never left disappointed. Amid the Sangres I’ve only ever found more than I went looking for. And last week was no exception.

The Sangre de Cristos is an unusual range compared to much of the Rockies. The range is long and narrow – it curves away from the main Rockies as though determined to do its own thing. Hemmed between broad valleys on either side, the Sangres rise swiftly from flat ground without bothering about foothills. Soaring 6,000+ feet above surrounding land, the range forms a clearly-defined and near-continuous ridge that stretches for almost 250 miles. A leisurely walk along the entire crest from Santa Fe in New Mexico to Salida in Colorado, and then back again, would make for an exceptional journey. It’s one of my backpacking goals. A double traverse, re-supplying from caches pre-stowed along the route, would be an extremely good way to spend six or so weeks.

And as soon as both kids are away at college…

dispersing evening clouds over sangre di cristo range colorado
Evening clouds after a thunder storm had passed.

Last week, however, it was a family trip that took me to the Sangres – a four-night stay in a small vacation rental nestling beneath the northern end of the range. The rental was a remote adobe-style home with 16-inch walls and comfortable furniture – a far more luxurious shelter than my usual mountain accommodation of choice. Instead of sleeping on the ground, packing up camp each morning and moving on, and travelling in solitude, I was able to bask in comfort in one spot and enjoy it in good company. My wife, two kids and myself laughed, played games, went for short local walks, talked and read. And I also stared. And stared. And stared.

And took or photo or two…

The weather was unsettled, which was perfect for my purposes. Instead of wall-to-wall sunshine the weather gods served up morning fog, and storm clouds that grew above the summits and unleashed violence, and cloud caps that sat for hours and then broke apart, and drifting mists that grew from nothing and then faded away as though they’d never existed. The drama was engrossing. Thrilling. No two hours were ever the same. The clouds were ever-changing, the light ever-altering. I may have stayed in one place but the mountains and the conditions made me feel I was constantly travelling. Who’d have thought laziness could bring such rewards!

sunbeam shining over forest and mountains under storm cloud colorado
A sudden ray of light before another storm moves in.

I took far too many photos, as I usually do. For this blog, I’ve limited myself to my favorite twelve – and ‘limited’ really does feel like the correct word here. I want to share them all! But hopefully his small selection will hint at what last week’s cloud watching meant. (If anyone would like, I could add a few more photos in another post later this week? Please let me know.)

Aside from sharing the magic and drama, I guess the point of this blog is to say this: one doesn’t have to cover thousands of miles to find magic in nature. One doesn’t have to camp and endure discomforts. One doesn’t have to have Big Plans and go to Big Places.

Sometimes, one doesn’t have to do anything at all!

sunrise and clouds beneath the sangre do cristo range colorado
Early morning light striking the range.
threatening storm clouds over colorado mountains sangre di cristo range
Threatening weather moving in. Lightning and thunder followed.
above the clouds arkansas valley near salida colorado
Looking east one morning after a fierce over-night storm.
cloud horse in forest colorado
A cloud ‘horse’. It appeared from nowhere, galloped down the mountain, and was swiftly gone.
heavy rain thunder storm over sangre di cristo range colorado
Heavy evening rain. Imagine the noise of the downpour, the rumbles of thunder, the clean-washed scents in the air.
sunbeams over forested mountains Colorado
Of course, there is always hope…
forest beneath the sangre di cristos june 2021
Another storm forming. The photo was taken just ten steps from the property’s back door.
sunrise on morning cloud cap sangre di cristo range colorado
Sunrise light on the cloud cap.
evening light and clearing storm sangre di cristo range colorado
Evening light and ever-shifting clouds.
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