Sunday, November 14, 2010

Desert Adventure, Part 2: Thor's Playground

Ever the optimist, I began to rationalize as I unpacked my things and settled in to my new, if temporary, abode in IHS housing. So what if my initial impressions of the reservation were not what I expected? What did I expect, anyway- A John Wayne movie? I had yet to really explore the natural beauty of the place, and with the exception of the obnoxious MD with whom I shared the house (as noted previously), the people seemed rather nice. The house itself was clean and had air conditioning. The topographical features were pretty amazing, too. On that front, I looked forward to exploring more of the region on hikes and drives.

Baby-san (my faithful steed, a 2007 Ford Mustang) seemed to be performing just fine in the 7,000 feet elevation. Having unloaded her, I cleaned out the trash and, armed with a shopping list, started on my way to the teeming metropolis that is Gallup, New Mexico. I made my way through the IHS housing area and experienced my first encounter with what the people who built the place euphemistically call a "speed bump."

Bang! Scraaaaaatchhhhhhhhhhhh!

"Holy crap, what was that!?" I blurted as I pulled of to the side of the road to inspect the damage. Finding none (thank God), I looked back at the bump. No wonder I bottomed out. It was as high as a curb! I'd need a jacked-up 4x4 to clear those monsters straight on. I cautioned myself to take the bumps diagonally (which I did over the remaining ten bumps on my way to the highway) and managed to keep from high-centering. I drove past the cow carcass (now being inspected by a small band of curious dogs) in the middle of town and turned eastward toward Gallup. The sky was a clear and brilliant blue, and it was hot. A single fragile wisp of white cloud was showing itself in rebellion against the beauty of the day.

Ten minutes later, as I looked in my rear-view mirror I noted that the little white wisp had mutated into a rapidly-building cumulus. Thirty minutes later, as I pulled into the Wal-Mart parking lot, I looked westward and noted that the cumulus cloud had not only discovered steroids, it had also called some of its friends over for a party. The wind, which had been a gentle westerly breeze when I left my house, had completely backed and was blowing from the east at a steady twenty miles per hour. The weather system was creating its own energy by now. I stood, transfixed for a few minutes, watching these now massive clouds as they boiled upward and began to flatten up against the stratosphere. Tangled orange strings of lightning squirted menacingly from the darkest parts of the storm.

Ah, that's right, I thought. Monsoon season. I actually looked forward to seeing a good old Southwestern thunderstorm.

I entered Wally World to pick up my sundries, a set of linen (they have 400-thread count stuff for super cheap there!), car wash supplies, and some vitamins. As I exited a mere half-hour later, I was ambushed by the storm.

It was as if I was standing in Hell's car wash. The air was so completely full of water that I felt I would drown if I took a deep breath. I had nearly summoned the will to dash the two hundred or so feet to my car when a blinding, blue-white bolt of lightning struck about that far away from me.


The thunderclap reached me almost simultaneously, and it was loud as hell. I heard a small voice from within, which I took to be that of my guardian angel, begging to inquire of me regarding just where the hell I thought I was going.

Having suddenly discovered the merits of abject cowardice, I retreated back into the alcove of the building from whence I had so foolishly ventured. Now shivering in the air-conditioned environment, I found it necessary to purchase a long-sleeved chamois shirt. What the hell- I was here anyway, right?

There was no delightful patter of raindrops like I was was used to back home in Washington. The torrent smashed against the aluminum roof like an avalanche of gravel, creating a steady, deafening, high-pitched roar similar to a jet's afterburner. I could not see my car- in fact, I could not see the nearest cars, which were only twenty feet away.

After what seemed like an hour of this (but was perhaps twenty minutes or so), the downpour seemed to let up. Figuring to try my luck, and I stepped out and made it about ten feet when almond-sized hail began to strike me on my senseless head. I can proudly say that at that moment, true to my valiant and heroic self, my first thought was not for myself. It was, in fact, for my beloved Baby-san.

Aw, cra-ha-ha-haaaaaaaaaap! Not hail! Damn it, I just WAXED my car! I whined while scampering like Chicken Little back to the safety of the alcove. I could easily imagine my car being shot-peened by Mother Nature into a formless, paintless, and valueless blob.

And the roar became far worse. It was all-consuming, seizing complete and brutal dominance over the full sensorium. Time stopped. Nobody talked- it was pointless to try. Hardly anybody moved. Hundreds of shoppers moved slowly and trance-like, around the place with their heads down, not saying anything. The mouths of small children gaped widely, wailing, but nobody could hear them. I just stood off to one side of the alcove by myself, a safe distance from the glass, and watched with a sense of dread and awe as the sky seemed to collapse on top of me. I felt myself retreating inward, feeling vulnerable, beset, powerless, and humble.

God must have sensed that we got His point. The rain abated as rapidly as it came. For a while, people seemed hesitant to go to their cars. I crept timidly out of my shelter and looked up at a clear, blue sky. The parking lot was ankle-deep in water. Tendrils of steam wafted eerily from the asphalt surface in the intense sunlight. The wind had completely died. It had become hot and humid. And miracle of miracles, my fears about Baby-san turned out to be unfounded (I guess the hundred coats of Nano-Wax saved the day).

The drive back to housing was uneventful (just about anything but the Apocalypse would have been, at that point in my day). I picked up some groceries, waved to the dogs gathered around the bloated carcass (now thoroughly soaked and spattered with red mud), and gingerly tiptoed Baby-san through the world's tallest speed bumps.

As I put my linens in the washer, I heard a distant thunder. Looking out the window, I saw another line of huge thunderstorms marching across the desert towards my happy little slice of heaven. The weather was establishing a pattern that would continue for the next two months.