Southwest of the city, the Beartooths hover over Red Lodge, sleeping in a curl of Rock Creek.
From one of the highest points in Yellowstone County, the mountains are prefaced by 100 hills, rolling easy like frozen surf toward the city.
Perhaps 2 million years ago the ancestral Beartooths sprawled where the current peaks sprawl. The mountains grew, geologists say, 70,000 feet. If the gods had planted them upright in the South Pacific or Alaska, they might have overshadowed Mona Loa, Mount McKinley or Chimburazo. Instead, they crumbled like cookies and were washed down coulees and canyons to form the dune-like hills that fill much of what was once the Upper Yellowstone Valley.
River gravel, stones the size of biscuits, are scattered around my perch in beside Highway 87. The river gravel was left behind by the Shoshoni River when it broke into Pryor Gap and carved a new lane seaward. That ancient riverbed, now buried, will be the course of a fracking exploration, says the capitalist paying for the project.
A fracking line, spewing toxic chemicals, will run beneath hundreds of old sand and gravel dunes left by the lost river.
My friend Labeau, self-appointed river ranger and guardian of the Yellowstone, and I chat beneath a welcome spring sun. I ask Labeau what he thinks of the plan to frack the hills between Red Lodge and the mid Yellowstone. He shakes his head and makes a disgruntled sound. The thought of the exploratory pipe eating its way through the buried headwaters of creeks and trout streams, little and large aquifers and leaks toward the valley is almost too much for him, nearly enough to give him apoplexy. He shakes his head again. Harder this time. Much harder.
I reckoned he was less than an inch away from getting on the fight.
It’s easy to see why politicians will let this happen. Money makes the drill bit go round.
Republicans can hardly oppose anything that leads to development of any sort. Democrats are unable to touch projects that produce jobs.
The Canadian pipeline builders say the XL Keystone pipeline will be the safest pipeline ever built. The claim has a familiar ring.
Remember Titanic? Seems to me it was the safest ocean liner ever built. On its maiden voyage the ship scraped an iceberg, opened up like a ruptured grape and plunged to Davy Jones’ locker.
There are two types of people buzzing around the XL pipeline controversy: environmentalists and boosters. The first are garden variety tree huggers; the latter are dyed-in-the-wool tree huggers. Each side is jammed up to the hips in the muck of one side of the argument and will have little or nothing to do with the opposition’s suppositions.
Some folks actually believe doubling Montana’s population would be a good thing. Others aren’t so hot on the notion. Count Labeau and I among this latter tribe.
You can bet your boots there were wise guys in the 1880s who warned of the buffalo’s extinction, others who cried foul when they saw rivers polluted, the air tainted with industrial smoke.
Yeah, they were there and they were shouting, but little good it did them. Or us. Or our children and grandchildren.
Man’s a funny monkey, isn’t he?