Scary roads

Christmas has come and gone without much ado. We had snow and wind so the company we had hoped for used her head and stayed put in Denver. The many roads (6 highways) in and out of Laramie are notoriously treacherous when we have foul weather. I 80 runs east and west from here. The west bound lanes are the ones most often closed. The engineers who built the highway used expediency rather than good sense when plotting its route. Old highway 30 used to run several miles north of the northern most tip of the Snowy Range. This enabled the horrible blizzards that are generated out there to blow themselves out on the prairie a bit before reaching the road. In order to save a few miles on the route the interstate was built right up against the mountains. Now the frequent snows and howling winds make that part of the road impassable on a regular basis. Some argue that WYDOT should use more sense than the engineers and close the road more quickly when there are white outs or the winds are so strong they are blowing the big trucks over or off the road. There have been many wrecks on that stretch.

The eastbound intertstate has it’s own set of problems. When you drive east from Laramie (7220 ft), you immediately begin to climb up to what is known as The Summit. Rising to an altitude of 8624 feet the Summit is the highest point on the whole east/west route of I80 and home of some really awful weather. What I haven’t mentioned is that I80 is the main east/west truck route. There are many more trucks on this route than on any of the other routes. Some of the drivers of these rigs do not use good judgement when driving up to or down from The Summit. As a result, the stretch of road from the top to where the road levels out as it enters Laramie Valley accounts for the most wrecks in the state. WYDOT has made efforts, lighted and unligted signs, reducing the speed limit, etc., but many ignore the warnings and crash. If you make it up to The Summit and continue east the road runs along an open stretch were you can see the Front Range, the Medicine Bow Mountains and the Snowy Range just by swivling your head. The winds up there are fierce. The wind at Buford has been clocked at over 100 mph. Winds approaching 60mph are not unusual. When these winds pick up the light, dry snow and blow it around, the road disappears in white river of snow. It is very scary to try to drive on a road you cannot see.

The third major Laramie route goes south from here. The stretch ofUS Highway 287 from Laramie to Ft. Collins, CO is one of the countries most beautiful highways in the west. It is also deadly when the weather is bad. Miles of windswept roads turn to sheets of ice when the sun, wind and snow mix. Even so, I prefer this route when I have to go to Colorado because there is little truck traffic.

The other routes out of town are mostly for local traffic and people trying to reach the mountains to hunt,ski or snowmobile. Most are hardy types and used to driving in horrible condiitons.

We hope for snow because a good snowpack provides us with adequate water during the summer months. The price we pay is having to stay put or very scary driving conditions.

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Winter Gardener

I’ve started my garden. Oh, I know it’s only a few days from the winter solstice and it was -15 yesterday morning, but it’s time. It’s time.

I got a book on interlibrary loan entitled The Way We Garden Now by Katherine Whiteside. The subtitle is 41 pick and choose projects for planting you paradise large or small. It’s a low key, practical guide to gardening. Whiteside banishes perfectionism. Just what I need for my winter garden imagination.

I’ve already imagined enlarging the flower beds in the front yard, building the compost heap containerwe’ve been putting off doing, and thought about what tools I need to acquire or replace. I’ve worried about imaginary weeds and bugs, then read what to do to rid my space of them. I’ve planned an imaginary watering strategy for the desert conditions here on the high plains. What will be next? I have no idea, but it sure is fun thinking about the warm days of summer here in the heart of winter.

morning by starlight

It’s cold this morning. It was 0.1 when I got up to feed the dogs and let them out before I went to the gym. On my way out the door, I looked at the thermometer again. It had dropped that final .1 degreee and stood at exactly 0. I put on an extra layer under my jacket and pulled my cap down tightly. When I stepped out the front door, I was not smacked by the cold. There was no wind, which makes all the diffence in the world. I won’t lie; it was cold. But, it was tolerable since I was dressed for it. My main aggrevation was that I had to scrape my windshield. The frost on it stuck like glue, so I scraped and scraped without making much of a difference. I got enough off to be able to be safe and left the rest for the sun.

When it’s this cold and colder, things start not working right or at all. One of the most annoying is the fan on the heater/defroster does not work when it is about zero. This is a problem when you need to go someplace and cannot see out. So I scrape on the inside of the windshield as well. The car also whines and creaks sounding like it might shatter if someone hit it. I haven been that cold. Sometimes I whine and creak, so I sympathize rather than curse.

When it is this cold in the morning, it usually means that there are no clouds holding what ambient heat there is in. When you look up in the dark predawn, the stars and planets look back at you. At 6 AM here, Venus is high in the east and one of the dippers is low in the west. The snow reflects their light and makes it possible to see quite well with out artificial light.

It sounds strange, but I like mornings like this: the light of the stars, the crunch of my steps on the snow, the feel of my warm winter jacket and most of all no wind.

Wyoming Authors

Since moving back to Wyoming, I have been reading a number of Wyoming authors. The latest of these is mystery writer Craig Johnson. I just finished his most recent book and the third in this series, Kindness Goes Unpunished. The first two are Cold Dish and Death Without Company

Johnson’s hero Walt Longmire is sheriff in a thinly veiled, fictional county in north central Wyoming, that he calls Absaroka(read Big Horn)County. The other main characters are a hodgepodge of types that he is over the course of the book working at developing. Longmire’s best friendHenry Standing Bear, is a Northern Cheyenne healer, his main deputy, Vic Moretti, the daughter of a family of Philadelphia cops. I think one of the reasons I enjoy reading a mystery series from the beginning is that you become better acquainted with the characters over time the way you would with real people you meet.

Johnson lives in Ucross, Wyoming which is a tiny town east of Sheridan. Its main claim to fame is th Ucrosss Foundation which is the kind of place it would be fabulous to be awarded a fellowship to spend several months writing or doing art or music.