Citation: Desert Rat. "When It Snowed: An Experience with LSD (exp116881)". Erowid.org. Jan 1, 2023. erowid.org/exp/116881
||(blotter / tab)
There are days when a lot of weird shit happens, but then there was this day.
I’ll never forget how I felt in that moment. As I came out of the cave, and my eyes adjusted to the bright sunshine, for a moment, I lost all sense of what was real, of what was possible, and of whether my vision was a hallucination. As reality clarified itself, my brain felt as if it were doing a backflip, straining to accept that the vision was real.
Two days prior, I had departed on a backpacking trip in a remote desert canyon of Southern Utah with my dear friend, who I’ll call Eric.
Research led me to find a route rarely traveled, but among those who knew it, it was understood to be spectacular. A remote desert canyon of sandstone washes, rock arches, and deep varnished cliffs full of archeological sites — mainly of the ancestral Puebloan people, known by some as the Anasazi.
After a long drive out from California, and a few hours on a rugged four-by-four road, we reached our starting point. From the dusty parking lot, we could see through pinyon pine, sand sagebrush and Utah juniper over a vast landscape striated with multicolored sandstone.
The full route through this canyon was off-limits due to flooding that had washed out a bridge at the end, so we were going to have to do it as an out-and-back. Our goal was to find a very famous and beautiful pictograph, an ancient mural on the wall of a remote cave. This pictograph was known for being extremely colorful, perfectly preserved after 700 years.
Whether we would make it there on our timeline was unknown — and whether we’d make it there after dropping a strong tab of acid was even more unknown.
The plan was to take 130 micrograms which we had bought off the dark web, with assurances to its purity and strength.
I must admit I was trepidatious about this, because in this particular part of southern Utah, the weather is generally brutal most of the year. In the winter, it's freezing cold, dropping down to the minus temperatures and snowing. In the summer, it’s blazing hot, hitting 110, 112 degrees much of the time. The shoulder season is short, and I was fully anticipating, given our timing there in mid-September, a day of tripping balls and sweating balls. A long psychedelic day in the blazing sun with no shade is an extreme experience, and one that I take seriously, but not one that I fear. It's one I've done many times before, but one that I think you have to fully prepare yourself for.
Physical discomfort paired with the psychological vicissitudes of an acid trip can create a certain type of cocktail that doesn't always go down smooth, but we felt ready.
Physical discomfort paired with the psychological vicissitudes of an acid trip can create a certain type of cocktail that doesn't always go down smooth, but we felt ready.
Just before descending into the canyon, we signed the log book. It showed who went in and out of the canyon. This is a safety measure so that the rangers can find you if you've been missing from your car. Ahead of us were two names in the logbook, with only one way in and out.
This meant that in this entire zone there were only two other people ahead of us. We signed our names in the book along with our expected departure date and started down the dusty trail, skirting downhill past boulders, scrubby pinyon pine, and ridged pinnacles of living cryptobiotic soil, peaked like tiny dark sandcastles.
Not 10 minutes into our hike, two people came hiking out. It was the two folks who had signed the log, a man and a woman. We greeted them briefly. This left not a single soul in front of us in the massive canyon ahead.
The hike down was beautiful. We got lost briefly as the trail disappeared into a sandy river bed. We had to backtrack to the last known location across the river through some dense brush and find it again. By the time we made it to our final campsite, the sun was going down in a glorious golden hour.
We pitched our tents, stashed our food in our bear boxes, and went to the nearest stream to fill water. Near this camp was a rare thing in the South Utah Desert — a permanent water source. A pond fed by springs held probably 20,000 gallons of water, placid with an ultramarine blue color reflecting peachy clouds above. Fish, tadpoles and frogs leapt and croaked in the dark water.
The springs gushed down wide steps of creamy sandstone, cascading delicately before a final plunge five or six feet into the pond. We washed our dirty feet in the stream, rinsed our faces, dunked our heads. There was no sign of humanity other than he tread on the trail. Swallows swooped in their sunset acrobatics overhead. We went to bed that night blanketed by the milky way, in one of the darkest parts in the country, stars bright enough to read by, excited for the day to come.
