San Juan Jon: Tepee Rings And Oil Stains
By Jon Lovekin
(Editor's note: One of the pleasures in publishing Telluride Inside… and Out is getting to know new [to us] writers. Susan and I independently ran across Jon Lovekin on Twitter. She took the next step, checked out his writing, liked what she saw and asked if he would be interested in contributing to TIO. Herewith, another article from Jon.)
The Powder River Basin is one of America's sacrificial lands for our energy needs. Oil derricks, oil and gas pipelines, industrial roads that seem to go nowhere, and the largest open-pit coal mine in the United States. This vast region occupies an area approximately 120 by 200 miles or 24,000 square miles of open prairie, desert, high mountains, isolated buttes and deep rivers. This was home to the Ab-Sa-Ra-Ka or the Crow Indians and remains remote and unknown to much of America. Camping on Casper Mountain near the North Platte the view north remains crisp of the Big Horn Mountains near Montana hundreds of miles away.
The largest coal deposit in the world is mined here. Oil and gas have been produced from this basin for decades and it has become an important resource for Coal Bed Methane and Natural Gas. A century prior to the energy development this was prime real estate for ranching and became the location of one of the most notorious industrial American wars of the 1800's. The battle grounds for the Johnson County Cattle Wars are here and the legendary Apache-trained assassin Tom Horn served the shadowy purposes of the cattlemen in these hills. One of the great hide-outs for the Hole in the Wall Gang remains difficult to access even today.
We were here with three vans full of clients, geologists from the oil companies who paid for our services in interpreting the rocks that lay deep within the basin. We developed models to define where oil would be found, often two miles deep below the ground surface. We pulled our vans off of the dirt road and got out to survey the surface geology. As our discussion waned I wandered off to the head of an escarpment with what looked like a promising view. Suddenly I stopped and gazed in earnest at the ground near the edge of the cliff. Rings of stone were laid upon the ground. The largest was at the apex of the cliff faces and had the most commanding view. This would have been where the chief lived. Smaller rings were laid out in two rows each along the two cliff faces. Rings of stone used to hold down the tepees that once lined this hill. They had been left just as they had been in the seasons before. Left for the returning Crow hunting party that never came again.
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