Hope, NM June 4th
May was an exciting and arduous month for me. Personally and on the road. June was going to be a much-needed reprieve and (almost) redemption from the month of May. Long story short, we started out June on a high note. Being back on the road to the South was freeing in and of itself, if not tiring. On May 31st we left Canada around 12 noon. Our goal was to pull a full day and end up in Lincoln NE. However, as the day wore on we lost light and motivation quick and ended up in Winner, SD. There, we spent the night and popped in to say a quick hello to Jordan, who was on his way back to Canada after he finished the entire month in Tornado Alley. It was good to see a friendly, if not a little unkempt face in the midst of the Southern-most part of South Dakota.
The Holiday Inn we stayed in was perfectly positioned for us to take all day down highway 83. All we had to do was take that through the rolling hills of NE, down into the flats of KS, pass the OK Panhandle and make it to Amarillo. The drive was another tough one but with the help of dubious road food and shitty coffee, we made it to Perryton TX before deciding to call it a day. For those who aren’t familiar with the drive between Perryton and Amarillo, it’s only about 2 hours. But what an incredible 2-hour drive it was! It was around 6:30 AM and we got to watch a beautiful Texas sunrise as we made out way to the rendezvous point to meet Francis. He had been chasing in extreme South-Western tx the night before and had a less than favourable experience in Lubbock that included wet beds and BEDBUGS. Spoiler, do NOT…I repeat. Do not stay at the Howard Johnson in Lubbock Tx.
We had a couple of hours to kill before Francis made it up to Amarillo. We spent this time downing coffee and ensuring that we had reservations at a parking garage close to the airport, and catching a few more z’s. Before we knew it we made our way to the Loves Travel Center by the airport to meet Francis. We had a quick snack and yes, more coffee and on top of that and organized the luggage for expediency’s sake. We kept watch for Ontario license plates and not much later, he had pulled into a pump behind us. Again, the feeling of a familiar face when far from home, made home feel not so far away. We were about to embark on a week’s travel and see what we could see. Storms had ramped up during the last half of May and had calmed right down in time for us to come in June. However, part of the fun of chasing down severe weather is not always having the ideal conditions to work with. It forces you to think about forecasting a little bit more. Which, was what we were there to learn from one of the best sources I know. Over the week, we did almost daily exercises in forecasting. The main one was using data recorded from weather stations in the AM to help us pick targets and narrow down what the severe weather potential was based on the surface observations. I say almost daily because I’m an awful student, to be honest, but I’m determined and stubborn enough to get through whatever is tossed my way. One of the first storms we were on really wanted to give it to us but unfortunately ended up only giving us a quick lowering to taunt us. Had it been able to rotate just a little harder and for a little longer, we would have at least perhaps had a chance of seeing this little nub turn into a touchdown for us.
As I’ve stated before, the storm activity kind of came to a crawl around the first week of June. However, being the eternal optimists we all are (only post caffeine) we decided to derp around TX and NM to see whatever we could. And for the days we wouldn’t see anything, there was always more “touristy” things to do. On one such evening, we had been drawn to Hope, NM. We had a few little supercells pop up but the terrain kept killing most tornadic potential they had. However, in one of the radar dead spots, we came across a likely looking supercell that was at least giving us more of a show than we had seen in the days previous. We sat and we watched and we stocked it. We took this sketchy, semi washed-out road and parked up on some high ground to observe it in the distance. The storm was taking a while to organize so we explored the immediate area. In this barren little spot, we found animal skulls and partial animal skeletons tangled up with twine. We found animal skulls tangled up in some brush which appeared to be swept in with the flood that caused the road to wash out. We didn’t see any nearby livestock and they all looked fairly fine-boned. My assumption was perhaps lamb as they were small and looked kind of lamb-like. Even if that wasn’t the case, I’d rather stick with that as an official story.