In the morning, we woke early. I got up and made coffee. Just as the water finished boiling, the flames started to sputter and hiss, dying. There must have been a leak in the gas can. This full can, our only one, which should have lasted us both through the entire trip, was completely empty. Thankfully we had our coffee that morning, but we would have no way to cook the rest of our food. Eric and I looked at each other. We knew that this was not the most fortuitous way to start a strong acid trip in the depths of a remote rugged wilderness, but there was nothing we could do. We knew that we'd be able to cold soak ramen and eat soggy, mushy meals. We filled our Ziploc bags of food with cold water, stuck them in our bear can and left them by the tents. Before hitting the trail, we wondered if we should put our rain flies on our tents. Although the sky was clear and sunny, as the days before had been hot, in the eighties, we decided to attach our rain flies on our tents, just as a precaution to keep the dust out.
Before hitting the trail, we took a moment to take our sacrament, two small squares of paper, a tab of acid on each of our tongues. We toasted to 10 years of friendship, loaded a pack with water, snacks, maps, and the camera, and hit the trail heading downhill into the canyon.
We had no real idea where we were going. There wasn't much of a trail to begin with — more like an interwoven array of different paths heading off into different zones of the canyon. This canyon was wide and flat at the base, with steep sheer walls a hundred feet high on either side — opioid, white globules of elegant Navajo sandstone, striated with red, purple, and orange.
We decided to follow our noses rather than following a map. We didn't use any gps. All we did was go where it made sense to go.
After passing a magnificent rock arch we saw our first significant archeological site. We approached it cautiously, as if entering a graveyard or an abandoned church.
Out of the steep red cliff wall, a stone the size of a bungalow had sheared clean off the cliff and fallen onto the ground, creating a platform that was angled sideways — wide, beautiful, jagged, beautiful, smooth, clean rock.
It would've been impossible for me to tell if this stone had fallen five years prior or 10,000 but for the fact that atop it was constructed an elegant Ancestral Puebloan village of stone houses and a Kiva, gorgeously mortared together with mud, the round dwellings littered with tiny bits of patterned ceramic potsherd, ancient, dry, practically fossilized corn cob husks, and surrounded by blooming squash plants — probably planted by the people who disappeared from these lands due to drought 700 years ago.
Above this beautiful site, you could see an array of hand prints in white paint silhouetted against the wall. 30, 40 prints next to each other in a series of cascading lines, high overhead.
We lay down on our backs, looking up at these prints. Hand shapes the same as ours. We were gleeful with the beauty of this place, and as we gazed at these hand prints, they started to blur. I started to sense a sizzling sensation behind my teeth. My eyes started to feel fuzzy as if they were vibrating, my hands started to tingle as if touching ice.
The acid was kicking in — strong. We looked at each other. There wasn't anything that needed to be said. We both knew what was happening. It felt like a sign this place had kicked off our trip.
Time to go. We scrambled out of the archeological site. As we came out from under the cliff overhead, we saw that the sky didn't look the same as it had before.
Rather than being clear and blue, clouds threatened. The temperature had dropped, now in the mid seventies. The swirling clouds overhead were actually starting to spit a delicate misty rain, so light as to be almost imperceptible. Eric and I looked at each other worriedly. I was halfway through reading the Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs, a book about desert flooding and how easily it can take a life, so I was perhaps overly attuned to that possibility in a canyon. But, the base of this canyon was wide. There was no reason to panic.
We continued bopping down the trail. Despite my expectation that it would either be blisteringly hot or freezing cold, the air was perfect beyond description, probably 73 degrees and warm. The misting spit of rain tickled my face with cool dewdrops. I often find that acid can make it hard to distinguish hot from cold, but in this case, both hot and cold were in fact happening at the same time, on every square inch of my body. It's like I was being kissed all over my skin by a glorious tickle of warmth and cool. It was delightful beyond description, true bliss as we bounded down this trail. Practically skipping, the acid was now fully on — my face felt plasticky, my cheeks stiffened in a goofy smile as I looked around at the canyon. The rock walls shifted like double vision atop each other.
There was no need to look at the map because it was dead obvious where we were going next. On our left, there appeared to be a cave cleaved into the side of the cliff. We approached cautiously. You never know what can be in these things. But we were also cautious because it seemed to hold a power that was so obvious it didn't need to be discussed aloud.
