No, Really, Snow Falls in the Chihuahuan Desert

In the last two months of 2019 and in the first two months of 2020, snow fell on parts of the Chihuahuan Desert between Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Alpine, Texas. I was fortunate to see a bit of it during drives through this stretch of the terrain, and as I’m bad to do, I take heed of Butch Hancock’s advice and carry a camera with me to record a moment in time lest it be forgotten. Quite right, it’s easy enough – they call ‘em smart phones, but I aspire to digitize 35mm negatives and prints to add a bit to the visual story as captured on film over time. At the moment, this proffered Whitman’s Sampler of views along the road are dated from November 7, 2019, while en route to Alpine to attend the Center for Big Bend Studies conference, and from March 4, 2020, during a drive to Ysleta del Sur near El Paso. So, to honor a request from Fort Smith, Arkansas, the first nine photographs were snapped during the November drive to Alpine, while the remaining fourteen pictures depict an early March snow in the borderlands. Enjoy these goodies; more’s on the way.

Heavy clouds over the Organ Mountains and Bishop’s Cap on the south (toward the right edge of the photograph)
Looking north into the Organ Mountains from east of Vado, New Mexico
An unreal sky over the Franklin Mountains north of Vado, New Mexico
As if the clouds are emerging from the Franklins
A windshield view of the Quitman Mountains in Hudspeth County
A mile above sea-level, snow falls in the Quitmans
With the toe of the Quitmans on the right and Interstate 10 winding through the mountains, clouds blanket Sierra Blanca
Gray road below, gray sky above, just south of Van Horn on Highway 90
A view to the west toward the Eagle Mountains a few short miles below Van Horn

To provide a bit of perspective, the massive uplift that forms the Franklin Mountains features eighteen peaks and ridges at least a mile above sea level, but only two of them, North Franklin Mountain and Anthony’s Nose, rank in the top fifty of the tallest peaks in Texas – another instance to quote Linda Ellerbee: “So it goes.”

Snow from the night before remains visible from Trans-Mountain Road, driving east on March 4, 2020
A mile high in El Paso on damp asphalt, regarding the clouds clinging to the Franklins
Fighting off the sun’s intensity on the upper slopes
Long time has created a visually arresting saddle in the Franklins
Far to the east, the Hueco Mountains in Hudspeth County reveal just a touch of snow in the higher elevations
On the road back, looking west toward the Franklins
Outside the El Paso Museum of Archaeology: a good view
And with no snow in sight, the poppies begin to reappear, soon to cover the east slope of the Franklins with a yellow-gold blanket
Another ephemeral view into the highlands before the melt
Along the walking path outside the Museum of Archaeology are signs that warn visitors to remain on the trail; once this land was an artillery range for Fort Bliss, and every now and again a shell long buried in the ground is disturbed and explodes, sometimes with tragic consequences.
Driving uphill into the Franklins and taking in the view
Standing on the side of the road, the radiant heat emanating off the rock face on the right juxtaposed nicely with the snow-covered hills above
Looking back toward the south with a pleasant view of the snow-covered Franklin Mountains
North of Vado, New Mexico, looking east to the Organ Mountains, with their high points white with snow and Bishop’s Cap, partially shadowed, dry and warm

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