I sit and write this as the biggest hypocrite ever potentially. A fresh layer of fluffy, glittering snow covers the landscape. All signs of the death of last fall is obscured by the glimmers of refractive beauty in the suns rays off the freshly deposit layer over night. I sit under a queen sized comfort as I am always cold having just consumed some crepes made for me as it was my turn to shovel the snow off the driveway / sidewalks and not enough to rationalize breaking out the snow thrower.
Yet this pristine version of winter is not really Wyoming winter even though every word of the above is true of this day. This is meant to envelop you in the sensory of what winter really is like not just here but focused here but also feeling the repercussions of what winter is like in Wyoming even though Spring is technically tomorrow.
Winter I would say truly starts in force in November. First snows come and go with fall and the leaves in Autumn and may come as early as Labor Day like it did in 2020 but from experience on average our first true snowfall will occur around the end of September / early October. The cottonwood trees slowly fleece out their crops generating the aura of what is impending in the combination of flakes of gold floating down out of the sky. The aspen trees mosaics on the mountains signal the end of the end of summer heat waves and a unique crispness fills the air more so than usual. Whistles of fall season sports and the bemoans of school children accepting their fates of another year of indentured servitude to their teacher overlords.
Okay, the last bit is extreme but I do know that the feeling echoed through conversations I’ve had with volleyball players. But as November draws near the fall sports seasons enter the win or go home time of year and the temperatures now consistently requiring jackets, even if the too cool teens still walk to the bus stop in the morning with shorts or the en vogue jeans that might as well be shorts. Then the temperature drops and the rain turns into sleet and ice before starting the snow.
This change occurs often and frequently throughout the year and the same problems occur. A prime example has occurred in the last 72 hours. On Thursday, we were withing 2 degrees of our records high, We had broken out the t-shirts and lounging was out in full force soaking up the vitamin D amongst the remaining drifts of the last storm. The roadways were dry and while not pristinely black as the winds of sands and salt covered had changed them to a murky greige. But regardless of the layer of greige and tumbleweed on top of the interstates and state highways the exposed roadways also soak up the solar power of cosmic radiation.
The previously cerulean skies permitting the golden rays to reach out dampen into an overcast glaze of virga darkening into darkening shades of campfire smoke. Temperatures drop and the former virga makes contact with the dry ground. Snow leeches out of the sky and immediately melts upon contact with the warm reserves. Snow reverts to rain on impact, but the atmosphere does not condone that metamorphosis resolidifying on the surface of the roads…Black Ice…
WYDOT trucks with their blue and yellow flashing lights hit the roads en masse to maintain the lifelines not only of Wyoming but the of the nation; especially Interstate 80. Interstate 80 in Wyoming is about 403 miles stretching from Evanston, WY to Pine Bluffs, WY. Interstate 80 in its full length stretches from Coast to Coast, San Francisco to the New York City metropolitan area in New Jersey. This trucking throughfare is critical to supplying the country and our shipment tracking addictions. Winter in Wyoming thanks to the black ice and fierce winds can terminate hopes of traveling in an instant. Semis can be found pushed over not only to the side of the road but also onto their sides delaying traffic not only due to adverse conditions but also to accidents with rolling closures and no indication of when the roads may happen as we are the mercy of the blizzards and the occasionally rogue traveler who drove through a millimeter of snow once upon a time and can handle anything.
At this point the only thing that can solve this problem is the hard work of WYDOT employees and time. Within two days typically, the freezing temperatures and fierce hurricane winds draw to a close. The smoke hued clouds and ominous textures revert to that of cotton candy and the glorious warmth of the sun reappears. The sun’s rays combined with the plows, salts and sand work diligently to remove the signs of impassibility, trucks who have passed the days at Love’s, Flying J’s, Travel America’s re-embark on their journeys to supply the entire country.
But this process has to repeat and the temperatures can vastly change the types of snow we have. In times of extreme cold, we tend to have the small flaked crystalline snow, the lighter fluffier snow that doesn’t have the chance to compress and get heavy. When spring typically comes, the warmer weather brings the heavier wetter snow. The slushie dirty snow that recrystallizes on the hems of pants and leaches into the soles not only of your shoes but your soul.
This process emanates and repeats so often we often joke of how many winters and false springs we have. Snows come and go throughout the entire of the school year with it not being unusual to have to shovel off the track of state meet here in Casper. Where the shot puts turn into projectiles of ice and students huddle together out of necessity to stave of the freezing temperatures. But fear not, the following week for graduation it will be 80 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny.
Winter is a unique and fickle creature. The winds will blow creating drifts that triple the quantity of snow which actually froze and the near constant fear of black ice implants fear of prolonged travel. Near constant checking of the Wyo Roads Map provided through WYDOT is a consistent of travel even if it is clear where you are as the mountain ranges across the state may impart sunshine and 60’s in on area, but non-passable mountain passes in another.
While Winter may technically be drawing to a close, we know that we get the bulk of our moisture in Spring so we are in for the long haul. But that doesn’t mean that from Labor Day through roughly our last freeze of Memorial Day we don’t do anything in this amazing state. Far From it…
There are lakes that require the harsh bitterness of winter to freeze over to create fishing derbies at Pathfinder reservoir. Without the snowfall of all season, ski resorts ranging from Jackson to local Hogadon http://hogadon.net and the brand new Shirley Basin Ski Area www.shirleybasinskiarea.com , more to follow on Shirley Basin in an upcoming article would not be able to serve the enthusiasts of the state nor would the snowshoers have the options to enjoy the Natrona County Trails systems.
Our personal favorite thing to do in winter is to take our and load up our truck camper as far as we can go onto federal lands where there are no costs to camp. Planning and care is required to ensure you have everything you need and the skill sets / knowledge that you may get to a point where you can’t get out due to deceptive drifts. However, the quiet sereneness of solitude knowing that you are the only people within miles of your location develops a connection with not only nature but for us, but also to a higher being.
We are not overly religious, and we acknowledge that we do not go to a church, even though we were both raised and went to church as young people. But there is something that being out in nature, and especially for me, in nature in winter that resonates more strongly. You are able to enjoy the vast stillness of nature in the pristine whiteness of winter. That sense of peace and comfort that other gain from a community, we get from being self-sufficient in the world with ourselves. We have that level of peace and serenity out on the Prickly Peak and for that reason we cannot wait for the day where we can come home from work and have the greater connection not only with each other from the distractions of a neighborhood, but a greater connection of living off and with the land and connection to those powers that are guiding us to this land and lifestyles.