Lex and Neek sez:
When we left Gillette, Wyoming on our way back to Midvale, Utah, there was already a heavy amount of rain coming down, worse than the day before when rain prevented us from seeing Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. We had seen a TV news report that morning in our motel that a heavy snowstorm was coming to Wyoming and that the roads in and out of Casper, Wyoming would be closed starting at 3pm. Our hope was that if we could make it past Casper by noon, we would miss the snowstorm.
It was nowhere near winter as far as the calendar was concerned, but this late May storm was about to rock our world, and not in a good way! We did drive through the pouring rain fast enough to reach Casper by 11am. We stopped at a local gas station and as we pulled in, we saw a temperature reading of 35 degrees Fahrenheit. The rain had let up a little bit, so we thought since we were heading south that things might warm up.
Boy, were we spectacularly wrong! As Neek drove down Highway 220 toward Highway 287 which would take us to Rawlins, Wyoming, we realized we were going up in elevation by driving through the Continental Divide. Then we watched as the temperature reading on our car dashboard slowly dropped; first to 34, then 33, then 32 and it kept dropping further. The rainfall turned into snowflakes and the wind was blowing hard.
We could see snow starting to pile on the sides of the road and we could not see any of the beautiful Wyoming landscape that we had enjoyed watching driving the same stretch of road just four days earlier! Sar spotted a rest station and because Neek didn’t feel secure driving in the snow and Lex had some experience while living in Oregon, we pulled over to switch places.
Our spirits were still pretty high, so Neek and Lex had some fun making snowballs and throwing them at each other at the rest stop. We were surprised at how powdery the snow felt when we picked it up. At first, it didn’t feel cold at all. But after a few seconds of holding it, our fingers started to feel numb. So we stopped our winter fun in the springtime and Lex climbed into the driver’s seat, thinking we would soon be in Rawlins to fill up our tank.
Once Lex got back on the road and got into the rhythm of driving, he realized just how dangerous the situation was. We were driving a car from California with no snow chains, no snow tires, and no four-wheel drive on a bumpy Wyoming highway through a snowstorm that was getting worse by the minutes. This was not a gentle drift of snowflakes anymore; this was a billowing blanket of whiteness blotting out visibility. Lex had to decrease speed significantly, which no doubt was frustrating for the numerous truckers that passed us in their haste to deliver their load before the authorities closed the road. At one point, even wearing sunglasses to cut the white glare, Lex couldn’t see the highway dividing line in the middle of the road because of the heavy snowfall; Neek had to point to the fading line on the side of the road so we wouldn’t end up in a ditch! It was very cold when we finally pulled into a Sinclair gas station in Rawlins.
Opening the car door to get some gas, we were immediately pelted by a ferocious blast of Arctic wind! We were wearing a jackets and gloves, but it really wasn’t enough to protect from this vicious cold. Fortunately, this station had a mini-mart where we could go inside and use the restroom. Lex walked up to the counter and asked the owner how the Interstate 80 road conditions were. “Well, they haven’t closed it yet,” was her reply. After giving her a couple bills, Lex braced himself walking back out to pump the gas. Racing back inside to get the change, a young girl standing by the owner, who we all assumed was her daughter, told us with a note of worry in her voice, “You all drive careful out there!”
Since we assumed there would be plenty of snow-sweepers on a federal interstate highway keeping the road safe on Interstate 80, Neek asked if Lex wanted to keep driving or switch again. He told her just in case, he would keep driving. Smart move on his part. We didn’t think it was possible that this interstate would be worse than driving on Highway 287, but it was. Not because of visibility, but because of the sheer volume of snow piling up both on the sides and sometimes in the middle of the interstate! Once again, huge trucks were zooming past our snail-paced side, although sometimes because snow covered the sides of the road, Lex had to drive right down the center divider, which we’re sure irritated, the truckers. The worst moment was having to cross a bridge filled with snow on both sides and down the middle. We scraped through that snow and somehow made it to the town of Rock Springs, where the snowfall seemed to be easing.
We pulled off the freeway in Rock Springs and stopped at a McDonald’s to use their restroom. We also bought some large French fries as a snack, but we hardly remember eating it. We were just stunned at what we had just experienced, worried about whether we would make it to Utah. As bad as it seemed to us, we later found out that this was the worst late-spring snowstorm in Wyoming in 74 years! Unbeknownst to us, we drove straight into what The Weather Channel would name Winter Storm Valerie. It later forced a partial closure of Interstate 80 from Cheyenne all the way to Evanston, which we had yet to reach.
Fortunately, once we got back on the freeway, the snowfall diminished. The temperature slowly rose above freezing. We stopped at a rest stop that just outside of Evanston near the Utah border. It was 36 degrees Fahrenheit and the road conditions seemed much safer, so Neek drove the rest of the way back to Midvale, Utah. We checked back into the same motel we stayed at before, but in a downstairs room more accessible for Sar. Trying to unwind, we had a hearty Italian dinner at a local Olive Garden restaurant, but couldn’t help wondering, ‘How did we get through that?’ Well, we can always watch the video anytime we need a reminder!