Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Western Legends #5

I still clearly remember the first time I experienced the after-effects of “pogonip,” the frozen fog that descends regularly into Indian Valley (& other valleys in the Wild West) throughout the winter. It was in ’98, my first winter here, & it was a morning the fog burned off very early. Once the fog has dissipated, the landscape is stunningly beautiful, with hoarfrost crystals decorating almost everything—from the boughs of trees to barbed wire fences. I trudged thru the snow all the way down to the south pasture, camera in hand, so I could get a shot of the big cottonwood by our old house—the tree was white with the crystals.

I later came to learn that the frozen fog brings difficulties that are about equal to its beauty. As someone with chronic breathing problems, I learned that the pogonip makes the air impossibly cold to breath; the Old Farmer’s Almanac always offers the phrase, "Beware the Pogonip,” while noting that the Shoshone Native Americans believed this fog was harmful to the lungs. There seems to be a bit of debate on the etymology of the word “pogonip” on the internet; some sites link the word to the Paiute, (also stating that the frozen fog is a phenomenon found mostly in Nevada, a fact I beg to differ with on experiential grounds), while others link it to a Shoshone word meaning “white death.” This appellation is explained not only by breathing problems brought on by pogonip, but also because this fog can be very thick, & it would be very easy to lose one’s way in it—even on a paved highway you feel disoriented, so I can imagine it could be frightening if one were blazing a trail thru unknown parts. Still others link it to a Shoshone word for “cloud.”

A while back I posted a couple of pictures from a trip I took to Ontario, OR on a day when the pogonip was thick & fierce. That day the fog really never lifted in many places along the 60 mile stretch between Indian Valley & Ontario. We’ve had some protracted spells of pogonip this winter—Eberle sometimes compares it to living underwater, & it does get a bit dreary when the sun refuses to shine for several days at a time—of course, our friends in the Pacific Northwest know about this, too. The fog also seems to carry the bitter cold indoors, even in a well-insulated & heated home like our new house; I shudder (literally) remembering what these days felt like in our old farmhouse.

Sunday morning saw February come in under a shroud of frozen fog. When the fog burned off in mid-morning leaving the resplendent crystals, Eberle & I took the pix that I’m posting here; she took the lovely close-ups. Hope you enjoy seeing the effects of this strange western phenomenon.


  1. Pogonip?! This midwestern girl has never heard of this. You are right. It is stunningly beautiful! Quite heavenly, actually.

  2. Hi Willow:

    Yes, I'd never encountered it either, & I've lived in some pretty foggy places-- San Francisco, & in Vermont near the Connecticut River. This is an entirely different phenomenon.

  3. Pogonip! What a marvelous word! When we were had a forecast of frozen fog a few weeks back, I envisioned it as a solid, impenetrable wall. I guess I wasn't far off. Absolutely beautiful photos -- I especially love the first one. Fascinating post.

  4. Pogonip does=impenetrable wall. Eberle took the first & last photos on the post, & those are my favorites.


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