Posted by: highmountainmuse | April 8, 2009

The snow cave and the red sky

The red sky approaches

The red sky approaches - pictures don't lie - at least not for me, as I still don't know how to touch up photos.

As a story teller, this is an odd combination to link together, I know. Please bear with me on this one, for in reality, they were connected. So, you’ll see the connection between digging a snow cave and the red sky…


How my parents raised four kids so completely different in trade, yet still so connected at heart, it quite amazing.  So, here’s me on one end.  The self described homesteader, horse woman, and former hippy chick. And on the other end, my eldest brother, a Colonel in the US Army just back from a year in Afghanistan. 


We might sound like day and night… but we’re not as different as you might think!  Again, I don’t know how my folks did this – mostly, I suppose just taught us to keep an open mind and to treat people respectfully. That’s the only secret I know for getting along. Works every time, if I remember to use it.


Anyway, my brother completed training for Special Forces, Airborne, and all kinds of pretty rough stuff.  I know, he’ll chide me for not knowing and using more proper Army terms, please excuse my ignorance of these kinds of things – I promise it is not lack of respect, just lack of knowledge. So, survival skills have been a part of his training.  He has learned these skills, tested them, used them. A common thread…


My first back packing trip was with him, and I knew I was in good hands.  Forrest was only a year and a half old, and I carried him in the back pack, and strapped a sleeping bag under his feet.  My brother carried the brunt of our gear, though our two German Shepherds carried a fair share in their doggie packs. He may have stressed all night, out there in the rain in the Wilderness on our bed of boughs, drinking water taken from a pond littered with leaches and chiggers (the filter worked, don’t worry)… but I slept like a log, knowing full well my baby and I were in the best of hands.


Now, here with his wife and kids in the snow, we began talking snow caves.  The kids thought this was a dandy thing to try out. We parents thought it was a fine thing to teach the kids. Education in the form of fun always goes over well as a please-everyone type of activity.


You know my feelings about encouraging kids to build a snow cave, and try out many survival skills (please see the earlier post on Snow Caves), so that when and if the need arises, the knowledge will be there to replace the fear. We weren’t planning on having the kids sleep in this one, as I had Forrest do in the past, but at least to build it large enough and secure enough that if they had to, they could. Of course, as you can imagine, once they finished it was hard to get them out.

Digging the snow cave with the red sky behind us.

Digging the snow cave with the red sky behind us.

An interesting note here is the different styles with which my brother and I learned to build snow caves.  My brother was taught to dig in a small hole, and excavate the interior from that hole. The method I was taught (thanks to Ernie Wilkinson originally, and then through my husband who spent years working with Ernie), was to open the side of the snow bank large enough to make working easy.  Dig your cave, finish it out, then rebuild the front wall, and complete the process by cutting in a small entrance under the bottom of the built up wall.  I think we convinced my bother that this way is much easier! He was skeptical at first, but I think we got him hooked on this method.

Digging out the inside with plenty of room to work.

Digging out the inside with plenty of room to work.

Building up the front wall of the snow cave after the inside is completed.

Building up the front wall of the snow cave after the inside is completed.

We hit the snow bank with our shovels. As we did, we noticed an odd red cloud down by the Reservoir, due south and east of us.  We could see from where the red cloud had come:  a lower pass on the Divide, coming in from the Southwest.  Eerily, this red cloud came closer and closer to us, until, by the time we finished the snow cave, we were engulfed.


It wasn’t quite as spooky being in it as I would have guessed. It had no odor, no feel, just the visual, which was quite peculiar. It was made up a super fine, light red sand or powder.  And it deposited this in its path, dusting the mountain in its wake, turning all the snow a hint of red.


And as fast as it came, it passed on, and a bit of blue sky was seen where the red cloud had come from.  Yet, it left a film of red over everything: the roofs, the deck, the wood pile, and especially, the snow.


We read in the news that this sand cloud came from a dust storm in Arizona.  Not sure where it ended up, perhaps just a little bit here and there…


And a little bit of Arizona is now on our mountain.


