Friday, January 8, 2016

Darth Nino

We expected rain. The forecasts all agreed on that. It was even supposed to be a downpour right around the times we were unloading and assembling scooters, riding for the shelter of the visitor center, and still lasting through the way back to the car when the more lengthy task of disassembly of the scooters and packing them back in the car was to take place.

At least the main attraction of this trip, a tour of Kartchner Caverns, would be relatively dry. And warm, like 70 degrees year around. Plenty nice enough to take the chill off the bones during the nearly 2 hour tour. But still....

We couldn't reschedule. After all, we were going with some friends from out of state, and one adjusts your schedule to theirs, with the limited time they have to join you. Plus, hey, it's Kartchner, and though you no longer need 6 month advance reservations, you still need to make reservations, and this was the day.

We actually considered ourselves lucky in the scheduling. It could have been so much worse. We could haave been doing the northern part of the trip. This last week was all snow snow snow in the "higher elevations." That turned out to be defined as about 4000 feet this week. El Nino, long awaited during our extended drought, was finally arriving. Of course, for Flagstaff that meant about 30 inches over a series of three back-to-back snowstorms in a week. While we weren't heading up that far north, we still were keeping a leery eye on the Oak Creek Canyon area. Our location was about the 4400 feet mark.  So maybe, just maybe, the snow would finally quit late Friday and we could enjoy the rest of our time together there.

We also considered ourselves lucky in our timing. It was nearly dry all the time from the car to the visitor's center, and from the center to the cave entrance. Yes, the ride up was in a covered trolly, meaning plastic sheets like golf carts use that let the breeze and rain in through the gaps where they attached for winter use, but it was still relatively ... OK, it wasn't cozy at all. Satisfied? It was next to freezing until we reached the cave entrance, and it took about 5 minutes for glasses to unfog.

But at least it wasn't pouring.

The tour was marvelous. I highly recommend it.

Of course, by the time we emerged, it was steadily raining. Still not pouring, but steady. And still cold. Windy too.  We spent a bit more time in the center, warming up again while seeing what we didn't have time for before our tour.

It's a fair distance from the last bit of roof shelter of the center to the parking lot. The rain wasn't heavy, but still cold and windy. We were chilling down, and disassembling the scooters just wasn't going quickly enough for anybody. The first one was nearly apart and in the car, with all the car doors open, when the wind suddenly picked up and it started hailing.

OUCH! The pieces were small, but they still hurt, especially driven by that wind: hands, backs, and heads. Holding the jacket up over the head didn't make a bit of difference. Or maybe it did but we were still hurting enough that we couldn't tell. We all agreed to quit working on the scooters and head into our respective cars. In the time that took, hail had blown in through the open hatch and side doors to cover the entire inside of the back of the car. Enough had blown in the front doors to coat the seats and floors and fill up the little indentations in the doors where locks, window controls, and handles were.

When you're sitting on hail because the stuff is still coming down and there's no way you're opening the door and stepping out enough to scrape the stuff off your seat, you quickly wind up with a cold, wet butt. And as the stuff slowly melts after you warm up the car - after, of course, the hail stops and you're only battling snow to finish loading scooters, but the snow doesn't hurt - the whole inside of the car fogs up and stays foggy for about the next hour.

Even after that mostly dries up, you still need to keep the defroster blowing on the windshield, the heater wires working on the back window, and periodically lower and raise side windows to scrape moisture off them. The wiper blades quickly turn into white clubs with a tiny black stripe in the center, valiantly striving to keep the view ahead clear. Plus, your wet butt is still cold. And your wet sleeves. And collar where the stuff dripped off your head.

It's about 8 miles from Kartchner back to the freeway. In that time, the snow changed to large flakes, the ground and bushes turned white, and the road slushed over to the point where 30 mph seemed barely slow enough to be sensible.

You know, kind of like Minnesota driving.

Which we all thought we had gotten away from.

I checked later to see if Benson counted as one of those higher elevations that justified the snowfall. Just 3655 feet. Tucson was a bit lower, and sure enough, the snow changed to rain before we got  that far. It wasn't soon enough to prevent stupidity, though.

Not ours, of course.

While we were doing about 35 on the freeway, we got passed by an idiot who still thought that 65 was just fine, thank you. I mean, that's what the sign says, right? I rather jokingly said to Steve that when we passed him upside down in a ditch up ahead, I was going to laugh at him.

He wasn't actually upside down, though he probably had rolled through that position to land where he did on his side.

And I was too busy staying far enough away from everybody doing about 20 mph now, rubbernecking  emergency vehicles on site and new ones arriving, to actually laugh.


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