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Summer of Smoke

When the Monsoons Don't Come to Colorado

Most of the time in a Colorado Summer, the rains come. They come from the South in a train of moisture - laden clouds from Arizona and New Mexico, starting in early July. This year, in 2020, they didn't come, and huge fires are raging in Western Colorado. One of the fires, The Grizzly Canyon Fire near Glenwood Springs, has already closed one of the nation's major arterials, Interstate 70 for 10 days. The rains expected did not come, and it is almost September, when they stop. These beneficial rains are called "Mountain Monsoons", due to how heavy they are. On the mountain trails, encountering one is like walking into a car wash; on the road, your windshield wipers can not clear the windshield fast enough. In a canyon, a sudden flash flood can sweep you away in seconds. But this year, it has been a Summer of smoke - smoke so thick that, spread by the wind, it has collected down the mountains and into the Plains, creating an Ozone alert from all the smog. Denver and Colorado Springs had way worse air quality than Los Angeles, and outdoor exercise was discouraged. Carbon the equivalent of over a million cars and trucks was released into the atmosphere. Colorado is usually soaked by the mountain monsoons, which diminish North in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, which regularly experience their normal Summers of Smoke. Colorado usually has fewer large fires and clearer skies than its Rocky Mountain neighbors. The smoke has affected some but not all of the areas I have photographed so far. The lower elevations have been blanketed by haze, and the mountain passes have been clearer, but blue skies are not prevalent, even at the highest elevations. The damage to the forests and the impact on the wildlife has been incalculable. Climate change is becoming more and more a factor. But next year, the Mountain Monsoons will probably come on schedule and create more floods and mosquitos. And mushrooms.