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Wednesday, September 11, 2002

A Special Day and a Special Encounter
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Mountain man Chuck Streeper.

Mountain man Chuck Streeper.
Courtesy Bob Van Deven

September 11th was a solemn day for all Americans and the North Team couldn't help but feel preoccupied as they loaded their Coleman packs with dehydrated food and warm clothing. In less than two hours they would be trekking up Cliff Creek in the Bridger-Teton National Forest but for the moment their thoughts were with fellow team member Rob Carlo who had returned to New York for the memorial services. A radio had been tuned to the news and the team observed a moment of silence as the announcer recounted the terrible events that had transpired exactly one year ago.

Even after leaving camp the team remained quiet, each meditating on a history they could still scarcely believe and a world irrevocably changed. Yet in the blur of aspens changing from green to gold, the emerald back of the Snake River uncoiling beside the highway and the daredevil loops of barn swallows on the wing there seemed to be a kind of strength. If courage could be found in nature, if peace could arrive with autumn, then all America would ever need was flowing past the car windows that morning.

With Rob in New York a replacement was needed and Media Coordinator Bob Van Deven had joined the trekkers, along with fellow support team member Steven Braunlich. Steven, though an enthusiastic backpacker, had not originally intended to go along but two days before the trip Dana Bell had sprained her ankle. It was an injury that would have sidelined most people, her ankle grown swollen and purple, but Dana was determined to complete the entire northern route and Steven was along to lend assistance if needed. The five trekkers were also accompanied by Kevin Burtnett, their intrepid National Geographic videographer.

With Paul Bucca and Charlie Thorpe driving the Honda Pilots the group turned east on Route 191 and entered Hoback Canyon. For most of their 22 mile backpacking route the team would be following various tributaries of the Hoback River, itself a tributary of the legendary Snake. Lodgepole pines gave way to spruce and fir as another turn brought them alongside Cliff Creek and the road, now dirt, climbed past 6,000 feet. Finally the group reached the Cliff Creek trailhead and, after a few photos, crossed a small footbridge to proceed up a valley rimmed by tall timber and carpeted with grass and sage. A single pickup truck had been parked at the trailhead and the trekkers figured they might have the trail to themselves but within an hour they had passed two groups from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). NOLS has been bringing kids into the backcountry for decades, teaching them wilderness survival techniques, backcountry ethics, navigation, self-reliance, and many other skills useful not only in the woods but in daily life. These particular groups would be out for 9 days and their packs looked heavy. Wearing gaiters and polypropylene shirts, they cheerfully explained they were headed for Cliff Creek Pass some 5 miles away.

The trekkers had decided to stop at Cliff Creek Falls for lunch and as they hiked their ears were tuned for the sound of roaring water. A uniform layer of clouds filtered the sunlight but the air felt warm. As they rounded a bend a lone black cow trotted up the slope and disappeared among the aspens, the first the team had seen all day. In fact the area seemed hardly grazed at all and the towering forest, so dark and thick, showed no signs of having been logged. This was land that bore few signs of use although it was in fact being used by many people that day---hikers, photographers, NOLS students, and also a number of elk hunters.

Suddenly the team spied a waterfall at the end of a box canyon partially screened by orange and yellow foliage---Cliff Creek Falls at last. It looked to be about two stories high, pouring in front of a shallow cave, yet it also seemed to be on the wrong side of the trail and somewhat smaller than they had expected. They were about to pull out their map but as they approached they found a sign and another trail heading off perpendicular to their own. Even without the sign their mistake was obvious. In a narrow gap behind a stand of trees on their left could be seen the shimmering 70 foot curtain of Cliff Creek Falls. The team ate near the base while Kevin shot footage of the falls from various angles. They had traveled more than six miles yet after lunch they decided to head for the pass, thereby increasing their odds of completing the trip in two days.

From the falls the trail climbed steadily and the trees became more sparse, scattered about in isolated groves rather than continuous forest. Even in the high country the streams were embroidered by scrub willows caught midway between the green of summer and pale yellow. Beside the trail was a beaver pond and a well-constructed dam but no sign of a lodge. Dana made good progress despite her sprained ankle. Finally the team descended to a bend in the Little Greys River where they made camp on the far bank. Bob hung the American flag from a tree branch as Rob had done on previous trips and together by the light of their PrincetonTec headlamps the group ate dinner.

On Thursday the team was within half a mile of Roosevelt Meadows when they began hiking. As they broke out of the forest a redtail hawk screeched and flew from the crown of a spruce, circling above their heads. As the trail skirted a marsh the trekkers caught sight of a tent and a pair of horses tied to nearby trees. Each assumed it was another hunter's camp but suddenly a man strode out of the willows dressed in dirty jeans and an old sweater, his head covered by a shapeless black hat with a narrow leather brim. He introduced himself as Chuck Streeper, a mountain man who had been traveling the country for 34 years.

