Are You Prepared and Protected?

by Rob Marchalonis.

Last summer, my wife and I enjoyed a 10-day vacation loop around the Mountain States beginning and ending in Denver. We started by taking our rented Jeep Wrangler north to the Black Hills, Sturgis, and Mount Rushmore. From there, west to Devils Tower, Cody, and the East entrance of Yellowstone. After a two-day loop around Yellowstone, we drove south to the Grand Tetons and Jackson Wyoming. Finally, to Park City, UT and back east to Denver through Aspen and Vail, Colorado. I would highly recommend this trip, especially with children old enough to remember and appreciate the amazing scale and beauty of this part of the world!

A wrong but amazing turn!

By accident, near the end of our trip, I departed from Aspen for Vail on a narrow two-lane road on the east side of town. We would come to realize that this road was the famous Independence Pass. The mountains, geography, and nature on this sunny morning were stunning. We stopped several times along the way to get out of the Jeep, enjoy the view, take some photos, and hike a short trail.

Figure 1. Independence Pass Peak

Eerie and unforgettable sight.

Coming over the snowy mountain peak of the “Pass” was amazing, but there was something else even better! At least four times on this three-hour leg of our trip, we literally drove through “avalanche zones”. At first, we didn’t know what we were seeing. The sight initially defied logic because a whole forest of trees had been levelled and was facing uphill! As we drove along the side of the mountain, hundreds of trees on both the lower and upper side of the road had been violently pushed over. The road had obviously been cleared of the trees that had certainly covered it, which allowed our passage. Strangely, the trees were nearly flattened to the ground, but facing up the slope against gravity which was noticeably odd. How could this be?

Figure 2. Recently Damaged Trees, but How?

How defy gravity?

We soon realized that the trees were indeed levelled by avalanches, but not from the slopes above us. Rather, these trees saw their end from an avalanche on the other side of the valley. From the mountaintop across the way, snow and ice had broken loose and started its fall – building what would quickly accumulate to thousands-of-tons of debris gaining speed and force. The moving mass had so much momentum that it rushed quickly to the bottom of the mountain, across the lower valley, and then hundreds of yards up the other side… across and past the road we were on. Apparently, this happens regularly because we saw the remnants of these avalanches several times (but only along the Independence Pass)!

Figure 3. Valley Bottom and Rubble Below Road

Those with experience knew.

Common sense must have guided the original road builders to avoid the sides of the mountain most likely to have an avalanche. Those sides would present a much higher risk of danger. Also a good idea to not put roads at the bottom of the valley, where an avalanche from either side would be deadly. Along the Pass the road wound its way through the mountains, but always upslope a good distance for now obvious reasons. Locals know that danger lurks in the midst of all this wonder, and in an instant a lot can change.

Figure 4. Rubble on Upside of Road, hundreds of feet above valley floor.
The relatively recent (prior winter’s) destruction of these trees indicates that an extraordinary avalanche must have caused this. Likely one that these trees had not experienced in more than a decade or two of growth.
We can only imagine what it must have looked like while happening!

The avalanche called COVID-19.

As I write this on Friday, 4/3/2020, (especially relevant for anyone who may read this years from now) and under “shelter in place” directives from government authorities to protect us from the COVID-19 virus and worldwide pandemic, I can’t help but think about the importance of appropriate planning and protections. I’m also reminded how even the best made plans can sometimes be leveled, by circumstances which seem almost impossible to imagine.

Figure 5. Beautiful Aspens Near Aspen.
The Mountain States are truly spectacular, with amazing wonders of geography, geology, animals, plant life, and more. The vast openness in some parts was beyond belief, with clear skies one evening for 50+ miles. Way out in the distance a huge thunderstorm gave us a lightning show. Another highlight was a very dark nighttime drive into Cody, WY, with crystal clear skies above revealing stars and the Milky Way like I’ve never seen it. If you haven’t already been there, consider adding this trip to your bucket list!

See a short Independence Pass video (HERE)

Rob Marchalonis helps businesses navigate through both challenges and opportunities with an emphasis on smart Leadership, Strategy, and Processes (LSP). Learn how he can help you at 717-397-3444 or email ©2020