It was a narrow hallway between 40 foot high stones that had been cleaved in two. We skirted down this hallway 50 or 60 feet into the cave to find that the cleft in these two rocks made a perfect strip of light that was exactly bisected by another cleft in the rocks at a perpendicular angle from above, creating a cross of white light shining onto the floor, a perfect X in the back of his dark cave. It was soft, diffuse light, but as bright as day. I stood in the depths of this cave in the middle of this X and looked up through the beams of light towards the roof of the cave. Drizzles of rain were descending slowly through the beam of light, illuminated perfectly falling delicately upon my face. I felt as if time stopped, as if the world spun around me yet in this place all was still. It was transcendent.
I stood in this cross of light and looked up for a long time. After all, when's the last time you got rained on in a cave? Eric came and joined.
It felt like a blessing. It felt like a sacred place. It felt like we were on the right track.
We stayed in that cave for quite some time. Eventually we felt it was time to go. I'm not sure what pulled us out, but I was in front as we exited the darkness of the cave and came out into the light. My darkness-dilated pupils were overwhelmed by the glaring sun. I couldn't see. I squinted, holding my forearm over my head to reduce the glare.
As my eyes adjusted and I was able to look out on the landscape for a moment, I thought I was completely insane.
It felt as if my brain was swelling, expanding beyond the limits of my skull in order to comprehend what I was just seeing, because what I was seeing in that moment made absolutely no sense.
I looked over at Eric with wide eyes. Surely he could not be seeing the same thing I was seeing. Surely this was a dream or a hallucination caused by the acid – which was definitely really strong. His eyes were just as wide as mine. We looked out at the spectacular desert landscape to see it covered in snow.
It felt like it was about 73 degrees outside.
The gorgeous opioid formations of stacked Navajo sandstone reaching hundreds of feet into the sky on all sides of the canyon were dusted with a layer of powdery white sugar, gleaming in the midday sun, as great purple and silver clouds swirled overhead, delicate as a watercolor painting.
I held my palm out in front of me and watched a single snowflake fall slowly to land upon the middle of my hand and immediately melt into water.
I turned to Eric again. Now we were screaming, now we were crying. No fucking way. No fucking way. No fucking way. There's no way. 73 degrees out, and snowing.
There was no way to rationalize what I was seeing, so all I could do was submit to its reality as we stood and watched the dusting of white snow across the edges of the canyon melt to a dark iridescent silver and pour off the sandstone outcrops like mercury waterfalls drizzling thin shining lines off every visible surface down to the canyon floor.
It had probably only been snowing for a few minutes, and it was gone in even less. We had come out of the cave at just the right time to see it.
It was as if Mother Earth had wanted to give us a sign that said both “You are blessed” and “I could kill you.”
It was scary to know that the weather could change like that in any moment. I've been backpacking solo for many years, and I have a deep reverence, respect, and caution around the variability and unpredictability of weather — but nothing prepared me for that. There was no way that should have been happening. It made no sense.
Well, we said to each other, that was the most amazing thing we've ever seen. We both agreed, not much could be more incredible. It wasn’t just that the scene was hard to believe; it was also stunningly gorgeous. One of the most beautiful vistas I’ve ever seen. Mind you, the acid was still strong as hell. If Eric hadn't been there, I would've thought that I was just hallucinating the whole thing. There's no way I would've believed it.
Only thing left to do was to find that petroglyph we were looking for. Too bad we didn't know how far it was. We didn't even know what landmarks to look for. All we had was trust.
We followed the canyon down, avoiding turnoffs, crossing a wide valley that had surely at one time been abundantly planted with squash, maize, and peppers. In times with more water, this would have been an incredible place to live. We crossed a wide meadow, golden with dry desert grasses, and saw, hundreds of feet away on the far side of the cliffs, a sheer wall, hundreds of feet high, cleaved with a crack down the middle. 40 or so feet up this narrow crack was a cave the exact shape of human skull. You could see the nose cavity and the eye cavities in the side of this wall, and inside of that cave, 40 feet up this cliff, was an ancient Puebloan granary.
Eric went to its face two or three hundred feet away, while I watched from afar. By the time he got there, he was tiny.
It was ominous. It was foreboding. It felt like a warning, it felt like guarded place. It felt like a place beyond which not everyone should go.