Chuck seemed glad for the company and talked about the trail ahead and the cow moose that had been bedding down nearby with her calf. He told the team how to avoid a particularly muddy section and about the wreckage of a plane that could be seen beyond the meadows. He was about to break camp but asked the team if they'd like to stick around while he changed into his riding gear. Five minutes later he emerged from the trees dressed in a buckskin jacket and breeches, beaded knife belt, and moccasins, all items he made himself. Smiling and chatting amiably, Chuck also showed the team his hand made panniers and saddles, and told the team how he'd ridden to the Atlantic Ocean three times on horseback. His horses, Rusty and Whichway, were two of the friendliest and healthiest the team had ever seen, even though they were both 24 years old. Being both his companions and transportation, Chuck took excellent care of them and had even trained Rusty to give him a kiss. Only Dana and Mike were brave enough to let Rusty do the same to them, a performance preserved forever thanks to the video mode on the team's digital camera.

At 59 Chuck was too old to spend the winters outdoors so a few years ago he'd gone around the country digging up the mason jars where he kept his savings. When he was finished he had nearly 100,000 dollars in tightly rolled bills, a nest egg he used to purchase a house near Fresno, California. Now he spent his winters teaching schoolchildren about the life of a frontiersman---how to tan hides, sew moccasins, load and fire a musket, and track animals. Yet Chuck wasn't living entirely in the 1800's; in his spare time he'd been taking pilot lessons and upon retiring from his life as a mountain man he planned to build a biplane. Somehow he seemed to have found a balance between solitude and society, between the simple life of a pioneer and the comparatively magical offerings of a modern age. For over a month the team had seen the public lands used for nearly every purpose imaginable---from logging to fishing, from mining to paragliding---yet here was one they never would have anticipated: as home for a living link to the past. Because one individual had embraced the freedom of the mountains---the very essence of public lands---a generation of kids would learn about the pioneer life
from more than just books.

The team had passed nearly two hours talking to Chuck but it seemed like only a few minutes. When it was time to go Chuck offered to show them a way around a nearby beaver pond and as he brought them to the trail he stopped and pointed at the ground. “See this spot right here?” He asked. “This spot is special, you know why? Because from this very spot you can go anywhere in the world.”--Bob Van Deven



List of All Dispatches
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Thursday, October 2, 2003
A Visit to Valles Caldera National Preserve
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Saturday, September 20, 2003
American Frontiers Reunion 2003
A year ago this September two groups of volunteers met in Wasatch-Cache National Forest outside of Salt Lake City, Utah in...
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Thursday, September 18, 2003
Team Joining Anniversary
It's hard to believe that it's been a year since Team North and Team South completed blazing the American Frontiers Trail....
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Monday, August 4, 2003
Team South Trekker Cathy Kiffe Takes New Job
This week a very prestigious private school contacted me about taking their Learning Center Director's position. I hestitated...
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Saturday, May 24, 2003
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For 3,000 miles the Garmin Vista GPS unit guided the American Frontiers’ teams on their journeys across America’s...
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Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Kodak Comes Through—Again!
Eastman Kodak Co. was one of the sponsors of last summer’s American Frontiers Trek. Max HQ One-Time-Use cameras, donated...
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Thursday, April 24, 2003
Kay Gandy Keeps On Trekkin'
South Team member Dr. Kay Gandy has been accepted in the Fulbright-Hayes Seminars Abroad Program. She will be attending...
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Thursday, April 24, 2003
National Geographic Video of the Public Lands Journey Is Finished
Kevin Burnett at National Geographic Society’s audio-visual division has created a fifty-five minute-long video of...
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Friday, April 4, 2003
Goodbye, Good Luck, and Thank You!
Rodger Schmitt Retires from BLM
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Sunday, March 9, 2003
Kay Gandy Presents at Conference
If you haven’t been to New Orleans, then you really should try to go. The “Crescent City” has great food,...
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Saturday, March 1, 2003
Kay Gandy Treks East to West
Tomorrow is March 1st, and already there are signs of spring in Louisiana. I saw dogwoods and forsythia blooming, and hundreds...
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Monday, February 24, 2003
PLIA RECEIVES 2003 PARTNERS IN EXCELLENCE AWARD
Public Lands Interpretive Association (PLIA) was the honored recipient of the first joint national BLM—Forest Service...
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Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Sam Altman from Team South Writes
The weather in Kentucky is snow and more expected...we just heard from Bob Hammond...he was on his way to CO but was redirected...
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Monday, January 20, 2003
North Team Trekker Charlotte Talley Writes . . .
Here is a quick update on me since I have gotten back.
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Wednesday, January 15, 2003
Mike Murphy (Team North) Reports
Dear America:
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Wednesday, January 8, 2003
Public Lands in Mississippi
The National Geographic Public Lands map arrived in the mail. I opened it, admiring the greens, golden yellows, and tans...
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Tuesday, January 7, 2003
New Job for Jessica Terrell (Team South)
Perseverance really does pay off! Three years ago, I moved to Missouri with no job and a brand-new biology degree. Far from...
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Tuesday, December 31, 2002
A Public Land Experience
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Friday, December 27, 2002
Gen Green (Team North) Writes
I thought I'd mention that I will start a new job in mid January. I will be setting up the GIS program for the Nature Conservancy...
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Friday, December 20, 2002
Bob Ashley (Team North) Reports
The American Frontiers trekkers may have finished their 3,000-mile journey, but the public is still discovering the events...
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Thursday, December 5, 2002
Student's Letter to Cathy Kiffe

