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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Last Week in the Gila

With last week's teams back at home, the next step of the project has begun: organizing the boatloads of data they collected. For example, Dean from Team 4 took a full 327 photos, and there were four others out there with him snapping pictures, taking video and collecting GPS waypoints and track data (Greg handled the latter). There's also the notes to go along with all of that, which Rebecca diligently scribed.

But on to a few of these pictures, soas to put a better face on the Gila National Forest. The first is a good snapshot of a stretch towards the start of the route, looking south along the Black Range. The trail eventually makes a turn to the west, striking out across the storm-swept plains (from Team 4's experience, at least).

As Dean reports, the rain came like clockwork: at 10 a.m. cumulus clouds began to form, giving way to noontime thunderheads and evening rainstorms. The ominous-looking clouds pictured here rolled in on Tuesday, dropping pea-sized hail on the team for some 45 minutes. The five of them piled into a 2-person tent in order to avoid a pelting.

The storm picture below was taken Wednesday, and captures the twisting start of the famed tornado. The team had dealt with a cold, wet night on the San Agustin Plains, and decided to hump it to the tree-cover of Pelona Mountain (0768533E 3729956N, 12S) after spotting another storm rolling in Wednesday afternoon. Greg, Rebecca and Matt had taken the lead, leaving Dean and Eric behind with more gear. Dean remembers the initial back-and-forth after eyeing the twister:

"Is that a tornado over there?"

"I don't think so...I don't think they have tornadoes in New Mexico."

Ah, but they do. In the end the storm was a few miles off and didn't so much as stir up a good gust near the trail. But a tornado in the backcountry, with nary a basement or storm cellar in sight, can be quite unsettling. For Dean, this marked the second he's seen in as many years; last year, an Easter storm spawned a tornado on his property. The twister rearranged some outbuildings and did a number on his house, although it's since been patched up. His take on his most recent sighting?

"It was both scary, and really neat at the same time."


Anonymous said...

What? No mention of the "Valley of Death"? The scattering of bones... the ominous overlooking dens... the fresh smell of feline urine... We encountered a stretch of the trail where one would not want to be by themselves or would not want to camp for the evening. Our team eerily got the feeling we were being watched, but we saw nothing. No matter what, we were definitely in Mountain Lion Country and we wanted out.

Anonymous said...

I got some good video of us picking over the bones. I do believe the hills had eyes.

michelle said...

What an amazing picture this painted!

Anonymous said...

Technically, that's just a funnel cloud. No big whoop.

Scott G. said...

Not to speak for Dean and Eric, but it did touch down and trace the landscape for awhile after the picture was taken. Dean admittedly forgot to take pictures of the tornado proper, being more concerned with getting to some cover.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine and I were on a backpacking trip years ago. He was ahead of me, and ran back screaming that a bear was right in front of us on the trail. To this day I don't believe him because I didn't see any proof of it.

He had his digital camera strapped around his neck, so I tried to explain that you are supposed to snap pictures first, then high tail it out of there, so you can back up your story!

The story and proof of it is always more important than personal safety!

(I'm just kidding, of course)