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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Changes

The Ohio River Valley is my current home.  It is a land of rolling green hills, trees, corn, soy beans and wheat fields.  I grew up in southern West Virginia, an area of steep hills, mountains and hollows or “hollers.”  While the two areas are different in the size of the hills and and the size of the farms, They are alike in that both areas are green.  All of West Virginia is green, even over five thousand feet where trees become stunted and vegetation is more heath than anything else. Even here, we can see trees.  In fact, there is no place in West Virginia where you can stand and not see a tree, other than perhaps one of Don Blankenship’s strip mines.  
If you drive the entire northeastern United States, there is little variation in the landscape.  Some places are flatter than other, some have more evergreens than deciduous trees, some have views of the ocean, but in general, the landscape is similar from place to place changes usually being gradual.

Unlike the Appalachian and other northeastern areas, the landscape of the western United States is likely to change in a few seconds time.  Driving over the ridge of a hill may find you in a desert or with a sudden view of flat grasslands.  A rolling hillside may instantly turn into a steep canyon becoming deeper with each foot.

I never grew used to these sudden changes in scenery.  Driving along back roads, the two-lane highways that used to be main arteries of travel, we drove into the canyons and over steep mountains where weather changed as quickly as a young woman’s mood.

One such place was along the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway in the Bear Tooth Recreational Area. As we started up the mountain we drove by the entrance to several recreational ranches that looked liked the kind of place people go for “dude ranch” experiences. 
 The land was gentle the small river looked inviting. Far off we could see a cloud.  I thought it looked like smoke from a fire. 
 At this point there should have been dramatic music indicating “foreshadowing” in a melodrama.  Scenery quickly changed as we began climbing.  With each reversal on the curvy road, the smoke grew closer. 
We were worried that the road would be closed from a forest fire. We drew nearer and nearer as  the cloud loomed larger.
Soon it was right over our head and we realized that it was not smoke an actual cloud.  
The temperature started dropping as we entered the cloud that then turned to a thick fog coating our windshield with water droplets.  
The wind buffet our vehicle and blew the fog up the steep hill before us.  As we continued to climb we began to worry about snow.
This was open range.  I hoped that there would’t be any cattle on the road. 

Finally, when we could go no higher, we crested the ridge then started descending until the cloud was once again above us.  At the bottom where a bridge crossed the river, we pulled into an overlook to fix a couple sandwiches and rest before starting back up the next mountain.  
The cloud hovered ominously close, overhead.
We drove up into the fog but not before we caught some beautiful views and a sight of the road ahead winding back and forth as it gained altitude then dissappeared into the sky. If you look closely at the picture below you will see the road at four different levels as it snakes up the mountain.

I held the camera out the window and wildly clicked away, even as, within the car, I cringed at the sight.  
If you are fearless, click on the images to enlarge your view.

Back into the fog we entered, losing sight of the valley below.  Considered by many to be the most beautiful road in the United States, Chief Joseph Scenic Highway only showed us white at this point.
Slight breaks in the fog teased us with hints of what we were missing.
After crossing the ridge, we left the fog behind as quickly as we had entered it.  The landscape changed from lush mountain meadows and forest to scrubby grasslands walled in by red sandy cliffs.
Cattle and antelope shared the field as each browsed on sage or grass.
At the bottom of the mountain, we turned right as the land flattened out . . .
. . . and the sky opened up to direct us through Wyoming.

3 comments:

mary said...

Nelle, Very nice. I liked the cloud story. Where were you? I gather you were right next to Wyoming, but was it Montana?

Beyond The Garden said...

oops, I put a picture in there twice instead of the one I meant to put in. It is the one with cattle on the road.

J_on_tour@jayzspaze said...

What fascinating scenery and very ethereal with the clouds.