Ellis McElry Goodson Gentleman Rancher

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One of the driving forces, if not the main one in the early West, was the rancher. The cowman. The man who put his money where his mouth was. He fought Indians, rustlers, the weather, bad luck, fate itself in establishing his mark on the West. It took more than determination, more than desire, it took iron resolution and the strength and courage to persevere in the face of every kind of adversity imaginable. And he did. It was men like him that created the West.

Back in the mid 1860’s you managed your ranch with an iron hand and common sense, yet with a common core of ethics, a strong sense of morality and a vision. If he was your friend he was your friend for life. And he expected no less from you. This was big land and it took a big man and others like him to settle it.

This is Ellis McElry Goodson. He was an early settler and rancher near Bannack, Montana, a mining town in Southwestern Montana and he sought his fortune in the cattle business rather than mining like everyone else. There was more than one way to strike it rich.  After all miners had to eat too. A man could make a good living for himself and his family by proving the meat for a hungry mining camp. Miners paid dearly for a good steak and the currency was gold. He was essential to the existence of many a town and that made him very wealthy and an important figure in the community. He never called himself a gentleman rancher. That would be unseemly. But everyone else did. When he was mentioned in the ever present conversation that went on in every saloon, street corner, and general store he was called Mr. Goodson, gentleman rancher. He was thought of with respect and he earned it every day. That’s the way it was in the West.

Blue Side of Nowhere Pt. 2

On a recent trip to Pawnee National Grasslands looking for early migrating raptors and antelope herds moving north through the short-cropped grass, we were on the lookout for anything moving. The land was empty to the horizon with nothing stirring but tufts of last years golden grass waving in the fitful wind.

Pawnee National grasslands is located 40 miles west of nowhere and 61 miles east of too far. This makes it hard to find unless you really want to get there. We did so we persevered. Not really lost but unsure of where we were we would drive into little towns like Grover, population less than you’d expect and ask “Where are we?”. One reticent local we spoke to answered with gestures more than words, saying we were here pointing downwards, and we should go that way indicated with outstretched arm, and then with a flick of his thumb indicated we should then go that way, which may have been to the right. It was clear as mud but helped us on our way.

There are two large monolithic limestone buttes that rise several hundred feet into the air, sort of like a miniature Ayers Rock, or Uluru as the natives musically call it but doubled, that tell you have reached the virtual center of the Pawnee National grasslands. The full view of these is best obtained by climbing up a steep rutted dirt road that you thought when you turned onto it from another steep rutted dirt road, might take you to the Buttes as they’re called. And the joy and relief you feel that you were right adds to the enjoyment of seeing them, standing there in all their glory, just where the rumors had it they’d be.

Since we were high up on a neighboring ridge with the buttes and half the world at our feet we felt like it was a good place to stop and consider. Much time was spent watching the buttes, waiting to see it they’d move, they didn’t, but the wind through the grass did. The occasional bird flying overhead did, the sun did, but not us. We stayed as still as the buttes and had lunch. Beauty doesn’t negate hungry. All your senses must be fed.

It wasn’t long before the sun had made its relentless journey to the West and threatened to dive behind the blue wall of mountains ending another day. The sky turned an even deeper shade of blue and the realization that we were on a ridge in the middle of nowhere and had many miles to go before we saw civilization again made the decision to leave for us. We began the bumpy jolting journey down towards blacktop and waiting modern life.

The lights jumped crazily over the two ruts that were the road and darkness raced towards us at the speed of light. The hundreds and thousands of miles it felt like we had traveled, although the speedometer said much less, seemed even longer in the encroaching darkness and it was a small relief to suddenly top out and find smooth blacktop under our wheels again. We were on a low ridge forming one side of a wide flat valley that the magic began to happen.

Fog, or mist, no it was fog, much much thicker than mist, substantial and definite as it began to form what looked like, from a distance, impenetrable clouds of pale blue light rising out of the valley floor. At first it was just wispy and directionless. Then as if deciding it was its time to become alive it rapidly formed into opaque fingers that quickly stretched across the valley seemingly barring all access to the outside world. Strangely beautiful it wasn’t long before the entire valley was engulfed in it’s eerie luminescence. It seemed slightly intimidating in its ghostly beauty but if we wanted to get home and at that moment home seemed like a welcome place to be, we entered the valley and trusted to the fates that our journey would be a safe one. Entering the blue side of nowhere had its risks but what doesn’t these days.

