Winters in my Life

“In civilized surroundings a plains blizzard is bad enough; in a wild country, a blizzard is more appalling than a tornado, for the latter may be dodged, but the blizzard is everywhere and sets its teeth into a man’s vitals, wherever he may be.” Billy Dixon March 17, 1875.

"It was this terrible storm that caught the wagon train...all of the oxen were frozen to death". Billy Dixon 1871

This quote by famous buffalo hunter and military scout, Billy Dixon is one that many people can relate to, especially those who have endured winter conditions that describe the northern plains and mountain regions of America. But even here in the plains of Texas a sudden arctic cold front can diminish conditions from balmy, spring like temperatures to that of the abysmal if not bordering on deadly.

Badlands after a snowstorm

When my sister, brother and I were children back in the 1950’s, I recall well the winter winds that blew across the badlands. The house where we lived on the League ranch was “airish”, to say the least, with windows and doors that literally moaned and whistled at the peak of wind gusts during these great storms. Cracks in the wooden floors allowed the wind to creep into the house causing the green linoleum floor covering to rise visibly, a cause for concern for our parents who worried about the possibility of pneumonia in the three kiddos running around in our skivvies like we had good sense! Soon my mother insisted and eventually purchased some carpet material to mitigate the ventilation issues with the floor! Ah, those good ole years!!!

Snow Storm in 1955: Our old pickup on the League Ranch

Memories associated with the times are many…like placing snow chains on the pickup tires to better access the pastures for feeding cattle, or seeing dozens of dead birds scattered over the floor of the barn, all having froze to death as the temperatures plummeted in the night. And finally, seeing my dad slip on his snow covered boots by the kitchen door while singing the jingle, ”ya’ll come to see me when you can”, as he headed out into the snow and ice to feed the cattle on the ranch.

Walking with the wind: Cattle in the windswept plains

Perhaps some of my most vivid recollections of winter occurred after I purchased my first personal vehicle at the age of 17. I was so proud of my “experienced” 1966 Bronco Roadster with its canvas top and zip up plastic windows! Life was good during the summer season as ventilation was essential because air conditioning was not even in the equation of life for this young buck. But mesquite limbs soon took a toll by shredding the delicate plastic material to leave the windows open to icy winds of the coming winter. Conditions got dicey in a hurry after the first cold front swept over the land as freezing rain and snow in ones lap can be uncomfortable for even a young guy who thought he could endure most anything! Weary of having to remove snow drifts covering my textbooks during road trips while a student at Texas Tech University, I came up with the bright idea of sewing gunnysacks in place of the broken windows, an invention that made winter travel tenable although wind driven snow still found its way into the cab on occasions.

1966 Bronco Roadster was my pride and joy...until winter!

During the first three years as a professional predator hunter, I lived in an old half dugout shack on the Pitchfork ranch while trapping coyotes and bobcats for a livelihood. Although I had finished my studies at Texas Tech and rewarded myself with a new 4-wheel drive Chevy pickup equipped with windows that would actually close airtight, my little line camp was much like my Bronco in regards to ventilation. With only a fireplace to warm the dugout on those cold winter nights I always knew when a bitterly cold dry norther had settled on the land as by morning the dishes beside the wash tub were frozen together by the extreme temperature inside the cabin. But when moisture accompanied the winter blast, my little dugout was toasty warm, insulated by a thick blanket of snow covering the thin tin roof.

When the dugout was the warmest

Snow bound and taking my once a week bath at the trapping camp

Wolfer's Camp December 24, 1975

As my profession turned from hunting to photography in the early 1980’s, my view of severe winter conditions took on a different meaning. With camera in hand I pursued these frosty occurrences with an energetic purpose, backpacking into canyons and upon mountain crests to document the intrigue and beauty that describes a Texas locked in the icy grips of winter. Energized by creative passion and a fascination for extreme weather conditions, the past 30 odd years of chasing the evanescent winter moment has been rewarding. Pour yourself a glass of wine, throw some wood on the fire and come with me on a winter tour across our  beautiful Texas plains.

Frosty sunrise in the Texas Panhandle

Canyon lands cloaked in snow

Never second guess a Texas winter

Here today and gone tomorrow

"From sunrise to sunset, there is no place that compares in color to Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle". Frank Collinson, Buffalo Hunter, 1870's.

When snowdrifts becomes a piece of art


On the Canyon Rim: Photographing the Snows in Texas

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Published in: on February 17, 2010 at 5:24 pm  Comments (14)  

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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. great photos, thank you!

  2. Wonderful photography, great script! Such a gift you have to capture the beauty of this amazing part of Texas.

  3. Your photo’s and your words come together so perfectly! I wish I could express myself better in english, but I think you know what I mean Wyman. You’re such a talented person!

  4. I am writing from New Orleans. Monte Jones is a friend, and he told me about you.
    That’s how I found your blog. Truthfully, blog is a horrible word for it. Your postings are much more like great poems or short stories. I wanted you to know that I look forward to them, and there are probably a lot of others like me that you are not even aware of. Thanks, and please keep them coming.

  5. Howdy Wyman…

    Love the new post. Know you are a busy feller so I appreciate them when they come. We’ve had a very snowy winter so far. My old hip doesn’t appreciate the slipp’n and slid’n like it used to. So I’ll spend my time hoping for the thaw! ha
    Best to you friend,

    Mark Byard

  6. I appreciate your kind notes! I write these when I feel inspired so you may not see one for months and then I will write several within a span of weeks! I try to not be trite in the message and actually spend many hours in writing one. Its fun to finally turn one out and feel good about it! Thanks again!

    Wyman

  7. Your words and photographs so beautifully define Texas and truly inspire younger Texans like me. You are the definition of a Texas icon.

    Cameron Carver

  8. Wyman – This is the first posting of yours that I’ve received since subscribing some months ago, and it was the best email I received on Wednesday, especially since I was sick as a dog with a cold and rather out of it in bed for two days. Your words and photos and past tense snapshots cheered me up, and yes, made me love Texas more. My husband had a Bronco like yours in Florida around the same time, and it, too, was his pride and joy.

    But, I must share with you something that really touched me: your photo of the Shafter cemetery appearing in the January issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine. My husband and I discovered this graveyard about 15 years ago when the original, ornate metal (lead?) crosses were still there. We took many photographs, and although the visit haunted us for years, none of our photographs captured what we felt. But, your night shot with the lighting bolts behind Three Sisters Mountain says it all perfectly, and reminds me, “This could be Hades.”

    By the way, if you saw the December issue of TPW magazine, you’ll see my feature on the re-opening of the San Bernard River as the cover story.

    I’m glad you have some cold winter days to be shut in and ruminate on the past. Thanks for sharing the great photographs!

    Janice Van Dyke Walden

  9. Wyman,

    Your photos always take my breath away. However, your ability with the written word is almost as good as your photographic talent.
    I really enjoyed this latest blog. Thanks for sharing your talents with the world.
    As a native Texan, your images make me so proud to live in this beautiful state.

    Dana

  10. Hi do you know what ever happen to your old ’66 bronco roadster? Was it sold or junked once you bought your Chevy 4×4? Also what year did that happen in. The reason why I’m asking is because I own a ’66 bronco roadster that looks exactly like yours old one. I bought it off a texas ranching guy who bought it used back in 1977. The soft top had been remove and a 1/2 top and hard doors had been added. This gentleman had used this bronco on his ranch for a work truck. I found cut barbed wire and live 30/30 rounds in it. I’m just wondering if by chance I own your old truck!

    I’d love to talk to you at some time about your bronco!
    Thanks for the great and story and pictures!
    Jeff

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