Our outing yesterday was up to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument at 8400 feet altitude. It would have the highlight of today’s blog, because the fossils are interesting and there’s a lot of pleasant hiking to be done on a beautiful day. We got there in good spirits and started off on all the usual stuff, like the Junior Ranger program and the Ranger talk.
But huge thunderstorms began to arrive from the west, darkening the sky and suddenly our little 1-mile walk on the first trail was in danger of being rained out. The lightning was a bit threatening, but since it appeared to be 30 miles away, I wasn’t overly apprehensive.
And then we crested a hill and I spotted this funnel cloud (click to enlarge). Suddenly the thunderstorms seemed a lot more interesting.
I’ve never seen a tornado before. My first thought was “Run back to the Visitor Center!” but my first action was to start taking pictures. These were taken at full zoom (200 mm). It hung out there for about a minute, not moving much, and then dissipated.
From that point on, Emma was pretty nervous, and we dashed through the rest of the exhibits on the trail. The enormous storms passed by to the north, giving us a spectacular lightning show but not much else.
Back at the Visitor Center, Emma finished up her Junior Ranger project and got her badge, and by that point more thunderstorms were bearing down on the area. The Rangers advised everyone to stay indoors rather than hiking. Since there was little chance of the weather improving in time for us to take a long hike, we bailed out and headed back along Rt 24 to Woodland Hill.
(For more photos from Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, check my Flickr album.)
Tornado, going, going, gone, in less than a minute.
When we started out in the morning the temperature was about 75 degrees in Manitou Springs, and about 70 degrees at Florissant. With the arrival of the thunderstorms, the temperature dropped to 48 degrees. That swing tells you something about the power of these storms. Even back down at Manitou Springs (elev. 6320) it was only in the 60s.
The fast appearance and disappearance of the tornado reminded me of how many fleeting moments we have enjoyed in our travels. Many of those moments will never happen again, and I’m always glad when I can capture them with my camera and blog. You’ve got to seize the moment when you’ve got the chance.
Coincidentally, I got the news yesterday that the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier will close to RV traffic permanently starting August 29. The Skyway Pier has been one of our favorite places to camp. (We were last there on December 2006.) It’s a really unique experience, parked out there in the middle of the Tampa Bay, 20 feet above the sea all night. And now it’s over, forever.
I knew it couldn’t last. The great and unusual places to camp never do. There are few really interesting places left in this country where you can park for a night (outside of campgrounds, I mean), and they are dwindling away because of increasing property values, underfunded public agencies, encroachment, and busybody neighbors. In this case, the Skyway Pier was doomed by age and lack of funding. We’ll miss it.
If you find that really special place to camp, especially if it’s outside of the system, treasure it. Tell only people who can protect it (and be sure to tell me!) And keep your camera handy. You never know what might happen right in the middle of your walk in the park.