As I drive the winding mountain road, it becomes more and more difficult to see during my drive home in darkness. At first, wisps of vapor rise up off the blacktop, a little bit at a time. At first, it’s only every now and then. But as the miles pass, the fog becomes thicker, more than wisps. I have to turn my high beam lights off as they seem to hinder my ability to see more than help me.
I’ve driven this road a thousand times, and yet I start to question where the curves are, slowing my speed down immeasurably. There are no lights to help me, as once I pass through Allenspark, there is little civilization along the Peak to Peak Highway until I get to Nederland.
I worry mainly about two things. I know there are elk herds as well as moose along this road, and the fog has become so thick that I’m not sure I would even see their bulky silhouettes. And it’s getting harder and harder to see the sides of the road, and I don’t want to end up in a ditch.
While most people think of coastal areas like San Francisco as the most foggy of places, mountain areas can experience their own kind of fog. Evaporative fog forms when the roads are warm and wet, and the air above it is cold and humid. This type of fog is common in the Rocky Mountains during our monsoon season in July and August, when thunderstorms form in the afternoon.
This is not my first foray driving mountain roads through thick fog. Living in the Sierra for many years, I experienced driving through thick pea soup like fog while driving back up to Sequoia National Park during my three seasons working there. The tule fog forms along the Central Valley foothills that lead up to the mountains, during winter and early spring. The moist soil allows the thick fog to form when the air dries out between rainstorms.
One lonely desolate evening, I drove up from Fresno to my cabin in Sequoia National Park. The fog enveloped my car quickly, and I strained to see ahead. With no lights to help me, I kept slowing down to the point where I crawled along in my car. Finally, it got so bad, I couldn’t even see the center stripe of the road. I literally would stop periodically, open my driver side door to look down on the pavement to make sure I am still driving on the paved asphalt. Needless to say, it became a very long drive home…
Another night, I drove home during a slightly foggy evening. The fog wasn’t too bad, but every now and then a thick wisp would obscure my view. Still, I could drive at mostly normal speeds until — THUNK! — something hit my windshield very suddenly. I didn’t know what had happened. Pulling over to the shoulder, I looked out on the road. A Pygmy Owl lay motionless in the road. Feeling bad about taking the bird’s life, I placed it carefully in a bag and took it back to the park. At least, the bird could be stuffed and used for educational purposes at our nature center.
One thing is for sure, driving mountain roads any time of the year is sure to bring its perils. Two things I find most helpful — having plenty of patience and being prepared to encounter anything.