  1. How amazing to have the sand cloud from Arizona find its way there! I can imagine how beautiful yet eerie it was. And what a great education/experience you gave the kids in building a snow cave. Jim has built/slept in a few during his Search & Rescue days, and also agrees with your (Ernie’s) method as being the best!
    Have a glorious day!

  2. I love everything about this post! The fact that people learn different ways of doing things but are open minded enough to try new ways…I’m really trying to be more like that Gin (open minded that is) and you are teaching me. I love the fact that when Forrest was just a baby you continued doing what you love bringing him along with you and teaching him a way of life that most of us just dream about. I don’t have human children but from what I’ve seen of most parents these days (and I’ll probably step on some toes here…sorry :~) is that once their children are born they change everything about their life to accomodate the child instead of bringing the child INTO the parents life…am I making sense? Anyway, I love it when I see parents not miss a beat and load those babies up and be adventurous!

    I love the fact that your brother’s kids are up there having a blast learning about a new way of life. AND I love the red cloud!

  3. Karen,
    Figured you’d notice Alan up there! I got a chuckle out of that too.
    No, not stepping on toes. I agree with you. Children – whether human or canine – shouldn’t mean the end of life as we know it. They are remarkably resilient. And in living a bit of hectic or crazy life from the get go, full of adventures, don’t they learn from the beginning what you and I are still working on – about trying to be open minded? A never ending challenge, but a wonderful goal.

  4. Valerie,
    We’d never seen anything like it. So wonderful to see these surprises that nature is capable of. But now, in the aftermath, not the most attractive to have the parks tinted a pale red. Interesting, though, and I suppose we have all had enough of the bright white for one season. Fortunately, the clouds were low, did not deposit the dust on the mountain peaks. They remain prisitine. I would wonder what kind of impact the red would have, rapidly increasing the melt rate of our precious water supply, if the dust had made it to the high country.

  5. What a great post! I love it when nature throws us a curveball to keep us guessing. The red sky is fascinating!
    In Texas, during heavy Thunderstorm season, if a big one is coming in, the sky will turn this odd shade of ominous green. Everything is cast in this glorious hue of storm green and gray. It is one of my favorite things to see.
    Thanks to parents like you and my husband who free our children to experience life without the strict confines of what could be mistaken as ”security”. Had it not been for Anthony, my poor child would never have the chance to just go with the flow and come with us instead of keep us trapped with parenting duties. You’re right, they are resilient and by carrying them along on new adventures, kids learn so many invaluable lessons about LIFE and how to LIVE, not just exist. Thank goodness people like you can show us square boxes how to open up to the world.

  6. Ooh….what a cool/nifty/creepy red cloud. Like the poster above, I love it when nature throws us a curve ball and proves to us that she’s still in charge.

    My sister and I are ridiculously different as well. She’s happier surrounded by people, shopping, parties, surfing, and makeup whereas dirt, horses, solitude, and work boots make my day.

  7. I hope California is treating you well. Remember, there are mountains everywhere. Keep them inside you, that’s the important thing. “You’ll be back.”

    Hope your sister is even half as awesome as mine. Different as we may be, she again reminds me to love and except things beyond my comfort zone. Last year, she took me bra shopping at this really fancy store. So, you can imagine me showing up with my dirty levis and cowboy boots, just arrived from the a days travel to get to the city from the ranch, unshower and rather behind on shaving my legs… and my sister cracks up and makes me feel like a million bucks! That expensive bra helps a lot too…

  8. Lee, first, please send me a picture of the green sky some time when you see it again. That sounds wild. Second, your little Ana obviously knows what freedom and just being feels like – I can’t imagine it’s just Anthony teaching her that. There’s no one right way to parent, only several wrong ways. Looks like you’re on one of the right paths… together with Anthony. I don’t for a minute believe you’re a square box. Or if so, it’s a beautiful box of jewels.

  9. I’m familiar with those “green” skies, too! It seems we got them a lot more when I lived in East Texas and we certainly knew there was a big storm coming when the sky turned green!

  10. Angel Fire, NM when Forrest was a baby… I saw the green sky. It was followed by a tornado. Yes, in the mountain!

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