Colorado's Cloud Mountains

Those of us who live along the Colorado Front Range can become complacent about the snow-capped summits to our west. They have, after all, been there for 65 million years, their size and shape an ever-changing product of uplift and erosion. Today, many of the Front Range peaks soar above 13,000 feet, with a few exceeding 14,000 feet.

But these terrestrial landforms pale in comparison to the cloud mountains that billow above our Eastern Plains during the thunderstorm outbreaks of June. This year, the number and severity of these monster storms has been well above average, leaving this semiarid region with greenery more typical of the eastern U.S. Forming above the Front Range by mid afternoon, the storms are swept eastward by the prevailing, upper level winds. Pulling in heat from the surrounding plains, some of these thunderstorms become supercells, producing large hail and spawning tornadoes.

Often rising to an altitude of 50,000 feet (more than three times the elevation of the Front Range peaks), they can be seen across vast distances. From our Littleton farm, we can spot the bright cloud tops of storms approaching the Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico borders. Though dangerous for those caught in their path, these mountains of water vapor, lit by the setting sun, are among the most awe-inspiring sights in nature.