Arts, Featured Column, Column

Tornadoes and Trouble in the Wyoming Wilderness

“Phil… wake up. I thi—I think there’s a tornado storm ahead of us,” I complacently muttered to my sleepy passenger.

It’d probably be quite a spectacle to see a Californian kid such as myself thinking he’s about to pass a series of tornadoes for the first time. My buddy Phil and I were on the second leg of Winter Road-Trip Extravaganza, passing through Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho to meet up with our good friend, Ryan, who lives in Eugene, Ore. We had woken up before the crack of dawn to make good time on the probable 20-hour drive from our friend’s house in Boulder, Colo., to Eugene, and as the sun peeked up over the Rocky Mountains, we were pleasantly surprised to find that not a single cloud covered the brisk baby-blue sky. For us, this seemed a pleasant and necessary escape from the sleet and hard winds that had plagued the first leg of our journey from Southern Calif. out to Boulder.

Driving through these harsh conditions on our first drive out to Boulder hadn’t been all that bad though. I had never driven anywhere East of Las Vegas before, and encountering the better parts of Nevada, Utah, and Colorado was an unparalleled delight. Phil and I had mused that, immediately passing through state borders, each state’s scenery necessitated the name that the state had. Utah’s rolling, empty, and snow-covered hills demanded that the state be named Utah. Colorado’s quick-climbing mountains and uniquely clean and crisp air suggested that a passerby could only claim to be in Colorado and not anywhere else in the world. For being a 14-hour drive that practically consumed the whole day, the scenery these states surrounded us with made the trek feel like a walk in the Commons in the fall, sublime and relaxing.



A fellow Heights editor, Caleb Griego, wrote a column before Winter Break about enjoying beautiful scenery and architecture as nature and man’s art. While I’ve always considered myself engrossed with and captivated by the landscapes and buildings that I live and work in, I reminded myself of Caleb’s column before setting out on my trip and I encouraged myself to consciously appreciate the trip’s views as much as I possibly could.

This thinking made for an extremely pleasurable road trip—that is, until I saw the tornadoes.

The four tornadoes met in the blackest cloud I had ever seen. If death took a natural form, this is what it would look like. As we drove closer and closer to the terrible mess, my heart skipped a few beats and I started sweating profusely. I was not prepared for this. I had never seen a tornado, let alone driven near one. Or four, for that matter. The highway, however, looked as though it veered out of the way of the colossal beasts and I decided to press on, at least until things looked like they might get hairy.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Those ghoulish tornadoes weren’t moving anywhere or farther apart from each other. They seemed to be static. Confused, I kept driving and noticed that my calculations were incorrect—the highway was going to pass rather close to these horrendous creatures. “What could they be?” I asked myself. “What could possibly account for these hulking, black plumes?” Then it appeared over the horizon: the gates of hell. Sitting in a valley in Wyoming, along the I-80W, was the largest factory I had ever seen. It was bellowing out gobs of the dirtiest and most corpulent smoke that I think could possibly exist.

The plumes that rose out of these four massive smokestacks, the four columns that I had mistaken for tornadoes, congregated in the most disgusting heap of air imaginable. This clump of smoke was so heavy that it condensed into a thick layer extending out a few miles from the factory. Everything that unfortunately found itself under the horrendous mass was untouched by the sun. From near the factory, it’d almost be difficult to distinguish night from day. As I passed the most terrifying sight I’d ever encountered, I reminded myself that that factory probably exudes its crap all day, almost every single day.

I’m no expert on environmental science or clean energy, nor can I really speak on the necessity or needlessness of that factory I passed, but one thing I can say is that factory and the countless other like it found throughout the world are dumping an unbelievable amount of toxic and terrible gas into the air. I can’t imagine how many gorgeous landscapes and towns are plagued by industry like this. Now, whenever I see a painting or picture of a valley with rolling hills, I can’t help but imagine a big black blob being smacked onto the canvas.

Featured Image By The Associated Press

January 21, 2016