A freezing Nose and burning Skin: Ice in the Canyon and a Tattoo for Eternity.

March 7, 2020

Winter hikes and adventures in Wyoming and Montana
Adventures in the wild North of Wyoming and Montana

Ice and snow. I know those things from Germany, every time I order a banana split or defrost the freezer. I look at my calendar. If I don’t visit my boyfriend during Wyoming’s February, I won’t see him for a long time. But if I do go in February, I will probably be airlifted to the Mayo Clinic with moderate frostbite and icicles dripping from my eyes and nose. The temperature will occasionally drop to minus five degrees Fahrenheit between October and April. What is that? Can’t that dude simply live in California?

In a complete fit of mental lapse, I get a ticket for one of my thrilling 25-hour flights from Düsseldorf to Billings, via Amsterdam and Salt Lake City.

“It would be much more practical if he lived in New York City,” my dad says. “Then the trip would only be 10 hours.” But it would probably still be as cold as the ass of a polar bear there. Besides, my heart forgot to demand that I be practical when I fell in love.

So I put my bits and pieces into my pack and off I go. Off to tinkling ice floes a thousand feet below me, a hike in the snow in which my legs almost fell off, and an eternal symbol that causes all wedding rings to pale by comparison.

“Ice in the Canyon!”—the Bighorn Canyon Abyss

Bighorn Canyon in the wintertime, ice in the canyon
Ice in the Bighorn Canyon - a wonder of nature

Montana’s Bighorn Canyon. A wildlife preserve that is largely overlooked due to its closeness to Yellowstone National Park. What would be the attraction of the century in Europe is little more than a fallen sack of rice in this magical land of a thousand natural wonders. The seeming confluence of two green streams almost 1,000 feet below was remarkable in the summer. Now in winter, the landscape is even more impressive as we drive along. As I approach the viewing area, I wonder if there will be ice on the water? Oh, nonsense. How could such masses of water ever freeze?

We drive to the small parking lot at the overlook and I bend over the abyss in the biting wind. My boyfriend is holding me. He always thinks I will simply fly away in the wind. But I weigh almost 105 pounds and if I would work out for a while, I could easily move a dust ball from right to left.

 

“There’s ice!” I shout against the wind, but merely because of excitement. Thick ice floes, hundreds of square feet each, lie flat on the water, clinking and scraping in the gorge below like broken glass from an oversized windowpane. The ice can form as a result of the river has slowing down from the dam not far downstream. So, the ice forms when the temperature drops just a few degrees below freezing at night.

Ice in the Canyon! I can’t believe it!. On our way home, I just cannot get it out of my head: Ice in the Canyon! Fire in the sky…!

Land without people: Wyoming and its non-existent population

Wyoming landscapes, no people but beauty, roadtrip USA
Beautiful roads in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming, USA

The next day we are on our way to Casper. No, Casper is not a cowboy who cuts wood while wearing a snow hat and a short-sleeved shirt and then invites us to a barbeque. Casper is a city in central Wyoming that is about 215 miles away from our Cody home. It is not easy to find a decent tattoo artist nearby in Wyoming, which is the least populated state in the United States. How could you find anyone when there is no one at all nearby?

More people live in each of the cities of Albuquerque, Baltimore or Wilwaukee than live in the entire state of Wyoming. However, Baltomore is 93 mi2, while Wyoming is 97,818 mi²! It may be a good idea to sip a Schnapps while you think about that.

 

We had researched the internet and found a place called The Inkspot in Casper. We were thrilled with the artistry demonstrated in their work. We had talked about a tattoo for over a year and a half, starting when we were just best friends. I had 11 tattoos. My boyfriend had none.

“But I wanted one practically my whole life,” he told me. That opinion did not change, but we both know that the tattoos will now have a completely different meaning for us than simple friendship, as we had originally planned. It will now have a much deeper meaning.

As we drive to Casper, the snow begins to fall. “Maybe we won’t come home tonight,” philosophizes the about-to-be-tattooed Plato sitting next to me.

“Doesn’t matter,” I say. “If the world stops today, at least you will have one more item checked off of your bucket list.”

We decide that sounds reasonable.

Partner tattoo: The mirrored moon—forever

Partnertattoos in the USA, tattoo art
There it is: The new tattoo - forever together

In Casper, Seth, our tattoo artist, looks closely at both of us. My boyfriend gets his tattoo on his upper arm. But not me. I am old and used up and have no space for another easy tattoo. So, I have to get one on the shoulder.

“It is particularly uncomfortable over the bone,” I explain while my boyfriend sits on the death chair and Seth attaches the needle.

“You can shut up any time,” he says. Then he grins.

“No, you know that my professor said that I talk like a machine gun,” I reply. I then stare at the wall with a stern expression which makes my boyfriend break out in laughter.

“Please keep your head straight,” Seth utters, trying to concentrate on what he is doing.

 

Four hours later, Seth has finished with both of us. “Well,” says my boyfriend cheerfully, “that was almost nothing!”

“Nothing.” I squeak out, barely able to get my arm up to put into my jacket. It is particularly uncomfortable over the bone.

We now have the same motif but mirrored. There is a moon that has a very personal, shared meaning, mountains denoting our love of the mountains and our hometown, two fir trees with entwined roots, and a small balloon symbolizing distance and wanderlust. Our tattoos are something that will last forever. No matter what.

And even though the snow is thick and tries to snow us in, we make it back home in just five hours. The world did not end today.

Snow up to our Knees: The day we underestimated the power of Snow

Snow hiking in Wyoming, winter hiking, outdoor adventures USA
Hiking in the swow can be a challenge

During our next to last full day, we decided to take another hike. We don’t like short hikes; it simply isn’t a hike unless it is at least six miles or so.

“I’ll take the snow boots with me,“ I say. “Maybe I will need them.”

And how I did need them! The entire Bighorn Canyon was covered with snow. There was not only ice in the canyon, and fire in the sky…

 

We begin to circle around the edge of the canyon for a little over a mile. Then the trail ends in snow that is about 18 inches deep. So far, that was a hike for ordinary folks.

“I will keep walking!” I say, lifting my leg high with every step, looking like a stork walking on the beach. Wyoming has a climate that is much drier than Germany, and the snow is much more like coke. Powder! I meant powder, for goodness sake.

After only a few yards, I could barely feel my legs, but my knees felt like they needed to be replaced. “We can go back anytime you want,” my boyfriend says reassuringly, while he is somehow 20 yards ahead of me.

We trudge through the snow for another three miles, and I exclaim, “Oh well!” There was a strange and long gasp between the words “Oh” and “well.” My face is glowing red and my legs are now completely numb. I will be sore tomorrow, but I likt to live as if there is no tomorrow. So who cares. We will soon be rewarded with another view from the canyon rim of the ice in the river below. Then we see a herd of bighorn sheep that seemed to just magically appear out of the mist beside the path. By the time I get out my camera, the herd had all bunched together to show me only their butts. “My ass,” I murmur. “That I understand.”

 

What can I say after two weeks in a Wyoming winter? It is overwhelmingly beautiful. I hardly felt the cold, even when it dropped to about minus five degrees Fahrenheit. But in return for getting out in the cold, there were so many moments of excitement and adventure.

 

One day, we took a mind-blowing tour through Yellowstone Park on a snowmobile. Majestic bison passing only a few short yards away, a 300-foot frozen waterfall and steaming hot springs. You can read about that adventure in my report In the Eye of the Bison: Snowmobiling in Yellowstone.

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