It continued to drizzle and spit rain. Thank God we'd put our tent flies on. I turned around and looked across the canyon valley, the clouds overhead dripping purple, gold, dark gray, pale white, and turquoise blue above the curvatures of the canyon walls, feminine in their grace and earthly in their power, spinning and spiraling through the lens of the LSD.
A light wind rustled the tawny desert grasses, shimmering wet in front of a landscape shining red and gold. It was so beautiful. It was so beautiful. All of a sudden my legs completely gave out and I fell to the ground, collapsed into kneeling. Utterly overcome by weeping, I gasped heaving sobs, a rain of tears on my face, weeping and crying, deep guttural grief release from the bottom of my diaphragm. I could feel my entire chest heaving off and on, spasming, heaving hugely under the strain of releasing this deeply buried grief. Yet the feeling I released was not sadness. My trauma had been alchemized to joy. The acid opened a pathway for the force of the land to enter through my feet, to see me and be seen through me, to make me part of it. This land, which has seen its own share of grief, its own share of trauma — it was still a wild place. I believe certain places on earth hold a more potently direct channel to the energy of the Earth Center, to the force that binds all things. I have stood in desert canyons and in jungle waterfalls where it seemed the veil was thinner, where it seemed the gods could reach out and pierce my soul without hindrance. And in that moment I was overcome by their grip. I felt the pain stored in my body crushed by a hand infinitely stronger than my own, crushed to a powder and then blown away like ash into the desert wind.
I wept and I wept with joy. The joy that anything in the world could possibly be this beautiful. It seemed alone reason enough to go on living.
I got up, picked myself up off the ground, dusted the dirt off my knees. I turned around to see Eric 300 feet away watching me. I smiled and walked across across the valley floor.
Well, that was pretty cool. He said, Yeah, I said that was pretty fucking cool.
We meandered on. It was getting late into the afternoon, and at this point we both wondered if we were ever going make it to the petroglyph. I was wondering if we should consult the map, but I knew somehow that it would be better not to. It was better to follow the flow, to let the acid guide us, to let the land guide us, to let it be what it was. Perfectly imperfect.
Just then on the ground in front of me, I saw an old Army ammunition box, forest green, dented and chained to a tree. Eric went over to it and opened it up, but I knew why this was there. I looked above us, and in a cave 20 feet overhead I saw the very petroglyph we had been searching for.
It was spectacular — perfectly preserved, vibrant blue, vivid red, and a clear, pure white. It made the visage of a shape-shifted shaman character, like a turtle person, beyond gender, beyond species, holding a staff in their hand, an otherworldly figure in an otherworldly place. We knew that it had been radiocarbon dated from before the year 1400, making it over 600 years old.
Eric was perplexedly reading the entries in a small small visitor's log which had been left there by the National Park Service as I gazed up at the petroglyph, a huge shit-eating grin on my face. He was reading the log unendingly because he hadn't yet realized that it was right over our heads. I said, Eric, look up dude. He looked up and immediately lost his shit. Of course everything had just worked so well, the perfect flow of the day coming to a perfect conclusion, never looking at a map and yet somehow ending up at exactly where we had wanted to go, just minutes before we felt it was time to turn back. It was truly incredible. Staring at the rock art and letting the acid mutate it in my vision, it seemed to resonate into the rock. Perfectly harmonious with the space around it, as if designed by the world, as if designed by the finest architect, as if it had evolved into that space. I believe it did.
I once spent a year living in the Amazon, in a remote community of indigenous Waorani people, being incorporated into their community and into their family. I learned that many of their traditions and practices were in perfect harmony with ecological cycles of the land, but not out of a discriminating “A or B” choice, but out of an evolutionarily balanced co-adaptation. Meaning these people did not long ago sit down and decide “we are going to make choices that are good for the land instead of bad for the land.” But rather, these people and the more-than-human world around them co-evolved together to a place of ecological balance and harmony where all their collective decisions balance each other to a state of equilibrium. I’ll share an example to illustrate this point. The Waorani diet was largely dependent on Howler Monkey meat as a key protein source. They ate howler monkeys constantly, a main source of essential nutrients. Without this, their diet would not sustain them. However, if you obliterate a species population by overhunting it, you too will die.
