As southeast Wyoming is battered with the winter’s final snowstorms and windchills throughout the month of April, two crews — one from Laramie, the other from Saratoga — set out on opposite ends of Wyoming Highway 130, planning to meet somewhere in the middle.
Burying the road between them, however, is a great bank of snow more than 15 miles long.
The snowbank rests atop Highway 130 — also known as Snowy Range Road — annually from roughly November until Memorial Day, blocking the east-west route across Medicine Bow National Forest that connects Albany and Carbon counties.
With a fleet of large and aging vehicles, the Wyoming Department of Transportation crews dig, doze, plow and scrape their way toward each other.
It takes roughly a month for them to meet.
“Our goal is to get to Lake Marie — that’s our big goal on the Laramie side,” Maintenance Area Supervisor Tye Fix said. “And once we get to that, normally … we meet the Saratoga side somewhere along this stretch.”
The crews are still at work, aiming to have the road open by the end of May.
“What it all depends upon is how much snow you’ve got, of course,” Fix said. “Our goal is always to have it open by Memorial weekend and I think out of all the years, we’ve only missed it one year.”
The crews start with a dozer, which clears the snow down to a level of about 4 feet. After this, the crews start in with a rotary, which tears up the now 4-foot-tall bank and spits it off to the side of the road.
“The problem this year is we’ve had a lot of ice, a lot of freeze-thaw cycles up here,” Fix said. “When the rotary comes into the ice, it tries to chew it up, but if the chunk’s too big, it’ll plug up the rotary and snap the shear pins that are in it.”
The rotaries — some of them dating back to the 1970s — require significant upkeep, Fix said.
“If you stop and think of it, whenever these things are running, they’re running wide open,” he said. “So, they never really get a break until they shut them down … It’s really pretty amazing they can last that long.”
Once most of the snow and ice has been deposited on the side of the highway, the thin layer of packed snow left behind on the pavement begins to melt.
“Once the sun gets on it, it starts turning to slush,” Fix said, adding that slush is then cleared off by a snowplow.
The cleared road is barricaded by 4-foot walls of snow on either side, but come Memorial weekend, motorists, hunters, hikers and Laramigos heading for the Saratoga Hot Springs will all be able to make their way through the forest.
Fix added, however, that dangers still existed.
“On some of these corners, the snow starts melting and the water goes across the road,” Fix said. “Well, at night it freezes. And we get a few motorcycles that come up here. So, even though it’s open, we send a truck up in the morning with sand.”
For now, Snowy Range Road remains closed, but every day, the Laramie and Saratoga crews get closer to meeting.
“This year, it’s been a light snowfall,” Fix said. “People go, ‘Oh, it’s light snow, so you better have the road open.’ Well, we’re working on it.”