At the end of each chase trip to the plains, there is always the question of what taste the last day or two are going leave behind. It’s highly temporal. Several great days early in the chase trip can get lost in the gloomy mood of a busted chase on the last day. It takes time to regain broad perspective after getting back…at least for me. And that was how this chase trip was looking the day before. The last couple days weren’t complete busts — I still intercepted supercells and captured some good photos both days, but they were still underwhelming in terms of visual quality and structural character of the storms I did land on. Some of it was due to poor forecasting choices on my part, but much of it due to messier parameters on those days. In any case, the night before, I was resigned to driving home with a bit of a bummer on my mind.
I had stopped for the night a few miles north of Carlsbad, New Mexico, intending to finish my drive home the next day. But when I woke and looked at the forecast for the day, it seemed like there was something worth a look in the immediate area. Enough moisture and shear were in place for a few orographically forced storms to pop up and possibly make their way off into better instability. I figured I’d take a chance on it and maybe end on a slightly higher note especially since I was right next to the target area.
So I cruised back south to Carlsbad, picked up some food & drink for the day, and headed east into the Seven Rivers Hills to get a vantage point to watch convection bubbling over the Guadalupe Mountains to the west. The last few days, I was running behind to get to my target area, so it was a relief and a pleasure to be sitting where I wanted with loads of time to spare. I started running a time lapse of the convection with one camera while hiking around looking for interesting compositions with the cactus and local geology.
One cell looked like it was going to be successful moving off the higher terrain, so I decided to test the unpaved roads further west.
Those roads were really well maintained and in great shape, so I was able to edge closer to the base and take in some more of the terrain and desert plant life. I don’t have loads of yucca like this close to where I live, so I couldn’t help framing them into everything.
I finally found a great hilltop vantage to watch the cell develop, so I got busy capturing its essence with the surrounding terrain and plant life.
In time, other chasers started to arrive at a fork in the road downhill from there. Before long, Daniel Shaw showed up, and it became a real event down there!
As the storm continued drifting southward, I had to move on and keep pace with it.
The roads were great, until as usual, they weren’t. I finally reached a branch where my chosen southward route was closed for construction. So I had to break off to the southeast and move back toward Highway 62 and hopefully salvage some more distant vantages. This didn’t turn out too bad because the storm became more outflowish at this point.
Back on Highway 62, I headed south, watching for vantages as outflow hopefully kicked off more good things off to my west. I eventually found an unpaved service road off the side of the highway that lofted up to a great high vantage point. Convection way off to the west was filtering down a stunning display of crepuscular rays while the southern tip of Guadalupe Mountains National Park anchored the scene on the edge of the precipitation. I hadn’t been here before, and that landmark reminded me a lot of the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix.
A little further down the road, the storm started unloading a fresh core of precipitation while more landscape opportunities came into view.
After this, the storm I was on continued to weaken and gust out. So I hung around for a while, pondering my next move.
Checking radar showed another cell just northwest of Guadalupe Mountains National Park with a persistent velocity couplet and edging slowly southward. It seemed like a worthy next target, so I got moving and headed southwest on Highway 62. The mountain ridge was obscuring my view of the storm, but it looked dark and heavy and was flickering with lightning on the other side. As soon as I reached the El Capitan Lookout rest stop, the scene just exploded into view with the RFD gust front looming across the mountains and crawling inexorably southward. I set up for a quick time lapse and shot a panorama. I was able to spend about 10 minutes with it, gaping at the stupendous scene before I had to head westward and get out of its way.
As I headed further west to southeast of Dell City, more convection had fired and put on a great lightning display, which is how I ended the day. Staying for this one extra chase day turned out so well, it sent me home feeling great again. It can’t always work to stack a good bookend on the last day of a chase trip, but I’ll take them where I can get them.