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One of the prime benefits of travel is to experience the unfamiliar. For example, if you want to see what it would be like to drive on the left side of the road, you need to travel to a British Commonwealth country. And if you want to see the Aurora Borealis, you need to travel to the far North.

Living in the New York area, we are accustomed to little variations in altitude. No matter where you start from, you never experience more than about a thousand-foot variation in altitude within 50 miles of New York. Even traveling to the nearby Pocono or Catskill “mountains” does not significantly change things. These are mere foothills compared to what they have in Colorado. In fact, the entire city of Denver is at a higher altitude than any of the peaks in the Catskills or Poconos.

So since New Yorkers have no concept of altitude, we don’t think of weather depending on altitude. This was brought home to me recently while traveling in Northern Arizona. We were driving from the Grand Canyon to Zion National Park in Utah. As we started our drive, it was raining lightly. This was fine for several hours, but then we began to climb up towards Zion, and suddenly, as we crossed over 7,000 feet, we were in a ferocious snowstorm.

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This lasted only until we descended down to 5,000 feet, and then it was light rain again. We were seeing first-hand that weather is vertical. That’s why out West, the weather forecasts don’t simply say that such-and-such an area will have certain weather. They say that the weather will be X, but above 6,000 feet it will be Y, and above 7,000 feet it will be Z. And this is all in the same town! We just don’t have weather like that in the New York area. Our weather is horizontal, not vertical.

The next day, it was a beautiful sunny day as we began our drive in Zion National Park at an altitude of about 6,000 feet. We were on a short drive to a mountain lake. As the road began to climb, we noticed that the temperature was dropping. At 6,000 feet it was 55 degrees. By the time we got to 8,000 feet it was 34 degrees. But the biggest shock was that, in 30 minutes, the terrain went from a green springtime pasture to a snow-covered winter wonderland.

The road actually became impassable with snow, and we had to turn around and go back, or risk being stuck there. Yes, weather is vertical out West, and that’s a foreign mindset for many of us. But experiencing the foreign is why we travel. And it’s usually a lot of fun!