In a desolate place, will a modern pioneer last?

There are many ways a determined outsider can transform a place.

 

A few weeks ago, I visited the Eagle Rock Shelter, a nearby archaeological site on the Gunnison River. According to the scientists and students from Western Wyoming Community College who have spent the last few summers excavating it, small groups of people lived here on and off for 13,000 years, even as the landscape changed from pine forest to today’s sagebrush and tamarisk. That’s hundreds of generations — mind-boggling in a place where locals now brag about having fourth- or fifth-generation roots.

Illustration by Sarah Gilman

The shelter offered easy access to the river, a southern exposure that made for relatively warm winters, high bluffs from which to spot friends and foes, and the reliable presence of a dietary staple — rabbit.

Cisco, Utah, the setting of this issue’s cover essay by longtime High Country News contributor Sarah Gilman, lacks such obvious amenities. In fact, it’s about as hardscrabble a place as you can find in the modern West. That’s partly what attracted Eileen Muza, Gilman’s 34-year-old protaganist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who is trying to make a go of it there. It’s a classic Western story: Will she stay for a year or two and then vanish like yesterday’s sheepherders, oil drillers, filmmakers and railroad workers? Or is she a true pioneer, someone who will dig in and create something new and lasting at a time when many Western communities are becoming warped by too-rapid growth?

Paul Larmer, executive director and publisher
Brooke Warren/High Country News

I’ve never doubted that a determined outsider can transform a place. Ed Marston, HCN’s publisher from 1983 to 2002, accomplished exactly this. He and his wife, Betsy, who still works at HCN, moved from New York City to tiny Paonia, Colorado, in the 1970s, abandoning careers in academia and public television to embark on an unlikely journalistic path.

Through his fierce writing and editing, fired by original thinking and an eagerness to challenge power, Ed not only influenced a generation of aspiring journalists, but also tens of thousands of citizens and officials and the way they think of the West. Even as he called out corruption and mismanagement, Ed insisted that the region could be something more than a resource colony for the rest of the country. And he always believed that we could learn to work across our cultural divides.

After he retired, Ed dug into his chosen community, serving on the boards of our electric co-op and other nonprofits, running for public office and investing in local real estate. Early in the morning on Aug. 31, Ed died suddenly from complications related to West Nile virus. We are still shaken, and we are deeply saddened.

In an upcoming issue, we will explore Ed’s legacy in more depth. In the meantime, we’ve gathered some of his writings here. I recommend reading them; they remain as incisive and original as the remarkable man who wrote them.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER RIGHTS/ADJUDICATION BUREAU CHIEF
    Job Overview: Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that Montana's land and water resources provide benefits for present and future...
  • CLIMATE CHANGE COORDINATOR
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is seeking a Climate Change Coordinator to play a lead role in shaping our programs to make the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors EMPLOYMENT TYPE: Part-time - Full-time, based...
  • HEALTHY CITIES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Healthy Cities Program Director leads and manages the Healthy Cities Program for the Arizona Chapter and is responsible for developing and implementing innovative, high...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Conservation Programs Manager Job Opening Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Associate Director Job Posting Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through science,...
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • FOOD SYSTEMS ENVIRONMENTAL FELLOWSHIP
    If you were to design a sustainable society from the ground up, it would look nothing like the contemporary United States. But what would it...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is seeking an Executive Director who will lead RiGHT toward a future of continued high conservation impact, organizational...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the world a better place!...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz