We took a circuitous route through the northern part of the US on our way to Oregon. Paul and I didn’t believe in taking a direct route if it could be avoided. We knew that the best sights and experiences were mostly to be had away from any tourists. It was on back roads where we would see the real country and meet the everyday people. We also didn’t mind backtracking because we had as much time as we wanted to take for this trip. We didn’t have to worry about money and had the whole summer ahead of us. We meandered our way through North and South Dakota went into Wyoming, back into Nebraska then headed south because we had friends that we wanted to visit friends in Colorado. It was July fourth as we drove through the flatlands of Colorado listening to The Grateful Dead and Doctor Demento on the radio. That night, every little town in the distance had a fireworks display. In addition to the fireworks, there was ball lightning bouncing across the plains. It was awesome and frightening simultaneously.
I’d never before seen this phenomenon and only experienced it one other time, a few years later when it came in through the window as I was watching “The Flight of Dragons” with the kids. Scientists can’t explain what causes this but have theorized many things. The following is from a National Geographic article written by Christina Nunez.
“Researchers from Lanzhou, China's Northwest Normal University inadvertently recorded a ball lightning event while studying a 2012 thunderstorm using video cameras and spectrometers. The ball appeared just after a lightning strike and traveled horizontally for about 10 meters (33 feet). The spectrometer detected silicon, iron, and calcium in the ball, all of which were also present in the local soil.
What causes ball lightning?
The Lanzhou researchers' paper supports the theory that ball lightning results from a ground strike that creates a reaction between oxygen and vaporized elements from the soil. This ionized air, or plasma, is the same condition that enables St. Elmo's Fire, the stationary glow that is sometimes confused with ball lightning.
The presence of glass may generate ball lightning, according to another theory published in 2012. Atmospheric ions could pile up at the surface of a window, producing enough of an electrical field on the other side to generate a discharge. Another study, published in 2016, suggests that microwave radiation produced when lightning strikes the ground could become encapsulated in a plasma bubble, resulting in ball lightning.”
The ball lightning in Colorado lasted much longer than a normal flash of lightening and moved horizontally. It also changed color as it moved. It was more exciting than the fireworks, but there were so many spectacular fireworks as well, it was difficult to know where to look. I know that I was glad I was not driving at the time and could really take it all in.
Remember our friend Vernon? He’s the one who had spent a summer with us in Oregon and was now moving from New Jersey to Colorado. We’d helped him pack up his U-Haul only a few days before we decided to leave on this trip. He had no idea we were traveling at the same time, so we decided to surprise him. I do love to surprise people. We figured he would be in Boulder by the time we got there, and at my insistence, he had shown me where he would be living on a street map of Boulder. He was to be our first stop in Colorado. I have a good memory for maps and am good at getting places. I knew I could find it, and I did. When we pulled up to his place, we saw that the U-Haul was in the driveway. We knocked on the door and, as he looked on with a shocked look, told him we’d come to help him unpack the truck since we’d helped him pack it. He had just arrived that day and had felt too tired to unload. Now, he was amazed at our timely arrival and incredibly happy for the help. We unloaded and helped with some of his unpacking of boxes, stayed with him for a few days then went on to another friend’s home.
We had met Debra many years before in Connecticut when Jessie was still just a toddler. She was originally from Florida and had not traveled much until now. She had never seen snow and arrived in the fall. I was thrilled to be with her when she saw her first snowfall. She was so excited. We went outside with Jessie and played for hours. Being in the snow with her that day had made me feel like a kid again. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun. Debra was an artist, making paintings on wood with the grain showing through slightly. I still have one of her pieces somewhere. She was the one who first had me try cocaine. She worked at a pharmacy and had taken a small vial of pure crystal cocaine. It was lovely, but I recognized immediately that it was a dangerous drug for me. Like the amphetamines I had done earlier in my life, it made me feel confident and less shy. I knew that I could easily get addicted to this expensive drug. Luckily, she only took that one small vial, so the temptation was quickly gone.
While she was in the Northeast, she discovered downhill skiing and loved it. She soon met Dennis, and they eventually moved to Colorado. We arrived at their beautiful house at the ten-thousand-foot level of the Rocky Mountains. We jumped out of the car, eager to see our old friend, and started running up the steep walk to the house. We quickly were out of breath. We all stopped, gasping and feeling light-headed when Debra came out. She explained that because we were so high up, it was important to move slowly. Than we all went inside, and she put water on for spaghetti. We were confused. It was noontime, and dinner wasn’t going to be for hours. She explained that it also took a long time for water to boil and food to cook at that altitude. It was all new to me and fascinating.
They had built the house themselves, and it was beautiful. There was a huge fireplace made from quartz they had found on the land, and the bathroom had a big clawfoot tub with a picture window with a breathtaking view of the Rockies. Because there was plenty of time before the water would boil, Dennis insisted on taking on a tour of the area. He was the head of the water department and had access to many roads that were not open to the public but were some of the most beautiful places around. We all piled into his pick-up truck and wound our way along many steep and winding roads deep into the mountains. It was all spectacular.
My mother had always collected rocks from various trips for her rock gardens, and I was starting to follow along in her footsteps. Mom even had people bring rocks from foreign countries which she then numbered and categorized. I hadn’t gone that far, but I loved gardening and was always on the lookout for beautiful rocks. Partway into our drive, the sky darkened, and Dennis decided it was time to go back. The thunderstorms up there were quite fierce and could be dangerous. It was time to get under cover. I insisted, against the adults’ opinions, on getting out of the truck to pick up a couple of rocks. I knew we’d be leaving early the next morning with no time for rock hunting. Reluctantly, Dennis told me to jump out and take something quick. The storm was coming in fast. I grabbed two mud encrusted rocks and hopped back in the bed of the truck. Paul laughed at what I had taken. I have to admit that they didn’t look like much. They were basically hunks of mud, but when we got back and I started cleaning them off, they turned out to be treasures. One of them had streaks of real silver, and the other one had holes all over with crystals growing inside like geodes. Paul wasn’t laughing now. Hours later, the water for dinner still wasn’t boiling, so Debra offered me a bath while we waited. It felt heavenly soaking in the hot water and gazing out at the snowcapped mountains after many days on the road. It was such a relaxed visit, and we were sad to see it end, but it was time to move on to the Pacific Northwest.