This glorious summertime weather

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Our annual schedules are based on weather. We vacation during summer because summertime weather is nice. Right?

The weather was beautiful when we left Warren for one of our vacations this summer. A little warm maybe, but the car and hotel rooms are air-conditioned. We headed west with the sun at our backs and got to our first overnight stay at a hotel before we started seeing weather forecasts showing severe storms, including tornados along our planned route.

On Day 3 we hiked to the top of a Mississippi River Ridge. As it has always been when I have been there, the Mississippi River Valley was hot and muggy. The climb was draining, but the wife, bless her, brought cool water.

As we drove out of the big valley we could see potential trouble ahead in the form of building low front clouds.

A little rain is not much of a problem. I like to drive in the rain. But when the rain is so heavy you can not see to drive, you pull off the road. We got to the middle of Iowa before that happened. It was the only time it happened by the time we headed east from Colorado. But this does not mean the weather got nicer.

If I may get off topic a little, I just took a short walk in the cool evening air. Across Route 40 was a car with an ORV on a trailer. Something looked odd. Then it became obvious. The ORV was as big as the car towing it. Maybe that does not strike you as odd.

After crossing the Mississippi River and driving toward the western edge of the Great Plains, an increasing number of the vehicles you see on the highways are hauling serious vacation equipment. So, so many are very expensive, full-size buses with anything from compact cars to full-size 4×4 vehicles in tow.

If the seers of the 1800s Plains Indians could have envisioned one vehicle we saw, a 3/4 ton pick-up truck hauling a 40-foot long 5th wheel camper, and an 18-foot speed boat behind that, they might have just waved Custer on. And if Custer knew what was to become of the West in the 21st Century, he may not have been so anxious to conquer the West.

The Rocky Mountains have become a big playground.

So back to vacation weather.

We took back roads from South Dakota into Wyoming. Patches of snow remained on the ground. This was the third week of July.

Each evening at the motel room we watched weather reports about fierce storms and tornados. On the plains where visibility was very long distance, we saw black storm clouds in the distance. A few times minor rains fell. And still, when the roads reached elevations of more than about 5,000 feet, there were patches of snow alongside roads.

One morning we left the hotel and found piles of pea-size hailstones in the parking lot.

The weather was perfect during the magnificent drive over Highway to the Sun, in Glacier National Park. If you would anticipate rough weather anywhere in the Lower 48, it would be Glacier National Park. But no, the sun shined, the air was temperate.

Back on the Interstates again, now heading south, we watched more foreboding weather reports. At Cheyenne, Wyoming, a storm hit just as we arrived at our hotel. The hail was not large. It did not damage cars. But it sure did sting the ears.

After Jeri fell asleep, an even fiercer hail storm hit. It made a terrible sound when it hit the window screen, similar to a tornado.

The next morning the sky was still filled with gray clouds while we drove south into Colorado. Showers fell from time to time. For several minutes I watched, while Jeri drove, what appeared to be a tornado. But it was just below churning clouds and did not get close to the ground. That evening tv news was filled with tornado reports with serious, but relatively little damage.

The next day we crossed a mountain more than 12,000 feet in elevation. We stopped at that high point, beyond the tree line, just to experience the feeling of cold 40 mph winds. Of course, hail started falling before we ended the short hike. It stung our fingers and ears.

But none of this confrontation with the elements is so bad. If you spend a couple of weeks on the road there will be good and bad. Three nights we got the last available hotel room, and another time we got the next to the last room. And the nasty weather, it happened at night or while we were driving, so it interfered with nothing. In fact, we enjoyed watching the storms. If you have never seen a lightning storm roll over the plains, or black clouds appearing over a mountain range, you should start planning a Rocky Mountain vacation.