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Wednesday, December 4, 2002
Trekker Cathy Kiffe Writes . . .
Gray and Beautiful
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Monday, December 2, 2002
Letter from Geography Student Shawn Kessler

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Monday, December 2, 2002
Jake MacLeod of Team South Writes . . .
While I was away on the American Frontiers Odyssey, my sister had a
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Sunday, December 1, 2002
Bob Van Deven's (Team North) Favorite Public Land
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Sunday, December 1, 2002
Jan Nesset's Latest Trek
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Tuesday, November 26, 2002
Jan Nesset in Snow Country
Snow Raspberry Bounty
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Monday, November 25, 2002
South Team Member Jessica Terrell Reports
National Trails Symposium
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Sunday, November 24, 2002
South Team Trekker Julie Overbough
The last time I saw Julie Overbough was on National Public Lands Day in Salt Lake City and at that time she looked like a...
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Sunday, November 17, 2002
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Friday, November 15, 2002
Jan Nesset writes . . .
Public Land Flows Through ItAt the outskirts of Durango where I figure Iím a half hour or so from my planned takeout in town,...
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Tuesday, November 12, 2002
Letter from Brent E. Garvin
Jan,
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Sunday, November 10, 2002
Richard Tyrrell: A Visit to Wharton State Park
It is a sunny Sunday afternoon and my wife Marcia and I are riding our horses in Wharton State Park in south central New...
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Thursday, November 7, 2002
A Day At Earth Analytic's Home
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Thursday, November 7, 2002
Dave Mensing Selected for Award
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Sunday, November 3, 2002
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Tuesday, October 29, 2002
News from Kay Gandy
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Monday, October 28, 2002
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Sunday, October 27, 2002
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Wednesday, October 23, 2002
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Friday, October 18, 2002
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Saturday, October 12, 2002
Kay's Songs
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Wednesday, October 9, 2002
Home Again
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Monday, October 7, 2002
The Thing About Summits
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Saturday, September 28, 2002
Happy Trails To You
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Saturday, September 28, 2002
National Public Lands Day Celebrates End of Journey
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Friday, September 27, 2002
The Teams Meet
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Wednesday, September 25, 2002
National Landscape Conservation System
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Monday, September 23, 2002
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Just about anywhere you go in Utah, sooner or later you’ll encounter the fossilized remains of ancient life on earth....
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Sunday, September 22, 2002
Sand Dunes in Wyoming? You Betcha!
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Saturday, September 21, 2002
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Friday, September 20, 2002
"Fear Finds Within Them No Resting Place"
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Wednesday, September 18, 2002
Three Cheers for Trona
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Wednesday, September 18, 2002
River of the Prairie Chicken
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Tuesday, September 17, 2002
A Gift From the Past
The casual traveler traveling through southwestern Wyoming might think that nothing ever happens here, but they would be...
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Monday, September 16, 2002
Westward Ho!
Cast your mind back some 170 years, when the United States was a young country, looking west at their newly acquired domain,...
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Sunday, September 15, 2002
A Tribute
"What do you do all day?" my friend asks the rancher who invited us in for a glass of clear, well water."I'm just here."...
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Saturday, September 14, 2002
Wild Horse & Burro Adoption
Teton County Fairgrounds in Jackson, WY was the site of todayŪs Adopt-A-Horse-or-Burro Program, sponsored by the Bureau of...
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Friday, September 13, 2002
Wanted Dead (Not Alive): Noxious Weeds
One of the most pervasive and dangerous problems facing public lands managers right now is how to control the deadly spread...
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Friday, September 13, 2002
Searching for Team South!
I had planned to meet Team South on Lake Powell and while I had quite an adventure, things didn't quite work out as I had...
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Thursday, September 12, 2002
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon on September 9, 1996, President William Jefferson Clinton announced that by the authority...
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Wednesday, September 11, 2002
