Article & photos by Jack Olson
Our 17th annual conference in 1990 congregated at Manitou Springs, Colorado, in the shadow of Pikes Peak. But we got out of that shadow in a big, big way, chugging in the cog train to the summit of the peak. At 14,110 feet, this was one of the few times our hardy crew has breathed such thin air. The Air Force Academy sports teams are nicknamed the Falcons. We got to meet real falcons up close and personal, even timidly stroking their feathers. The Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs is a geologic wonderland and we craned our necks strolling beneath the red rock features. Millions of years ago sequoia trees towered over a volcanic landscape to the west. Eruptions spewed volcanic ash, burying the trees, and remnant fossilized stumps dot the surface of Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.
In 1991 we headed north to the Cowboy State, Casper, Wyoming. We had one major outing—and it was a doozy. We started out at Independence Rock. I say “at.”. We soon circled the huge granite dome searching out the many names carved in the rock by pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail. Wagon trains stopped at the nearby Sweetwater River to let their livestock get their fill before crossing the parched landscape to the west. Before long some of us clambered to the top of the 130 foot high monolith. But the best was yet to come. We hooked up with our own wagon train, two Conestogas and a stagecoach, managed by the Morris Clark family. And off we rumbled on the original Oregon Trail. Wagons swayed as outriders kept us on the trail. We had a light picnic in a secluded canyon and listened intently to tales of the mid-nineteenth century emigrants’ travails. We slowly wended back and feasted on a full-blown chuck wagon dinner. It was an experience for our book of all-time conference memories.
In 1992, Park City, Utah, was our conference site for the second time in ten years. We experienced an eclectic variety of activities. We trundled off to Browning Arms and tried our hand, and eyes, at trap shooting. I’d never attempted this event before and I think my first two shots ended somewhere in Idaho. But steadying my stance, I took careful aim and blew that little clay sucker away. My pride quickly faded as they gave us a chance at archery. I hoped the people in Idaho were still ducking. We spent some time on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, touring the Beehive House and attending a rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Most exciting to me was a free hour to begin a family search in the Genealogical Library. In that hour I connected with a preacher descendant of my mother in the 1860s. We looked up at Bridal Veil Falls and then whipped high above in a gondola. All this, and then we toured Robert Redford’s Sundance conference center.
Farmington, New Mexico, was the site of our 20th annual conference in 1993. Culture was primarily the theme of the conference. We spent hours exploring, poking around and learning about the ancestral Pueblo community that flourished at Chaco Culture National Historic Park. Perhaps most dramatic is the sprawling Pueblo Bonito. We weaved in and out of doorways into concentric rooms. And, most thrilling, a few of us hardy, or foolhardy, souls scrambled up cliffs to peer down upon the vast pueblo. A second ancestral site we explored is Aztec Ruins National Monument. “Aztec” was a misnomer applied by later settlers in the area. We rode through the Navajo Reservation, past dramatic Shiprock, to an historic trading post in Arizona where we observed an exhibition of sand painting and purchased some Navajo artistry. A tour of the Bolack Wildlife Preserve and Museum capped off the conference.
[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.]