ALCOVA, Wyo. | Dino Wenino has unstrapped his kayak from the top of his Jeep, put together his paddles, thrown on his life jacket and scooched himself down to the water at Alcova 14 times since October.
The Bureau of Reclamation lowers the water 10 feet each winter to prevent ice from forming at the irrigation diversion structure’s headgate, but in October, the bureau lowered the water another 29 feet below the normal winter operating level for repairs, exposing parts of the lake bottom rarely seen.
Wenino didn’t find treasures or lost cities as he paddled the lake. Scores of trash, old fishing rods and boating equipment were scattered along the new, temporary shoreline.
However, Wenino didn’t venture out to Alcova to find any precious metals in the 86-year-old reservoir; the serenity and beauty were the only motivations he needed after a tumultuous year.
“This year has not been a pleasant year for a lot of people, you know?” Wenino said. “Social unrest, racial unrest, political unrest, there’s been a pandemic. It’s been emotionally a rough year.
“And when I get out there on the water, all of that is gone. It’s just me and nature. I don’t have a care in the world, and I don’t think about any of that stuff. I’m just there enjoying the beauty, enjoying the calm, enjoying the peacefulness, and I don’t want to leave. I just want to stay here forever.”
Alcova sits 30 minutes west of Casper and serves as the city’s summertime getaway when the temperature spikes. On any given weekend, the lake is crowded with boaters and bathers, anglers and those angling for a nap by water.
But the lake takes on a different feel in the winter. The road leading to Alcova itself can be covered in ice, and life at the lake almost comes to a halt. The cold wind that hits your exposed face feels like a whip across your cheeks and ears, and the snow can feel like an added layer of solitude with almost no one in sight. Alcova attracts only a few hardy souls such as Wenino, who visits plenty in the summer and sometimes with company, but returns in colder months alone for a sense of solitude when most people have stored their swimsuits and kayaks for the year.
“I don’t take people when I go in the fall because I don’t want the responsibility if they turn their kayak over in that cold water,” Wenino said. “In the winter or in the fall, when that waters really cold, I’m going out there by myself, I’m only going to be responsible for me.”
Foot patrol decreases in the winter, and the campgrounds empty. While you may stumble across a few ice fishermen, the lake feels empty, according to Sgt. Bart Olson, who works with emergency dispatch at the Natrona County Sheriff’s office.
“If it’s a nice sunny day, you might see a few dozen people out there fishing,” he said, “but like today, the way it’s blowing, and it’s cold — obviously, nobody wants to go out there and fish in the wind, but there’s a few diehards that are going to go.”
But in a year filled with uncertainty and calamity, curiosity fueled Wenino. He couldn’t wait to get out to the lake after hearing the water was almost 40 feet lower than normal times.
“I’ve been going out there since I was a kid, and I’ll probably never see it this low again,” Wenino said. “So it’s like this is an opportunity that I’m not going to let go by, I’m going to make the most of this, and I’ve had so much fun; it’s just been a wonderful experience.”
The Bureau of Reclamation began raising the water level again last month.
Wenino kayaked the entire lake shoreline over a few months in the fall, but he plans to do it again in the summertime.
“I’m going out there to enjoy nature, and if there’s a lot of people, you can still enjoy the nature,” he said. “I mean, especially the canyon. If you’re in the canyon, it doesn’t matter how many boats are going by. It’s beautiful.”