Rocky Mountain West: An Unfinished Country

March 14, 1980

Report Outline
Vanishing Western Frontier
The Urban Oasis Civilization
Old West in Time of Change
Shaping a Regional Destiny
Special Focus

Vanishing Western Frontier

The Rocky Mountain West remains a raw, empty land 90 years after the frontier era ended. Western communities lie hundreds of miles apart, all but lost in the boundless sweep of granite mountain facades, rolling sagebrush plains and barren deserts. For the West has never filled up with the farms, cities and towns that cover long-settled coastal and prairie regions. It remains an unfulfilled land, economically and culturally unfinished. The wide open spaces set the West apart — and give the mountain states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona both promise and problems that are much different from more crowded parts of the country.

“Emotionally, the West retains its image as the future of America,” University of Wyoming historian Gene M. Gressley has observed. The Northeast, Midwest and California now contend with decaying cities, sagging economies and environmental damage. But the Rocky Mountain West, even after three decades of fast growth, remains hopeful that it can preserve its matchless scenery, clear air and easy-going life. “The West feels it has time to avoid a lot of mistakes,” said Louis D. Higgs, chairman of the Four Corners Regional Commission. “We're not playing catch-up football like the East.”

Wild horses still roam through Wyoming's Red Desert and Nevada's sagebrush plains. Deer and antelope are still plentiful on Montana and New Mexico plains, and bighorn sheep scramble up Colorado, Utah and Arizona mountains. Cowboys still round cattle up in the spring, and herders drive sheep to mountain meadows. The Rocky Mountains still hold a wild, frontier flavor, long vanished from other regions. For most Westerners, many of them recent migrants from other states, the West remains a good place to live because it is different from other parts of the country.

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