A Special Day and a Special Encounter
September 11th was a solemn day for all Americans and the North Team couldn't help but feel preoccupied as they loaded their...
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Tuesday, September 10, 2002
Wet Saddles and Muddy Trails
The Northern Team rolled into Grand Teton National Park on a rainy Thursday afternoon and pitched their tents in the Gros...
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Monday, September 9, 2002
Classrooms for the Nation
Whether you are fascinated by the mysteries of history, the story of fossils so minute you must use a microscope to view...
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Friday, September 6, 2002
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
North of the Grand Canyon, stretching from the Colorado River on the east to St. George on the west lies what is commonly...
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Wednesday, August 28, 2002
Down the Colorado
When Sara Hatch of Hatch River Expeditions generously offered to meet the hikers from Team South in the bottom of the Grand...
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Monday, August 26, 2002
Great Job, Coconino!
I wanted to make all of you aware of the outstanding job that the Coconino National Forest did to prepare for and host the...
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Friday, August 23, 2002
Trekkers Inaugurate New Section of Continental Divide Trail
When the Trekkers arrived at Pipestone Pass, on MT Hwy 2, they participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on a newly-constructed...
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Friday, August 23, 2002
Trekkers on the Coconino National Forest
The trekkers on the Coconino:
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Thursday, August 22, 2002
Trekkers Ride Motorcycles
Trekkers ride Motorcycles as part of Journey
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Tuesday, August 20, 2002
Trip Leader's Notes
All expeditions, treks or other adventures are only as successful as the supporting structure that allows them to move ahead....
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Monday, August 19, 2002
The Battle of Big Dry Wash
During the spring of 1882 a small group of White Mountain Apache warriors, sixty at the most, came out of their wilderness...
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Saturday, August 17, 2002
A Scorched Land
APACHE SITGREAVES NATIONAL FOREST, Arizona--The view from the top of Juniper Lookout Tower is 360 degrees but it is 360 degrees...
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Friday, August 16, 2002
Adventure in Helena National Forest
The support team arrived in town on the 13th and were a very pleasant group to work with. We provided what office space we...
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Monday, August 12, 2002
Report from Gila National Forest
For the Wilderness Roundtable on August 7th, about 32 attendees participated. Attendees represented the diversity of southwest...
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Saturday, August 10, 2002
Team North Spreads the Good Word
Team North has been delighted with the first two educational programs they staged to let people know about their journey...
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Thursday, August 8, 2002
Team South: The First Days
The American Frontiers Journey, a trek from the Mexican border to the
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Monday, August 5, 2002
Entering Flathead National Forest
District Ranger Jimmy Deherrera and myself met the trekkers at
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Saturday, August 3, 2002
Lake Valley Reception
Lake Valley, NM--The monsoons have arrived. All afternoon, while PLIA Executive Director Lisa D. Madsen and I drove down...
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Saturday, August 3, 2002
Northern Team backpacks through Glacier National Park
Team North is making their way through Glacier National Park, enjoying both spectacular mountain scenery and friendly people....
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Friday, August 2, 2002
Historical Talk at Lake Valley Ghost Town
The Southern Team traveled today to a boom town gone bust-- Lake Valley New Mexico. There they visited the museum, maintained...
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Friday, August 2, 2002
Interactive Map Now Available
This interactive map is updated regularly with GIS data, pictures, video, and other memorable moments from this great adventure....
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Thursday, August 1, 2002
Warfare and Settlement on the Rio Grande
While the American Frontiers trekkers blaze a new route through the Chihuahuan desert of southern New Mexico, they arenít...
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Wednesday, July 31, 2002
Trek Teams Begin Their Journey; DC Kickoff Event Attended By Interior & Agriculture Secretaries
This morning, at 7 am MST, as the sun began to warm the Chihuahuan desert soil and melt the snows of Glacier National Park,...
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Wednesday, July 31, 2002
Welcome to the Chihuahuan Desert
The extreme southern portion of the American Frontiers Trek route starts at the US-Mexico border near Las Cruces, New Mexico....
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Saturday, January 1, 2000
Free Public Lands Map & Book Available From PLIA
As part of the continuing effort to raise awareness of and to provide education about our public lands, PLIA is offering...
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