This place was creepy. The hum of the overhead power lines only got worse as the approaching storm let off more lightening. We poked around our surroundings for a while and before we knew it, the storm that we were watching began to organize to a point where we saw some tubing within the clouds. We all kind of perked and grabbed our cameras and focused on what we were seeing. Before we really saw too much, we realized that we were looking at ground rotation from a distance. My ass didn’t want to miss a shot, so I didn’t go back to the car (which of course was parked under the humming power lines ) to grab the better lens to film said rotation with, so I was a happy camper with the wide-angle shots I got of the funnel. Another spotter who was in a much better position to our North was able to confirm the ground rotation even before we saw it. As such, I’ve deemed this the “Bone Yard Tor”.
After this pleasant little surprise tornado, we headed off to TX again for a day or so to chase in SE Tx. This also gave us the chance to not only to explore a new area of Texas but to almost get southern fried while standing to look at a particularly mean-looking cloud while parked underneath an electrical switching station. We got out of the car and no sooner did I have my lens cap off ready to snap, this massive bolt of lightning cracked down in front of us. This bolt was close enough to get me back in the car, gasping as if someone had knocked my wind out and giggling out of both fear and utter bemusement that we hadn’t been fried to crispy bits of human. #IfWeDieWeDie
The last hoorah of the trip was our jaunt from Sonora Tx to White Sands Nm. We had kind of talked about it and decided that we wanted to go photograph the active missile testing grounds and picturesque sands. Our goal was to spend the evening there photographing the sunset. Our day started early for our trip there, and it started with a BBQ breakfast from Pit Stop in Sonora. After that, we were well on our way to El Paso. I had never been this far south. It was dry, hot and exactly what you would expect. It had the old western vibe with Spanish influenced architecture. At one point, we were in the perfect area for dust devils due to the winds coming off of the mountainous terrain and the rising thermals.
We hit El Paso and had a quick bite to eat before heading north of there to White Sands. The heat, by then had got to us and left us laughing and sweating and melting on our way there.
About half an hour before we hit White Sands, we stumbled on what we think is an old school. The adobe-esque architecture and the location had me picturing an old Catholic school with kids in uniform running around outside of it until the giant iron bell on top signalled for them to come in.
Not even 45 minutes later we had found White Sands. We pulled in and forgot that we hadn’t set the car clock back the hour, so we had way more time than we thought we would to capture what we knew was going to be a kickass sunset.
We drove up the curvy path to one of the first boardwalk/lookout points we located on the map and set up to shoot the cotton candy sky. Getting out of the car and feeling the soft, literally white sand beneath my feet was incredible. It was like stepping onto an alien planet. We watched the sky go from a dusty blue to what I can only describe as a cotton candy sky. While we let our cameras do the work, I set out looking for unique creatures only the desert could reveal. Little pinicate (stink) beetles roamed around us. Shiny and black and approximately 1″ long and 1/2″ inch wide, they are hard to miss when standing on the bleak, pale sand. These little dudes are also called Acrobat beetles, as when they feel threatened they stand on their heads, at the ready to musk their scent to scare off would-be predators
The sunset was the perfect end to the day. We drove back to Tx the next day and picked up the car that we had left in Amarillo. Once we did, we had one last go at some smaller cells that ended up disappearing before we could really get a chase in. We travelled down to Lubbock and grabbed a room at the Microtel, which has always been one of our favourite stays while down in Lubbock. We went for a swim and reminisced about the experiences the week brought with it and the truly incomparable food that both Texas and New Mexico had to offer. Which honestly made everyone hungry so we decided we’d hit up Chili’s for one last chance to get “white girl wasted” and to say goodbye until next year.
Apologies that this post is so long, but it was truly a whirlwind week. I guess I have more to say when I think back to the experiences rather than writing about them as they happen. Maybe it’s the nostalgia and maybe it’s the 20/20 hindsight, but I look forward to filling this with the memories of my summer antics, and the realities of winter on the Canadian Prairies.