The odyssey to Pawnee Buttes National grasslands was a unique experience. Meeting strangers who became helpful, finding lost roads and quirky little side trips, locating the buttes and watching them turn from pure white sandstone to the golden colors of end of day on its smooth-sided walls made every moment one that will be permanently etched into our memory. But what made this a truly meaningful and unforgettable experience was the pale blue fog of the high plains grasslands. What we now call the Blue Side of Nowhere.

Four Steps To Sunset

2015-10-26Sunset0180Sunset as seen from the turret at The Institute 5:36PM

Those of you who have been around the blog the longest know that we have a sunset viewing wing here at The Institute. Well it’s more of a tower actually, with an amazing keep or a turret at the top surrounded by windows so you can get a 360° view of the sunsets as they’re occurring. It was built ’round’ this way because due to fluctuations in the alignment of the cosmos especially in this time continuum, our sunsets can occur at almost any compass point. Lately however they been occurring in the West. I know, strange, that.

2015-10-26Sunset186Sunset as seen from the turret at The Institute 5:38PM

The first picture above, with all the blue in it, shows the sun dropping behind the hill and starting to spill its color all over the valley. There’s still some color left in the surrounding area, but everybody knows what ‘s coming.

The image directly above, with all the gold in it, shows the sunset upchucking all over the place. Hurling yellow and gold everywhere as sort of a parting gift, saying “Yeah, we got to go now but we’ll be back, you can count on that bucko.”

 

2015-10-26Sunset0194Sunset as seen from the turret at The Institute 5:40PM

This is its death knell as the Sun drops into the special tube installed there in the west to instantly transport it to the other side of the globe to start Day for those guys over there.

 

2015-10-26Sunset0198Sunset as seen from the turret at The Institute 5:42PM

That’s it. Six minutes after it started it’s gone. Sometimes you can even hear the lid slam shut on that tube and then it’s dark. Dark as Jane Fonda’s heart. You may experience sunsets in a different manner at your house. If so that’s cool. We’ve heard that there are parts of the country where it takes forever for the sun to set and it’s boring while it’s doing it. If you are one of those who suffer from that scenario we offer our condolences and say “Run Away, run as fast as you can.”, you needn’t live that way.

Wind River Reservation

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Fall in the West is a pretty incredible time. We don’t have the magnificent range of colors that occur in the East but what we have is just as gorgeous in its own way. We’re heavy on the golds and yellows with a smattering of deep rusty-red when the scrub oak turns. The grey of the hard rock mountains is a perfect foil for the huge expanses of earth tones in the meadows below.

There is no mistaking Fall out here. Especially if you’re traveling through the Wind River reservation. The light this time of year seems tailor-made for showing off these vistas. There’s a reason you see so many calendar shots of this type of scenery. It’s just flat out beautiful. Subtle colors blend together as if by design. Contrast between the harsh outline of the mountains against the softness of the foreground adds to the pleasure of witnessing these timeless views. The beauty of this land cannot be duplicated. Drive out and see for yourself. The only downside to our color show is that it doesn’t last long enough. But while it does it cannot be surpassed.

Finding Scenery

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Many times people come out West looking for something. Usually its scenery, sometimes it’s just a restroom, but mostly it is something cool to look at. Something different from what they see at home every day. However, being new to a place, and a place that has overwhelming scenery everywhere they turn their heads, it all begins to blend in to a flat tapestry of vivid colors and shapes. They often have trouble determining exactly what scenery is and what is the best scenery to look at on their limited budget. It is like walking through a museum in Florence for hours on end that specializes in priceless gold encrusted icons from churches all over the world. Each one a king’s ransom and unique. Suddenly you realize you’ve been staring at the same one for 15 minutes and it no longer registers as anything special. You’ve been velocitized by the art. You’ve seen too much, too quickly. That’s what happens when you don’t pace yourself.

Now that nothing registers as something unique they drive frantically hither and yon, peering out of a bug-smeared windshield, their one sunburned arm resting on the window sill hoping to see that one bit of scenery that will be the highlight of the trip. Because there is so much scenery and all of it spectacular they soon get discouraged and rather listlessly glance out of the car window now and then. They’re in a downward spiral. They need help. Many western states try and assist the gob-smacked tourist, knowing that they’ll soon burn out and take their gold cards home with them if they don’t capture their interest. These people have been stuck in their cars for days, kids screaming, the dog needing to go out every 35 miles, they’re tired, disappointed and frustrated, so the Public Relations folks and the various Merchant associations post roadside signs with arrows pointing at a more significant piece of scenery to view, hoping to stem the exodus of bleary-eyed travelers. But the signs are small and soon blend into the blur along the highway.

