I live in Las Vegas. It has been five years since I officially made the move and I justified it by the fact that it was cheap, close to some beautiful national parks, and warm. But I started to notice, after just a few months of living there, that the real reason behind my move to Las Vegas was the sun. Moving to a desert city that receives less than 4 inches of precipitation per year was sure to guarantee some sunny days. The past five years have indeed been sunny, while in Las Vegas, but around the Valley, where I had spent most of my time, the rain had not yet ceased. The following parables are just a few examples of my encounters with rain.
The Southwest 2009: I first noticed something was off in my very first year of guiding in the national parks in the summer of 2009. I had picked up a group in Las Vegas under beautiful sunny skies and drove with them the following day to Zion National Park where we enjoyed another day under similar conditions. It was when we left for Bryce Canyon National Park that dark clouds started to roll in just as I inserted a CD of Native American music into the player. On day four of the trip, the hiking trails were muddy and slippery, visibility was only a few dozen feet, and the enthusiasm of the group was predictably low. We took a shortcut to end our hike early and drove to the closest place that had an indoor attraction: a taxidermy museum. It quickly mortified some people in the group so we left in a rush and continued to a little Western town called Panguitch to peruse its Main Street antique shops. It just so happens that in Panguitch, the shops close around 3pm, even on rainy days, but as it turned out, it was all for the best. With a bit of luck we met a nice father and son team armed and dressed in camouflage who had just returned from their hunt with a healthy dead buck in the back of their pick-up truck, a bullet hole right in between its eyes. Needless to say, their broken yellow teeth, round American features, and redneck goatees made for the highlight of the day. Sadly, we were not invited to join in the venison feast, but to my European guests it did not matter – they have seen America!
We drove for three hours the following day under the same ominous cloud that had decided to linger over us. Just as the beautiful views of Scenic Byway 12 appeared, the cloud decided to start spitting more moisture. Some may take this as a curse, but for us desert dwellers it has become a blessing. I don’t mean that by the greening of the desert, but rather by the beauty of instantaneous waterfalls that flow from all directions over the bare sandstone slopes, giving the illusion that even rocks come alive when it rains. We reached Capitol Reef National Park in the afternoon and hiked to Cohab Canyon, stopping short of Cassidy Arch due to the potential of flash floods in Grand Wash. I told my group how lucky they were to be getting rain because my previous group in May had to hike both Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef in cold snow and miserable winds. Even the chain smoker in the group decided to cut back because of the extreme conditions. My group was not convinced but their morale remained high nonetheless.
On day six of the trip we drove to Moab. The rain had also arrived in Moab that day. We started with short hikes in Canyonlands National Park, then drove to the hotel to find out that the entire town was under a recent power outage. We checked into the hotel by the last light of the day that still penetrated from the windows and were given candles to shine the way to the rooms (the hotel had only a handful of flashlights to lend). At this point I told the guests how lucky they should consider themselves to see so much rain in the desert! They weren’t impressed. I suggested that upon return to Las Vegas they should gamble a bit with their lucky strike. I believe they wisely refrained from this action. Finally on day eight the clouds lifted and we were able to enjoy real desert scenery for a bit. On day nine, on the way to Monument Valley, I inserted the CD of the Native American music into the player again. The clouds started to roll in again in a familiar manner. I quickly ejected the CD and the sun broke out for the rest of our travels.
Israel 2013: In January of 2013 the CD of Native American music was no longer in my possession. I was in Israel and picked up another group to guide. When they arrived I commented about the beautiful weather forecasted for the first week of the tour, then a couple had spoken up prophesying that it wouldn’t last for long. They said it rains wherever they go and quickly brought the group’s enthusiasm down. To fix this, I recounted the legend of my Southwest trip in 2009 and finished by stating that there is no cause for alarm since I did not bring the CD along with me.
For the first week of the trip we indeed had perfect weather. So perfect, in fact, that every little aspect of the trip fell together in such harmony that it made for a flawless tour. Flawless tours, as we all know too well, are boring to recount. But in Jerusalem, as we packed up to drive north, the deluge begun. Israel had not seen such rains in over 20 years of record-keeping. Streets were flooded, cars were flowing away from their parking spaces, crops were drowning, and the reservoir water level finally rose after a long period of steady decline. As a result, until today, as I close my eyes to picture this trip through northern Israel, all that comes to mind are raindrops and the loud sound they make as they fall on the windshield of the van. The group asked me if such rain was normal for the period. I answered by pointing the finger at the forecasting couple and said, “They are to blame.”
Hawaii 2013: That same year in April 2013 I had a tour in Hawaii for which I had already expected rain. I arrived on a beautiful sunny day to Kona, on the Big Island, and tried to take advantage of it as much as I could but the humidity was so high I spent the entire day indoors, looking out the window. I spent the entire following day sleeping, having been so tired from traveling on a place to the middle of the Pacific Ocean and then getting weighed down by the humidity. Then my group arrived and my spirits were quickly awakened.
It started raining on the second day of their stay. We went on a hike to Hi’ilawe Falls in Waipio Valley and stripped to bathing suits since the drizzle was unstoppable. The following night we hiked to see the lava flows of the volcanoes and were lucky enough to have a slight respite from the rain to see the flows and poke them with a stick only to soon thereafter see the vapor radiating off the hot ground as cold drops of rain landed on it. On the fourth evening we climbed to Maun Loa Observatory whose website promises 95% clear skies at night year-round. We were greeted with such overcast skies that the contrast between day and night was undetectable and the sunset nor any stars ever showed themselves.
On day five of the trip we were all glad to board a plane to another island, despite the fact that the sun had come out that day. We landed in Kauai into the same moisture system that left the Big Island with us. The hike to see the Nualolo Cliffs of Kauai’s Napali Coast was wet and overcast. The cliffs never came into view. Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, chose to show up randomly from time to time. The Kilauea Lighthouse store was crowded with tourists taking refuge from the outside dampness while the entire population of the Big Island that we had recently left was out sunbathing.
Three days later we were on another plane to Maui with less hopeful hearts. Even when we landed into sunshine we knew to think better of it. The following day the program dictated a visit through the second wettest part of the island: The Road to Hana. I told my group that if we don’t see a drop of rain this day then it must mean the end of the world. We drove the Road to Hana without seeing a drop of rain. We stopped at Hana Beach for some banana bread and fruits and still didn’t see a drop of rain. We hiked through bamboo forest to another waterfall and still had sunshine on our backs. At 4pm, as we were approaching the parking lot and the end of the hike, one of my group members said to me in a worrying tone, “it hadn’t rained yet today.” I looked up at the blue sky, blinded by the sun, and saw one solitary gray cloud sitting just above us. I responded pensively, “it must be the end of the world.” As I closed my mouth, a few drops of rain fell from the cloud as if to prove the resilience of the world, then quickly dissipated into sunshine again.