Fog Walls

Late October seems to be a foggy time. Part of it stems from Halloween, the old fog that was always pouring down in horror and scary films. Part of it comes from cold air spilling south onto warm ground and warm waters. I’ve actually watched knee-high fog come into existence in the park where I walk. The park is on the slope of an old playa, and you can feel the temperature difference some mornings as you walk into the cool air pool. If conditions are just right, my walking around will trigger fog formation, a very shallow mist layer. I’ve seen similar near the school, or did before real water filled the lake. You wouldn’t think that the High Plains would have much in the way of dramatic fogs, not like the Golden Gate or London, but you’d be mistaken.Wind blowing up the eastern edges of the Caprock lifts the air and causes orographic lifting, or in other words makes clouds and fog. One especially memorable December day I drove from Flat State back to Amarillo, under low clouds from Oklahoma City west. The clouds sank lower the farther west and the higher I climbed on I-40. Roughly 50 miles west of Amarillo the clouds turned into a ponganyip, an ice fog, that coated everything and I do mean everything in a glaze of ice. Traffic slowed considerably, and every semi drove the limit or lower. Now, for those unfamiliar with Interstate Forty, this is wildly unusual behavior. This stretch is flat, straight, smooth, and invites the lead-footed to excess. Not that day, and I discovered why about 15 miles from Amarillo. The still-smoking remains of a wrecked tractor-trailer sat beside the interstate, so burned you could barely tell what it had been. From there to the city limit, traffic ran ten miles per hour slower than posted, all because of a thick ice fog.

Another memorable fog, also with ice in the shape of hoarfrost, covered eastern New Mexico one early January day over twenty-five years ago. My family was driving home from Santa Fe and we took the back road. No, actually it was the backside of beyond road, crossing the Canadian River gorge on a high trestle bridge before dropping (plummeting) down the eastern face of the Canadian River escarpment east of Mosquero and Roy. The landscape wore the usual winter coat of browns under a grey sky. And then we saw a wall of white. We had not lived in the area very long and didn’t know what it was supposed to be. Dad slowed down and we entered the fog.

The world turned furry white. Fences, grasses, parked pickups, mailboxes, the few bare trees all sported ermine pelts. We could see about a mile or so, more the farther east we drove, until we dove out of it north of Gallegos when we dropped to the Canadian River and Ute Creek lowlands*. To this day I can see the landscape, knee-high and taller grasses bowing under the weight of the delicate ice needles, weathered wooden fence-posts bleached in the cold, the wires turned into four strands of magical thread. I’ve seen hoarfrost since then, but never with quite the same sense of wonder as that long, foggy drive through an empty part of the world.

Ah, fog, on “little cat feet.”

*Lowlands in contrast to the Canadian River Plateau, which is 6500-7000 feet ASL.

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