HMI Gap: A Magical Desert Snowstorm

written by: Evie Usich

After an incredible month in the desert of southern Utah, we’re back in Leadville for a few “transition days” before we head to Arizona. We started our time in Utah “basecamping” just outside of Moab before packing our backpacks once again for a 16-day trip into the canyons in Bears Ears National Monument.

One of the most memorable moments of this expedition was the dramatic rain-turned-snow storm. The beginning half of the 16-day trip was very hot with daily highs in the 80s and nights dropping to the high 30s. On the day of our 4-hour solo, we began to see ominous clouds rolling in. As we all sat at the bottom of Cheesebox canyon, exploring and reflecting by ourselves on the trip thus far, we began to get excited about the prospect of a rain storm breaking the desert heat. After climbing out of the canyon later that afternoon, the first sprinklings of rain began to hit the slick rock around us. The thunder and lightning rapidly rolled closer and closer and the sky broke open with rain. We took shelter in our tents and eventually moved our kitchens to more shelter to cook dinner as the rain only seemed to be getting more intense. As we continued cooking quesadillas and ramen, hoping those comfort foods would warm us up, one cook group came speed walking and yelling towards the other groups. We all crawled out from under ours mids to see what the commotion was and realized the rain had changed to snow. It immediately cheered us up after the dreary cold of the rain. We spent the rest of that evening appreciating the uniqueness of desert snow and playing a rowdy game of “Yeehaw” to warm us up during evening meeting. We sung holiday songs and laughed a lot, all so happy about the beauty of the landscape around us. 

The next morning was frigid, with the high of the day at 32, excluding wind chill. It was a testing moment for the group and each individual, but we bonded over the experience throughout the day while working together to stay positive. 

On the last day as we hiked out to our bus, nicknamed Ophelia, you never would’ve known the first snow was only days before. While the experience was challenging in the moment, it has ended up being one of our collective favorite moments of the expedition. We’re all very proud of our resilience and ability to stay positive in such a testing situation. We’re very excited for the next half of the semester and all the experiences to come.

Students explore the ecology of desert “potholes.”

                                    Spa day! 

Navigating underneath “Jacob’s Chair.” 

A day-hike through the canyons.

Tiny, delicious cinnamon rolls for breakfast. 

Basking in the beauty of slot canyons.