John Branch


Apologies in advance, but there's gonna be a lot of Branch on this blog. If you don't like it, so be it. You're probably one of those people that don't like puppies or ice cream sundaes. 


By: John Branch, for the New York times

The 1,000-foot cliffs of Zion National Park that border the open range of Smith Mesa glowed orange and red, like hot coals. The sun slinked low on the opposite side of a wide sky. Bill Wright, 60, stopped his pickup on the dirt road, dusty from drought. He walked west, weaving through green junipers, scraggly shrub live oak, flowering barrel cactus and dried cow pies last spring. His pointed boots left a string of meandering arrows in the red sand.

The boys were off riding saddle broncs on the professional rodeo circuit’s Texas swing — somewhere between Austin, Nacogdoches and Lubbock, Bill could never keep up. Bill’s wife, Evelyn, was at home, two hours north in Milford, Utah, teaching at the elementary school. Bill was alone, living in a camper, eating from a skillet, surrounded by silence and 20,000 acres of rugged rangeland hiding a few hundred of his cattle.

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

John Branch, sportswriter for the New York Times, is one of my favorite feature writers. Who else writes about what tennis courts are made of, generations of cattle ranchers turned rodeo stars,  champion horseshoe players and deathly avalanches all within the same breath? One of the first pieces to wake me to the love of longform, I am continually invigorated by this Pulitzer-winning masterpiece. 

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

By: John Branch, for the New York Times

The snow burst through the trees with no warning but a last-second whoosh of sound, a two-story wall of white and Chris Rudolph’s piercing cry: “Avalanche! Elyse!”

The very thing the 16 skiers and snowboarders had sought — fresh, soft snow — instantly became the enemy. Somewhere above, a pristine meadow cracked in the shape of a lightning bolt, slicing a slab nearly 200 feet across and 3 feet deep. Gravity did the rest.

Snow shattered and spilled down the slope. Within seconds, the avalanche was the size of more than a thousand cars barreling down the mountain and weighed millions of pounds. Moving about 7o miles per hour, it crashed through the sturdy old-growth trees, snapping their limbs and shredding bark from their trunks.

The avalanche, in Washington’s Cascades in February, slid past some trees and rocks, like ocean swells around a ship’s prow. Others it captured and added to its violent load.

Somewhere inside, it also carried people. How many, no one knew.