There is another species on which the Waorani rely — the Chontaduro plant, also called the peach palm. For just three or four months of the year, this tall, spiky-shafted palm tree produces thousands of bright orange, apple sized fruit, which are delicious and extremely rich in nutrients.
But not just any nutrients— it's rich in some of the exact nutrients that Howler Monkey meat is unable to provide. These nutrients are an essential part of the yearly intake of the Woarani for their nutritional needs. And the three to four months of the year when the Chontaduro are ripe for harvesting just so happen to be the same three to four months of the year when the Howler monkeys are giving birth to their young, and raising them to be independent. They call this “Monkey Fattening Season,” and there’s no need to hunt Howler Monkeys because there are also many Chontaduro to eat. Around the time that the Howler Monkey young are independent and safe to roam free without their parents, the fruit are no longer ripe, and hunting monkeys again becomes a necessity. In this way, Waorani hunting and foraging habits maintain perfect equilibrium with the ecological system that keeps their food system intact. They do not slow down hunting Howler monkeys because of a sense of scarcity — they have an understanding that their forest is endlessly abundant — yet their systems are co-evolved to perfectly maintain ecological balance. Humans can be a part of an ecosystem, not separate from it. Human engagement with land can come from a place of deep, harmonious oneness — beyond the logical, rational decision-making of any individual, but from a place of both ancestral knowledge shared through tradition and also a deep attunement to the land. That's what I thought as I gazed at this petroglyph, perfectly placed in this cave where it would be protected for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Eric and I plopped down on the ground, resting in the shade under a beautiful cottonwood tree, gazing up through it at the swirling grey sky above. As I relaxed my eyes the canopy of the tree swirled kaleidoscopically.
When I take psychedelics, I invariably find myself thinking about the wrongs that my species has done to the planet, to each other, and to the species around us. I invariably think of the cruelties of my people — White people, colonists, and the genocide they inflicted upon the original stewards of these lands.
Psychedelics break through habits. Psychedelics can open blind spots, and circumvent entrenched mental pathways, leading to new routes. This is of course why they are illegal.
Acid makes people question things that they have not previously questioned. The validity of the nuclear family, the utility of gainful employment, the merits of capitalism. This is what we learned in the late sixties. If acid led people to buy beers at a football game, it would be legal — in fact there would probably be government subsidies.
Yet acid leads us to question our beliefs. Many of those beliefs are the societal structures on which power stands. When examined, the foundations of those castles of power are revealed to be mere sand, nothing more than a collective imagining, which dissolve under our clear gaze.
In that moment, lying in the shade of that cottonwood tree, thinking about the injustices we wreak upon each other, upon ourselves, I started to wonder if justice is just a social extension of natural ecological systems.
Eric asked me if it was time to go. I came out of my self-indulgent, semi-sensible daydream, the canopy still a spinning Rorschach above me. I got up and shook the dust off my butt. Acid is a trip.
We hiked back toward camp. Hey Eric, I said. Remember when it snowed? He looked back at me wide eyed, remembering the sight. I don't know if I'll ever see anything that incredible again.
As we walked back, we expressed our gratitude to each other. I told him how grateful I was to have him. He told me how much he loved me. He told me that he thought I could be more open, open to his help, open to his support. It's something I have a hard time with. I can be stoic, I can be closed off. It was hard to hear.
The hike back to camp went quickly. We wanted to get back while there was still some light so that we could take a dunk in that pond and rinse off the day's dirt and grime.
We dumped our stuff at camp and continued on to the water. We got to the pond just as the sun was setting, a silky sky of white and pink, like the inside of the seashell, red ochre gleaming a thin trace at the horizon line. Birds swooped and chirped, singing songs of a complexity we can feel in our bodies. We can know their meaning, even if we tell ourselves we don't understand it.
Eric was about 10 minutes behind. When I got to the pool, I went down to the water's edge and peered in.
There are days when a lot of weird shit happens, but then there was this day...
First there was the snow in the desert sunshine. That was one thing. But looking into this pond, I thought to myself, there's no way that I'm seeing two incomprehensible things in the same day.
