Art is standing aside a frozen lake in Wind River, Wyoming. The ice is thick and he’s a look of Tommy Lee Jones about him.
He is speaking about his father. Like many men from Wyoming, his father is a Vietnam vet, like not so many, he lives alone in the mountains.
Art’s father is known as a mountain man. There are quite a few of them in Wind River. Men who have waved a silent goodbye to all humanity and tiptoed happily into the glacial wilderness.
He says in his hoarse voice:
Ah he’s up there alright. All the time; in the wild. He’ll fish, hunt, look for antlers, trap, trap bobcats, coyotes. That’s all he’ll do. Hunting, fishing, all in the mountains. He got no phone, no TV.
He’ll never leave the mountains. He got cancer and stuff and we almost had to fight with him just to get him down. Ah, they [Art’s father and the rest of the mountain men] don’t wanna leave the mountains at all.
Whatever it is to be in the mountains.
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Though if you search the Internet for his name nothing much will spout up, Art Lawson is something of a local legend and being back here, 5,000 miles away from those snowy plains and endless canyons, there’s a sense of myth about Art too; as if he were a fictitious character himself.
Art works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service up here in Wind River. Just he and two other guys with the same job title are responsible for tracking the wildlife and preventing poaching across all 2.2 million acres of Wind River Indian Reservation.
Though Art isn’t a mountain man himself, he does spend days out there in the frozen desert landscapes of Wyoming, sometimes weeks.
Rumour has it he was also the inspiration for one of the main characters in the recently released Wind River film. Thinking back about him, it certainly makes a lot of sense.
Wind River, which has just been released on Blu-Ray and DVD, follows the story of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent, Cory Lambert (played by Jeremy Renner), who discovers the lifeless body of an 18-year-old girl and has to uncover the reason behind her demise.
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And though Art has seen the frozen body aftermath of countless tragedies in these sub-zero ravines, there is a certain romance to his life when one spends their days rushing through the sh*t smeared streets of a city centre.
Wyoming was not Ernest Hemingway’s favourite place in the world by accident. Wyoming is a place where one can truly lose themselves…
In Wind River, home to the Northern Arapaho and Shoshone Native American tribes, you wake up, grab yourself a coffee, head outside for a cigarette, and see nothing. Beautiful nothingness.
All that light projects into your pupil is those vast white plains of snow covered frozen fields, hundreds of miles of them, ending only when the Rocky Mountains rise up out of the ground in the distance. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between the perpetual white open land and the clouds themselves.
The Line Shack and three excellent guides made this just the first of many breathtaking views for us this weekend. The blue skies, scenery, and throttles were complemented by a 5-star meal aside the campfire. I’m counting the days until my return. #windrivercountry #windriver #windrivermovie @visitwyoming @joeloftusss @graeme.lennox @sarahjaneholland__ @polarissnow Get your #braaap thrill like we did and like Cory does in #windrivermovie on Union Pass.
Everywhere you look is beauty. Buffalo herds roam, coyotes call in the distance, there are big horn sheep, and wild horses, and rivers flow for all eternity beneath frozen tops.
When you head out of any city in Wyoming – Cheyenne, Lander, Riverton, or the wild cowboy town of Dubois, within minutes you are in a different world, one which many, I imagine, find hard to imagine exists.
It is almost like stepping back in time. As if time itself stopped here in Wyoming in the early 20th century. The animals are far greater in number than the human population, men and women in cowboy hats ride horses through the fields, Native American’s catch their lunch through ice fishing holes. I am told that trout caught under the ice tastes better, but I cannot say for sure.
You feel utterly at one with the world and all its natural beauty in Wyoming and though like most America its history is ridden with darkness, there is a rich beauty there too.
If you’re interested in visiting Wyoming yourself visit Travel Wyoming. Though the journey is long and tiring, Wyoming, and the Wyoming that isn’t just Yellowstone National Park, is a hidden and forgotten time-capsule of enchantment.