RMOWP Early Conferences, Part II

Article & photos by Jack Olson

1978 continued the trend of spectacular locations for RMOWP’s annual conferences. We set up headquarters at a nice motel right in the heart of Jackson, Wyoming. You could walk to the central park beneath entrances made of elk antlers. Many of the founders of the organization were in attendance. I was lucky, attending my first conference. I knew no one, but everyone knew me right away because the conference committee asked me to put on a program about my trek to Mount Everest the year before. Most members at that time were writers of outdoor columns in newspapers or articles in magazines such as Field and Stream and Sports Afield. Many other early members were editors or book publishers. Photography was mainly an adjunct to illustrate the articles. The conference committee organized outstanding craft improvement sessions, a feature of all subsequent conferences. There was really only one slight misstep. Partly due to inclement weather, we hardly left the motel. The Tetons never saw RMOWP. But the Tetons saw me. I bailed out during board meetings.

RMOWPers gather for a cook-out in South Dakota
RMOWPers gather for a cook-out in South Dakota

Spearfish, South Dakota, located just north of the Black Hills, was our destination in 1979. In the early years we often traveled to field locations by bus. The most exciting, thrilling and chilling, bus adventure took us throughout Custer State Park, the largest state park in South Dakota. We encountered buffalo (bison, if you will), pronghorn, and the charming, begging wild burros. How do you get a wide bus through a tunnel just a couple of inches wider? Let the riders off first. Still out and about we feasted at a big chuck wagon cookout in the woods followed by a vivid portrayal of American Indian life by Rex Alan Smith, author of Moon of Popping Trees. Our hosts gave us honorary Indian names, but for the life of me I can’t remember mine. I think it had to do with a buffalo.

Mesa Verde National Park
Gazing in awe – a common reaction at Mesa Verde National Park

In 1980, RMOWP traveled to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. A World Heritage Site, this Ancestral Puebloan (also called Anasazi) community of homes, ritual kivas, and agriculture lasted for hundreds of years, ending without a clear explanation around 1300 A.D. We toured the main ruins and cliff dwellings throughout the park, including the dramatic Cliff Palace. But most exciting was an exclusive venture into the Wetherill Mesa area, not yet open to the public, led by the park archeologist. We clambered over ancient trails to archeological ruins only slightly stabilized since their rediscovery. Our headquarters was lodging right within the park. We could peek out our room windows and spy deer grazing in the lawn.

Back to Wyoming in 1981. The small town of Saratoga in the southern part of the state was a secluded conference location for what had grown to become a raucous, although law-abiding, organization. The town absolutely laid out the welcome mat for us and we never lacked for exciting activities. We boarded water craft on the North Platte River upstream of Saratoga. Some members squeezed into big rubber rafts. I got the fishing boat. We stopped at a heronry on an island in the river. The Cheyenne Frontier Days Committee sponsored a steak fry shindig for us along the banks of the Encampment River. On the final morning we stuffed ourselves at a chuck wagon breakfast along the North Platte.

rafting on the N. Platte R.
Rafting on the North Platte River above Saratoga

[Editor’s note: This is a continuing conference retrospective by Jack Olson, an RMOWP member since 1978. They will appear a few at a time over subsequent issues. The intent is to stir nostalgia and remembrance in old-timers and foster a connection to our history with newer members.]