The day before I'd heard of a rare phenomenon on the Middle Fork just a few miles beyond the Mailbox trailhead. An ice circle had formed just downstream from the bridge. What's an ice circle you ask?
An ice circle is a disk of ice that forms in a river when the conditions are just so. Cold but not too cold. The eddy current spins the ice and it grinds against the ice that's not moving. Ice circles can be as big as 50 feet in diameter.
It was going to be so cool, but we were too late. The conditions had changed and the circle had broken. We saw only the remnants of shattered ice downstream from the bridge. Even though it wasn't what it was we could see it was worth the drive. Here's what it looked like courtesy of Kaylyn Messer and Storyful News.
We continued up the Middle Fork road staring at amazing ice formations. On the banks we found hoar frost blanketing the rocks. Hoar is interesting because it looks like icy feathers standing perpendicular to the ground. It forms when water vapor in the air touches something below freezing. As pretty as it is, it often forms weak layers in the snow and can lead to avalanches. Here, though, it was just interesting to look at.
More amazing than the ice circle or the hoar frost was the fact that all three kids spent the afternoon traipsing around in the snow with me and each other and there were still smiles. Heck, there were grins and guffaws. It was well after the holidays, but this truly was a winter miracle.