When is a good idea a bad decision? You would think I would know better.
I grew up on the prairies of Saskatchewan, Canada where winter often begins the middle of October and runs through May. I also spent 20 years living in northern Montana where temperatures often dropped to minus 50 and roads were closed for days on end when three or feet of snow fell in a single storm. But the last few years I have been spoiled by the milder weather, warmer temperatures and sporadic snowfalls that seldom left more than a foot of powder.
For years now I have decorated for Christmas and prepared for the holidays over the Thanksgiving weekend. But this year I really got ahead of myself and by Friday morning I was finished with all the decorations, Christmas shopping and even got a head start on the infamous Christmas letter that has become a 30-year tradition. So with the weekend ahead of me I decided I could fit in a visit to one more national monument or park before the year ended. Taking out my national park map I realized that Flaming Gorge was only four hours away and since I had never been to Vernal or southern Wyoming I announced to my staff that I was off on another adventure.
This was the good idea. The bad decision was pointed out to me by a couple people at work who warned me about the weather and the predicted snow. Looking outside at the sunny, clear skies I thought, winter, sure? I grew up driving in snow and have plowed through tough roads most of my life.
The trip north Friday afternoon was beautiful. I made record time to Vernal and then headed north into the Flaming Gorge area. The roads were good and I enjoyed the beautiful canyons and pine trees along the way. Many families were out getting their Christmas trees and the entire afternoon seemed very festive. I took the geological loop on the west side of the gorge and was impressed by the cliffs and formations, all similar, but still different from the book cliffs here locally. I had decided to drive into Rock Creek, Wyo. and spend the night and then drive back through the gorge and do some hiking on Saturday. It was still a good idea.
Saturday came with a few inches of snow in Wyoming but I spent the day driving through the gorge, touring the dam and taking a few hikes. It was beautiful and reminded me of Shasta Lake in northern California, with sheer, red cliffs running down into the dark green waters. Numerous deer and elk wandered through the fresh blanket of snow and the eagles soared the hillsides looking for mice along the fences.
But when I woke up Sunday it was a different story. It had snowed another foot in Rock Springs and the wind was blowing like I had never remembered. I had heard that the wind blew in Wyoming and let me tell you it blows. After talking to a friend back in Price and calling the road department I discovered that the roads were nearly impassible south of the Flaming Gorge and that Indian Canyon was open but not recommended. I was driving the car and had not put on the studded tires yet.
I headed west on I-80 and traveled towards Evanston, en route to Park City and Provo to get home. It has been a long time since I encountered roads so icy and slick. Cars were inching their way along at 30 and 40 miles an hour while semis passed by doing 60 and 70 miles an hour. Not every semi that passed ended up in accidents but every accident along the way had a semi involved, many rolling or jack knifing on the hills through southern Wyoming.
Needless to say I questioned by judgment (and sanity) the entire trip and it was a long trip to be upset about a decision that seemed like a good idea at the time.