THE BACKBONE OF THE WORLD: A PORTRAIT OF THE VANISHING WEST ALONG THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE
Author: Frank Clifford
Publisher: BANTAM (BDD)/RANDOM HOUSE, May 2002
A veteran journalist tours the rugged terrain of the Continental Divide, capturing a vanishing way of life & the people struggling to hold on to it. 6x9 inches, 288 pgs.
In recent years, Los Angeles Times writer and editor Frank Clifford has journeyed along the Continental Divide, the hemispheric watershed that spans North America from the alkali badlands of southernmost New Mexico to the roof of the Rockies in Montana and into Canada. The result is The Backbone of the World, an arresting exploration of America?s longest wilderness corridor, a harsh and unforgiving region inhabited by men and women whose way of life is as imperiled as the neighboring wildlife.
With the brutal beauty and stark cadences of a Cormac McCarthy novel, The Backbone of the World tells the story of the last remnants of the Old West, America?s mythic landscape, where past and present are barely discernible from one another and where people?s lives are still intrinsically linked to their natural surroundings. Clifford vividly captures the challenges of life along the Divide today through portraits of memorable characters: a ranching family whose isolated New Mexico homestead has become a mecca for illegal immigrants and drug smugglers; a sheep herder struggling to make a living tending his flock in the mountains above Vail, Colorado: an old mule packer who has spent years scouring the mountains of northwest Wyoming for the downed plane of his son; a Yellowstone Park ranger on a lone crusade to protect elk and grizzly bears from illegal hunters; and a group of Blackfeet Indians in northern Montana who are fearful that a wilderness sanctuary will be lost to oil and gas development. In each of their stories, the tide of change is looming as environmental, economic, social, and political forces threaten this uniquely unfettered population.
Clifford?s participatory approach offers a haunting and immediate evocation of character and geography and an unsentimental eulogy to the people whose disappearance will sever a link with the defining American pioneer spirit. Set in a world of isolated ranches, trail camps, mountain bivouacs, and forgotten hamlets, The Backbone of the World highlights the frontier values that have both ennobled and degraded us, values that symbolize the last breath of our founding character.
WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING:
?Clifford offers an astute and loving look at those high, dry places along the Continental Divide where only durable people endure. It?s an American classic.?
?Honest, lovely writing that catches the scents, sounds, sights, and significance of the high West. There aren't but a handful of people who can write this well about these people and places.?
--Roger Kennedy, Director Emeritus, the National Museum of American History, and former Director, the U.S. National Park Service
?Like an old-time circuit rider Frank Clifford journeys up and down the spine of the Rocky Mountains, taking down the very 21st century joys and woes of its inhabitants, among them, sheepherders, conservationists, ranchers, miners, and outfitters. He listens with an accurate ear. His prose is lucid and unsentimental, as sure-footed and knowing as those who inhabit these fine pages.? -Gretel Ehrlich
?For Frank Clifford, the Continental Divide is more than a geographical reference. It is also the dividing line and mystic mid-region between a West (and a nation) forever vanishing and a West (and a nation) enmeshed in the multiple meanings, losses, and gains, human and environmental, of change, change, change.?
-Dr. Kevin Starr, State Librarian of California
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
FRANK CLIFFORD, currently the environment editor for the Los Angeles Times, has been a journalist for more than thirty years. Before coming to California, he wrote about the American West for newspapers in Santa Fe, Tucson, and Dallas. A native of Minnesota, he lives with his wife in Los Angeles.