Interstate 80. Separation Flats. South Pass. Muddy Gap. Antelope Flats. The list goes on and on.
These are just a few of the places where people drive during Wyoming’s horrible winter weather.
A recent SafeWise survey claims that Wyoming is the most dangerous state in the union when it comes to winter driving. This news appeared on a wonderful Facebook page called “Yep, I’m from Wyoming.”
In my history, there are several places where we had literally horrible experiences on the road.
One time in the 1970s, we were heading into Jackson on Antelope Flats. The ground blizzards were so intense, I drove from delineator post to post to get through this god-awful situation. I was driving this stretch with two daughters, ages 5 and 7, heading for a ski weekend. I totally lost control of the car. My life passed in front of me as we twirled around. We stopped next to a snow bank, scared to death.
Like Antelope Flats, many of the worst places in Wyoming are north-south highways where our constant west winds just blow an inordinate amount of snow across the front of the car.
Another spot is Separation Flats north of Rawlins. We have had countless trips heading home where we finally reached Highway 287 and turned north to Lander thinking the worst was behind us on Interstate 80. Wrong! That 20-mile stretch is among the worst.
Another road in this category is highway 191 north from Rock Springs to Pinedale. It is truly treacherous in the winter with blowing snow.
The worst is the infamous Snow Chi Minh Trail along Interstate 80 from Rawlins to Cheyenne. Besides all-time world-record horrible weather, drivers get to contend with thousands of semi-trailer trucks driven by men and women desperate to get their daily mileage quota finished.
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 OK and someone had already stopped. My assumption was the driver may have needed to change his pants after that hair-raising experience.
By the way, the nine other worst states for winter driving were: 2. Vermont 3. Montana 4. Idaho 5. Maine 6. Michigan 7. Iowa 8. New Mexico 9. Minnesota and 10. Nebraska. I’m not sure why Colorado was missed from this list.
Among the responses to that original Facebook post was one by former Gillette resident Brett Cramer who called the survey B.S. He wrote: “Wyoming crews clear roads better than any other state. It has the least traffic and the best roads. I lived there for 40 years and loved it. Wyoming has lots of wind and snow but chances of running into someone else are pretty slim.” Well said.
Julia Stuble of Lander shared with me a winter driving trip she experienced in 2007:
“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 also needs to remember that great advice from her dear old dad, which is good for all of us driving these Wyoming roads in winter.
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.