Seeing this as a large and costly problem the western states bring out the big guns several times a month. There is a special lighting program available to highlight various scenic areas but it is expensive and can’t be used to light up Uncle Everett’s Skunk Emporium and Waterslide even if Uncle Everett had the money to pay for it which he doesn’t due to some unfortunate accidents in the petting zoo. It has to be saved for the really big stuff. The stuff that still grabs the jaded locals and make them stop in their tracks and remember why they moved here in the first place. You can see it in action over the Tetons. They had it cranked up to maximum on this day, the meter was spinning so fast the meter housing was smoking but it was worth it. It’s kind of like daytime fireworks. The grateful tourists were parked along the highway for miles and miles, some with tears in their eyes, others mouthing silent thanks, a few so awe-struck they were just passed out along the roadside. There is a movement afoot to collect enough funds to make this an on-call program, like during a big weekend. Such as when Jackson hole celebrates National Moustache day. Slow going yet but they’re hopeful. For now just enjoy it when it happens and count yourself lucky to have found some scenery.

This Is Not Your Grandmother’s Sand

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You know how you’re sometimes paging through a magazine or looking at pictures on the net and you come across one that stops you in your tracks and you say “Ok, Now that’s pretty neat.” Well that’s the kind of views you get when you look around Great Sand Dunes National Park, especially at sunset.  That’s when you get that great light coming out of the west. The kind that turns the sand into molten gold and the mountains into an icy blue backdrop.

This is not your grandmother’s sand. This isn’t litter box grey or the blinding white you get at your favorite beach. There are millions of colors trapped in these grains of sand just waiting for the light to release them, and release them it does. It just takes the right angle, the right intensity, the right time, and you to be there to witness them.

This was taken at the end of March at about 6 P.M. and although it was cold, as you can see by the snow still tucked in the valley there in the mountains, the light was fantastic. Because it was early Spring and fragments of Winter were still hanging on, there weren’t many people around to walk the dunes and leave their tracks across the unblemished faces of sand. Even if there had been the wind would have soon have re-sculpted the dunes faces, scouring them clean, erasing all signs that anyone had walked there. Tracks don’t last long on the dunes. This is not a place to permanently leave your mark. This is a place to view and etch the scene permanently into your memory or record it with your camera, or better yet both.

The Great Sand Dunes is a place where you can experience solitude, feel what it’s like to be out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the towering dunes, the blue mountains behind them, the wind blowing by. To see the last of the sunlight making the dunes fire up in all their blazing glory, a place where you can experience Nature at her best.  If you’re out here wandering around the Southwest stop by the Great Sand Dunes and be prepared  to be amazed.

Springtime In Scott’s Bluff

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Some of you out there have written in to say that Spring is happening in other parts of the country besides the Rockies. While we don’t dispute that statement entirely we still stand by our position that Spring is really a Mountain event best seen by visiting any part of the high country now. We suggest that you hurry west until you run into the area where the ground is pointing sharply upwards then proceed with caution so you don’t smack into something beautiful.

Now having said that we understand that some of you may have strong regional feelings, and for that we’re truly sorry, and even think, misguided as it may be, that Spring is beautiful near where you live. We can’t help you much with that other than to sympathize and make the offer yet again for you to come visit out here, in the mountains, the home of Spring itself.

In order to placate some of you that have sent in rather heated letters stating that you’d appreciate a little acknowledgement of your local beauty we have decided to show you a view of somewhere different today. This would be Scott’s Bluff Nebraska, a place on the way to the Rockies. It’s famous for being a spot to reach early in your trip, if you were tripping in a wagon train full of covered wagons on your way to California in the 1800’s.

You definitely wanted to be here in very early Spring if you were going to make it over the mountains and into California before winter set in again. So, as many of you who got here and saw the daunting task of the journey yet before you said “screw it I’m staying here” this became a regular sight every Spring and we have to admit, it is pretty. Actually it’s very pretty and we’re almost convinced that there are very lovely places if one does venture away from the mountains occasionally. I realize that this might be construed as a heretical statement but we try to be fair and impartial here.

Here’s another view of  the same area.

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See it’s nice.

Alright then. That should satisfy those of you who are convinced that Spring exists other places than here in the Rocky Mountains.