Article & photos by Jack Olson
Our 21st annual conference took place in Montrose, Colorado, in 1994. At our conferences we have at least one, “don’t miss, don’t oversleep” event. This one had several. One day we experienced a jostling, thrilling jeep ride into Yankee Boy Basin, an iconic high country valley. In that same area, near Ouray, we toured the 1884 Bachelor Syracuse Mine in a rattling tram. We scarfed a packed lunch in a campground high above the town as a bear strolled nonchalantly by. Is that cool, or what? We weren’t done yet and zipped out to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument (it didn’t become a national park until 1999). We’re glad we got there first. We finished the evening with cowboy yarns spun by the fire.
In 1995, we made our third visit to the Black Hills, headquartering in Keystone, South Dakota. We learned right then that outdoor writers and photographers are a hardy bunch since it rained every day but one, and that day it snowed. Of course, we sloshed out to Mt. Rushmore and enjoyed the view of the presidents between raindrops. When we took our bus ride out to Badlands National Park the rain let up, a bit. The Husted family, who built Wall Drug, hosted us as they had eight years before. I think they had added a jackalope or two in the meantime, and a dinosaur. Another day, our bus stopped for dinner in Deadwood, where rain kept us off the street and in the casino.
Las Vegas, New Mexico was our landing place in 1996. If this conference location had a subject, it was history. To start, our headquarters was the historic Plaza Hotel, on the square. A local historian gave us a tour of the historic downtown. I managed to snap a few photos that I was able to sell to Historic Traveler magazine. The theme of the conference was “Breaking New Trails”, and that we did. We found the path of the Santa Fe Trail at Ft. Union National Monument. On Glorieta Pass, site of the fiercest western battle of the Civil War, we poked around the ancient ruins at Pecos National Historical Park. Harper and Effie Simms hosted us for a cookout at their ranch. And Anne Sullivan instituted our first writing critique.
The farthest north we had ever trekked—at least until Glacier National Park in 2014—was our conference site in Bozeman, Montana in 1997. We chowed down at a city park cookout, hosted by Montana State University. Several anglers tossed lines into the Gallatin River. Barbara Van Cleve, an author and photographer from Montana and Santa Fe, presented a stunning program on a cattle drive in Montana’s Crazy Mountains, where she grew up. As a young girl, she endured a spot at the tail end of the drive but made up for it with magnificent photos of cattle and cowboys through the dust. Some of us snuck out for an adventure on our own. We took a raft trip down the Gallatin River and were soaked within about thirty seconds.