By Bill Sniffin
The Summit, Elk Mountain, and The Sisters on Interstate 80. Laramie Peak on Interstate 25. Separation Flats north of Rawlins. South Pass southwest of Lander. Antelope Flats north of Jackson. The list goes on and on.
These are just a few of the places where anxious people drive during Wyoming’s often-horrible winter weather.
In the wake of what has been called The Super Storm (since it started in parts of Wyoming on the night of the Super Bowl) blanketed most of Wyoming and closed half of its roads, traveling has been treacherous.
Following are some winter driving stories that I wanted to share:
Once we were driving on black ice on Interstate 25 south of Wheatland when we were passed by a one-ton pickup pulling a big horse trailer. In all my travels, the fastest drivers in the country (maybe in the world) are Wyoming folks driving pickups pulling horse trailers. Man, they really skedaddle down the road. Do not worry about passing one – it is impossible to keep up with them.
On this day, though, we went over a hill and there was that same pickup and its trailer jack-knifed in the center median. The people were okay and someone had already stopped. My assumption was the driver might have needed to change his pants after that hair-raising experience.
As a father of three daughters, I really enjoyed the following story by Julia Stuble of Lander, who shared with me a winter driving trip she experienced some years ago:
“I was a brand-spanking new journalist at the Pinedale Roundup and was sent to a scintillating meeting in Marbleton. A storm was brewing.
“I was in my trusty pickup with my border collie. By the time the meeting had ended, the roads were blanketed with feet of new snow and visibility was zero.
“I tried to get through to Pinedale the north way, but couldn’t even see the mile markers on the side of the road and had no clue if I was on a road. Same for the southern route across to Sand Draw.
“I turned around back to Marbleton / Big Piney. It was a boom year, so there were no motel rooms available. None of the motels even had staff around. Envelopes with room keys were taped to the doors with the names of the future—all male— occupants. I considered taking one of these keys and stealing a room, but that seemed cruel to the rig workers and maybe a little risky. I knew no one.
“So I zipped the dog into my down vest, bought candy at a gas station (fatty foods would keep us warm, I figured) and crawled into the sleeping bag my Dad insisted be kept in the truck. We spent a cramped night, occasionally clearing away the exhaust pipe to run the heater. Early in the morning, with the rig workers headed out to Jonah, there would finally be tracks to follow down the highway, so we crept home to Pinedale.
“It took hours, but remains one of those hallmark moments of my early 20s, when I figured out I could survive most anything as long as I had the dog, a truck, a sleeping bag, and gas station junk food.”
Julia suggests we all remember that great advice from her dear old dad, which is good for all of us driving these Wyoming roads in winter.
Long-time Wyoming journalist and broadcaster, Bob Bonnar of Newcastle, writes:
“I once slid slowly off the highway in the middle of a snowstorm on the Big Horn Mountains above the Medicine Wheel on my way home from the final regular season football game in Lovell. I was by myself, but fortunately the rest of the Newcastle coaching staff came along. They had a couple of hefty linemen with them. The boys pushed me out and I made it down the mountain.
“I never ended up spending the night in the car- which is lucky for the guy who wears shorts 365 days out of the year- but that was a time I sure thought I would get a chance to enjoy the igloo experience!
“Now that I’m older and wiser – and still wearing short pants – if I sniff a bad one coming, I pull over and get a room.”
Cheyenne Attorney Darin Smith recalls a harrowing experience on Interstate 80: “One January night I left my parents house in Rock Springs headed back to UW. As I was turning onto the Interstate I saw this hitchhiker freezing and clearly hoping for a ride.
“I felt compassion for him and picked him up. He had been laid off and was going to Denver to find work. He had two little kids and a wife back home in Rock Springs. They had run nearly out of food and rent money.
The weather was horrid just east of Arlington and we got in a bad accident with a flatbed semi. My truck was totaled. I walked away unscathed. The hitchhiker was hospitalized and laid up for a month.
“The silver lining was that my wonderful mother, Margie Smith, was able to reach out to this man’s family and meet their needs for food and rent until they got back on their feet. She was like the Mother Theresa of Rock Springs!”
It will be interesting to hear the amazing and horrible stories of folks driving around Wyoming in February 2020 on these snow-covered roads.
Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.