Hoover Dam
Photo of the Hoover Dam by ubik14 used under a Creative Commons license.

Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert (Penguin, 1993).
The epic tale of water and the American West. Water is scarce throughout the West, and so its history is one of water rights, irrigation, dams, and lots and lots of politics. Two federal agencies – the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers – have battled for years to control the floodgates. Reisner’s research was comprehensive, and he recounts events over several decades and explains water projects in several states. If this subject matter sounds dry (pun intended) to you, rest assured that it isn’t. This book will change the way you understand half of the country, and should be required reading for anyone living in the Mountain or Pacific Time Zones.

Here is a bio of Reisner. Here is his obituary from The New York Times. Outside of term-paper sites, there is less discussion of it on the web than the book deserves, but here are Jerry Keeney, Faith, Marty, Ray Swider, and Branislav L. Slantchev. And Camron Assadi agrees that it’s a must-read.

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Sunrise on the Prairie
Photo by JBAT used under a Creative Commons license.

Teresa Jordan, Riding the White Horse Home (Vintage, 1994).
Jordan was in the last of four generations of her family to live and work on a cattle ranch in Iron Mountain, Wyoming, not far from Cheyenne and Laramie. After her grandfather died, her family was forced to sell the place, and while Jordan explains what drove things to that point, she also regrets losing her connection to the land. Small towns throughout the rural West are slowly depopulating as people like Jordan who grew up in them find careers and lives in the cities. Jordan’s memoir tries to capture and come to terms with the life she lost — the land, the work, the relationships with horses and cattle. This is also a memoir of her family, most poignantly of her mother, who died when Jordan was twenty.

Jordan’s site has a bio and plenty more about her work. Monica Bretherton wrote about the book. And in 1991, Jordan gave the keynote address to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, with some material which later appeared in the book.

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Photo by Tomas Caspers used under a Creative Commons license.

Cynthia Vannoy-Rhoades, Seasons on a Ranch (Pruett, 1986).
An account of a single year on a family cattle ranch near the town of Clearmont, west of the Big Horn Mountains in northeastern Wyoming. Spring sees with calving, and then a trail drive to summer pasture. Summer is a time to get chores like fencing done while the cattle fatten themselves and the days are long. When the weather starts to turn chill, the herd needs to be gathered, and then shipping day comes. In the winter, cattle must still be herded and doctored, and there is the promise of another spring. A short and sweet look at Wyoming’s iconic industry.

We couldn’t rustle up any good links, although it does show up on this list of books about Sheridan County. Please read the book, blog about it, and send us a link.

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Photo by themaxsons used under a Creative Commons license.

Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces (Penguin, 1986).
In 1976, after a personal tragedy, Ehrlich moved from the East Coast to a small ranch in Wyoming, where she found herself again. Ehrlich writes about Wyoming’s landscape and weather, about her neighbors and her new work as a ranch hand. A powerful, spare book which finds nourishment in desolation. For a long while, this was one of my favorite books.

Here is a short bio of Ehrlich, an excerpt in the Norton Book of Nature Writing, edited by Robert Finch, and another excerpt in The Place Within: Portraits of the American Landscape by Twenty Contemporary Writers, edited by Jodi Daynard. Here are reviews by Judith Moore (The New York Times) and Paul Krza (National Review) and posts by Moe and The Blogging Forester. And you can listen to a recent piece on NPR by Ehrlich about training a colt.

Buy this book at Amazon.com.