DISPATCHES
What the Anasazi Must Have Felt
by Rob Schultheis
Jan 12, 2012 | 1146 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, or words to that effect, and I hope that by the time you read this column it will have turned out to be one hundred percent wrong, but the winter of 2011-2012 is starting to bear an uncomfortable resemblance to 1976-77, when there was so little snow you could walk up Bear Creek to the foot of the Wasatch Trail in flip-flops.

The only thing different is, we in the southern Rockies are not alone in our plight this year. In 1976-77, the West Coast was getting loads of snow, while a large stationary high pressure area in the Great Basin kept the moisture from reaching us. This time around no one in the entire American West is getting decent snow. 

A friend of mine who actually understands climatology told me the drought is being triggered by La Nina and two other factors I can’t recall – the Hogus-Bogus Syndrome and the Nanki-Poo Factor, something like that – but forget about those last two possible factors, and just consider La Nina:

It refers to cooler than normal temperatures in the tropical Pacific, and when it occurs it inevitably causes warm dry winters in the West.

It’s not a freak phenomenon – it usually happens every couple of years or so – but sometimes it is especially severe, and places like Telluride get clobbered as a result.  In 1976-77 the ski area here was just barely getting off the ground, and as far as name recognition was concerned “Telluride” registered approximately on the level of Wall, S.D., or the Four Corners National Monument, “where you can stand in four states

simultaneously (whoopee!).  I had a particularly snobbish literary agent in New York at the time, and I remember telling him excitedly about this amazing little mountain town I had moved to, only to have him sneer, “TelluRUDE?”([deliberately mispronouncing the name). “No-one is interested in places like that.  New York is where all the excitement is.”  

That virtually snowless winter was a scary reminder of just how fragile life in the Southwest could be; when the ski area closed after only five weeks, locals joked nervously that maybe the government of Colorado would buy the ski mountain and operate it as a no-frills state park, with rope tows and a shack selling hotdogs and burgers at the base.  All you had to do was drive southwest a couple of hours and you could see for yourself other communities that once thrived in this high semi-arid country, and eventually fell victim to the vagaries of rain and snowfall.

We’re well past those dodgy days now, or at least we seem to be.

After all, Telluride isn’t primarily about snow; there’s nothing even remotely like it on the face of the earth in terms of natural beauty, and a town to match.

Still and all, there’s something undeniably sinister about even the hint of a drought when you live in that great arc of marginal country that stretches from southern California across the great Southwestern deserts and the Four Corners all the way through Texas. When two longtime friends and locals told me the other night that they’d just seen fresh bear crap up Bear Creek, at a time of year when black bears should all be dreaming away their hibernations in nooks and crannies and caves, I felt the instinctive fear that the Anasazi must have felt when the summer rains failed and hot wind blew from all four directions: “Something’s gone wrong.

“We’d better hope it doesn’t last too long.”
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