I woke up at seven as usual, peeked out, saw the sun already way up with blue skies, so I went back to bed and slept till 10. One of these days I still need to catch the sunrise... Freshly groomed I filled up the car - 9.7 gallons for 365 miles; this is starting to be depressing. With two hot dogs in my tummy and the skies still very unfriendly blue, it was time to go back to the rest area and do some resting. Just as I settled in, power outlet and all, a bus of Russian tourists made a stop for lunch. 55 mostly seniors proceeded in a very orderly fashion to get their sandwich and hung out on this cold, windy day, enjoying the view of The Tower. An hour later I was alone again, with a few birds picking up the dropped cookies and odd sandwich pieces.
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A storm was quickly approaching, and as a result tourists were fleeing. Soon I was joined in my shelter by a young Russian couple with son, and an older couple traveling the region. The older gentleman saw me working on my laptop and asked "how do you get the Hi-Fi here?" to which I said that I don't, which resulted in even more puzzlement.
With a storm imminent, I packed up and went to where I expected the best fireworks display. Thing is, winds change direction around here quite quickly, and without prior notice. So I found myself in the dry as the storm headed south; me in full pursuit. Unfortunately roads here don't go everywhere the storms do, so all I got was a measly single lightning strike. I ended up in the town of Sundance (not to be confused with the one with the film festival) where the local school is proud to be sponsored by soft drinks companies. Only in America... Trying to be more like Jared, I crashed the local Subway, which is also the local flower shop and probably many things more. From here back to the tower for some sunset.
The sunset was better than yesterday but still not something to write home about. Given the clear sky I decided to hang out and get some star photos against the silhouette of the tower. [Insert here another chapter of trying to focus in complete darkness.] As things go, nature made other plans for me. Just as it was getting dark enough to capture stars, a storm could be seen brewing on the horizon. So I got a few shots of that, too, and decided that this was not the best place to hang out. In fact, really strange noises were coming from the forest nearby. I could identify the bats and even the occasional owl, but that still left a lot of noises unaccounted for. I am sure that Ken would have identified them as some moose mating with some bison. I didn't want to stand there to find out and be hit by lightning, and instead went to the same place as yesterday, hoping that the storm would be a nice backdrop behind the tower, yielding some interesting silhouettes.
Initially, I got what I expected. Camera on tripod, automatic trigger running, the sky was periodically illuminated in curious ways. This spectacle lasted about an hour. Then, out of nowhere, things changed: the lightning got brighter, without being obvious where it's actually hitting. Nature was simply suddenly much better illuminated, not in a good way. Indeed it was like a close encounter of a 3rd kind of sorts, and as my friend Peter later said, the clouds were here just to hide the view of the mothership. I took it as a hint and packed up my gear and performed more back seat acrobatics (it should be pointed out that this new tripod is awesome for this) (now I re-read the last sentence and came to the conclusion that it sounds really really bad but that I'll leave it anyway.) By the time I was set up, nature still lighting up every few seconds, the first drops fell. About ten seconds later the first buckets. I frantically tried to close the window. About ten seconds later, I found myself in a shower of marbles. Imagine really heavy rain. Now substitute water with marble sized hail. And keep bringing it on. And more. And throw some lightning into the mix, all around you. Immediately around you. The earth was shaking like in an earthquake (and I've been thru a few modest ones). The Corolla wanted to join the mothership.
The noise was amazing. When a thunder subsided, the noise of hail took over, only to be overpowered by the next thunder. And the Corolla was shaking like it was made of cardboard. On second thought that would not be so bad as that would mean it would not get dented up too bad. Needless to say I was sitting in the back, thinking "now what?" But what could I do? Visibility was zero. It was either pitch black with air full of hail, or it was very very bright with air full of hail. Imagine the whole population of China practicing ping pong, right there, relentlessly aiming at you, and the spent white balls accumulating all around you. There was really nowhere to go.
It went on like this for 15 minutes. I know it because I have time stamps in pictures. It felt like forever, though. Imagine being shaken for 15 minutes, in deafening noise, wondering when the window will break or the tornado will suck you up :) Yes, I have turned into a Californian pussy, used to the fact that a sighting of lightning makes front page news. My presence here shows that indeed I enjoy lightning, but there's too much of everything. After 15 minutes the hail somewhat weakened, so I climbed to the front and turned on the defogger and headlights. I saw that between 1-2 inches of hail have fallen, depending on where. I drove looking for cover, which was nowhere to be found (no gas station in the next 25 miles, or other such constructions with a roof overhead that I knew of). So I decided to crawl back to the motel, at 20mph in 2nd gear. Good thing I grew up in Switzerland and thus am quite used to winter driving conditions, because that's what we had now. This is the 2nd time in a decade that I am on vacation in June in Wyoming and find myself in snow or ice...
An hour after the storm had started, and with it still going strong, I ended up at the motel. One hour. You can't really imagine a full hour of being pounded by hail... I just quickly checked if I got something captured and pretty much did what any PC would have done by now - crashed.