Driving in a Wyoming winter is not for the faint of heart

Lately, highways all across Wyoming have been horrible. In a recent column, I detailed how the Cowboy State was listed in one survey as the most dangerous place to drive in the USA in the wintertime. That report brought out some stories about some horrific experiences some veteran Wyoming travelers have had. Here goes:

Cheyenne resident Tom Satterfield, who used to live in Riverton, recalls one harrowing trip: “In the mid-1970s, I was working for the Soil Conservation Service and had to attend a workshop in Rawlins. I picked up a co-worker in Lander and even though it was snowing fairly hard we were off. About where the turnoff to Bairoil is, the blowing snow was so bad that we were going from milepost to milepost and came upon an accident. We slowed down but could not see much, just a few cars and some blinking red lights.

“Going across Separation Flats was very slow, and I kept wondering where the snow plows were because there were many small drifts to go across. It took several hours, but we finally came to Rawlins, only to find the road blocked by a Highway Patrolman who asked us: ‘Where the hell did you come from?’ We told him Lander and he said, ‘That is impossible, that road has been closed for three hours.’  We did not get a ticket but we were stuck in Rawlins for two days. Winter driving in Wyoming is not for the faint hearted.”

One day after covering University of Wyoming football and basketball for ten years for the Casper Star-Tribune, former sports writer Ron Gullberg was curious about how many times he had driven through Shirley Basin to and from Casper to Laramie for home games, practices and media days. He estimated the number at more than 250 round-trips.

He recalled that most times, like nearly any Wyoming highway, the trips were beautiful, save for the occasional jolts caused by wildlife crossings. Then there were nights such as the harrowing drive home through blowing snow thick as smoke following a late-afternoon basketball game.

“I tried to use the delineator posts as guides, but sometimes the whirling snow was so thick, I lost track. I came to complete stops to wait for breaks to catch a glimpse of a post and reorient myself. During a couple of those stops, I found my car straddling the centerline — with no delineator in sight. A short while later, after inching my way down the road, a school bus passed from the opposite direction!

“The entire drive through the basin was disorienting, and the most fearful I had ever been in my life,” he concluded.

Another long-time Wyoming journalist and broadcaster, Bob Bonnar of Newcastle, writes:

“I got to see most of Wyoming by coaching and broadcasting sports in my early driving years. I once left Cheyenne at midnight under clear skies in January, and three miles later was greeted by a line of semi taillights along the shoulder at the same time as the blizzard descended on me. It took me over two hours to get to Laramie.

“I couldn’t stop, because if I did I would have been instantly snowed in with my dad’s old rear-wheel drive Cutlass. If I went more than 20 miles an hour I couldn’t see well enough to stay on the road.

“I also 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 those were two times 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.”

Vince Tomassi of Kemmerer-Diamondville says his worst trip was right in his backyard: “Driving from the turnoff of Interstate 80 at the Kemmerer exit at 10 p.m. when no snowplow had been on the road. (Big problem — 10 inches of unplowed road with wind blowing and no visibility. I had to stop 5-6 times to get the snow off my headlights.  It took one and a half hours to go 37 miles.”   

Dave Reetz of Powell tells this story:  “Glo and I went to the University of Wyoming as you know. I went to Powell over Christmas break in 1967 to meet her family. While there I asked her father for her hand in marriage. It was scary to ask him!

“I drove through a horrendous snowstorm. I had never been to Powell.  I took the Medicine Bow to Casper route and had never driven the road before. It was lightly snowing in Laramie when I left. The road was a whiteout most of the way driving 20 mph from reflector to reflector.  It became scary to me because I did not meet one car on the way. There were no tire tracks in the snow. Felt like I was on the face of the moon in a snowstorm!  But the trip was worth it.  Oh, the (sometimes scary) things young men do to go after a girl!” he concluded.

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 them at www.wyomingwonders.com.

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