I'm not a professional naturalist, but I know a thing or two about the wildlife of the American West, which is why I was utterly flabbergasted to see in the water an animal swimming which I could not categorize. It's not that I didn't know what animal it was, it's that I didn't even know what general category of animal it was. It was something the likes of which I had never seen.
I stared at it carefully as it swam through the water. It was least 12 inches long, as thick as my forearm. It had four legs like that of a salamander, and an incredibly long, thick fishtail like that of a very mature tadpole – but it was huge.
But the thing that really set it apart from any other creature was that growing off of its head was a plant. At least that's how it looked. It appeared that its head was growing four- to six-inch long dreadlocks of leafy seaweed, billowing in the water as it swam. There's nothing I could say other than it looked like a Pokemon. Five, six, seven, eight of them drifted in the water, gently propelled by their tails, using their hands to grasp at leaves like frogs. And all the while their hair waving like some sort of living plant. I was fucking losing it.
Looking at these animals, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Eric! I said, Eric! Come here! He was moving slowly, but he finally made it down and I pointed. Neither one of us knew what the fuck it was. We couldn't figure it out. They reminded me of Axolotls, which are tiny amphibians from Mexico, but there’s no way that’s what this was, and I knew there were no Axolotls in the US.
We looked at them for a really long time, and decided that we were not gonna figure this out here, so we might as well just get in the water. As expected, they disappeared.
We bathed in the cold water, rinsing the grime off our bodies, feeling completely refreshed as the sun dipped further behind with the horizon line. A great peace fell over us. The acid was really coming down now, sinking into a deep sense of calm. Eric felt some quivering shakiness in his legs. I felt a little bit jittery in the stomach, but nothing troubling. All in all, it had been a day beyond all perfect days. From having just enough fuel to make coffee, to coming up on acid in an ancient village, to feeling the rain on my face as I stood in the crossbeam of light in the depths of a cave, to the time that it snowed in 73 degree weather, to the granary in the skull, to my deep grief release in the beauty of the wilderness, to the incredible visage of that ancient petroglyph, to a mysterious unknown creature, and now to a perfect bath.
We sat drying off, and as we got up and started to head back to camp, I said to Eric — Hey man, just so you know, just because this was a perfect day and nothing could have possibly been any better, doesn't mean we're not gonna have to finish with a Ziploc bag full of disgusting, cold, soggy mealy noodles. Fuck. He said, God dammit. I was laughing like a hyena at this point. Nothing to do but get to it. Let's eat as soon as we get back before it gets cold, so that at least we're not sitting in the cold eating cold soup.
You're right, he said. We got back to camp, sat down and pulled the Ziploc bags out of the bear cans. We opened up the bags to find them steaming. I took a bite of the soup. It was hot, not just lightly warm — steaming hot, like the perfect eating temperature for a bowl of soup. The bear can must have been acting like a greenhouse, cooking our noodles. It was too good, the perfect endcap at the end of a too-perfect day — getting a hot meal, despite all odds.
Eric and I climbed to the top of a sandstone outcrop, looking out as darkness fell over the valley. We toasted each other. We toasted our day. We toasted to our acid and all the magical benefits it can bring when done properly. We knew there had been a bit of risk in making this choice to take a big dose in remote wilderness with no sober person for miles. But we had made the right one, a little bit of risk for a lot of reward. We toasted to our friendship, and we went to bed.
A visit to the naturalists at the National Park headquarters gave us no help on figuring out what those mysterious Pokemon were in the pool. After some lengthy research of my own, however, I figured it out.
When Western Tiger Salamanders are in their larval stage, they are very small, and have a tail – as well as external gills, growing from the sides of their heads. As they mature, and seasonal water supplies dwindle, their tails shrink and their external gills disappear so that they can breathe air and survive without water. However, in rare cases where these salamanders are living in permanent water sources (most commonly cattle troughs), there are cases when they never fully leave their larval stage, and continue to grow without ever shedding their external gills. They also get much larger than they otherwise would. So the result is an extra large, freakishly grown “Paedomorphic” salamander, which are sexually mature but in a stunted larval stage, with huge, plantlike dreadlocks growing out of its head. Ta-Da.
COPYRIGHTS: All reports are copyright Erowid.
Experience Reports are the writings and opinions of the individual authors who submit them.
Some of the activities described are dangerous and/or illegal and none are recommended by Erowid Center.