Powder River Country
The western edge of the Powder River Basin is bounded by one of Wyoming's most elegant mountain ranges, the Big Horns. Flowing south from Cloud Peak and its attendants, the Gardner Mountains, whose soft folds contrast vividly with its rugged escarpments, slip gently into the high plains of Central Wyoming. Eastward, the steppe of the Powder River basin sweeps in variegated undulations towards the Black Hills. The compass of this country is some of the most "western" found anywhere. From the Red Walls and Ponderosa Pine clad hills to the rough rocky breaks of the Powder River, this is country filled with history and beauty for all the cultures who have inhabited it.
It is a sacred country where Indians burned a fort along the Bozeman Trail in protest to a seemingly endless stream of settlers. Here Crazy Horse confirmed his reputation as a masterful warrior and tactician. Where he led several successful raids against the US Calvary. It is also where the Northern Cheyenne suffered the first and most significant defeat after the Battle of the Big Horn. The naked and hungry stragglers of the horrible Dull Knife Massacre traveled north in freezing temperatures through the Gardner and Big Horn Mountains to find refuge from a vengeful Calvary bent on extirpating the "vermin of the plains."
This is where the Johnson County War, when wealthy cattle-barons once employed an army of Texas gunmen to wipe out "squatters", took place. The local community rose up to oppose the invading army, eventually obliging the governor to arrange a military escort for the "invaders" when it became clear their mission was foiled. To this day ranching families remember on which side of the "War" their kin were.
The famous "Hole in the Wall" where outlaws such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid found refuge is nearby. This is ranching country where the pioneer spirit and proud defiance still remain.
In this rich history of conflicting resources, the newest addition is for petrochemicals. Throughout the Powder River Basin coal lies just under the surface. Oil often not far below that. To the east from the Big Horns lies America's -- and one of the world's -- most productive coal mining regions. Within sight of the Big Horns are the mammoth drag lines and coal handling facilities of the modern surface mining operation. Many of these mines have significantly displaced wildlife, disrupted aquifers, and placed unprecedented pressures over this remarkable area.
In each of the Citizens' Proposed Wilderness areas evidence of these historic resource struggles is found. In the Gardner Mountains pictographs can be seen on some of the outcropped cliffs. Trail markers and teepee rings are scattered throughout the North Fork and Gardener Mountain proposed wilderness areas. Fox-holes can be found on rocky cliffs, and old shell casings are almost as numerous as arrowheads. In the Powder River Breaks the evidence of modern day petrochemical exploration and development is literally right up to the boundary.
But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this wondrous country is the variety and integrity of its wildlife. In the breaks of the Powder River one of the last herds of plains elk remains. Eagles and falcons roost, and pronghorn antelope roam. In the Gardener Mountain and North Fork areas not only are there herds of elk, pronghorn antelope, mule and white-tail deer, but there is a burgeoning population of mountain lions for which the rugged limestone outcroppings and scrub brush offer ideal habitat. The rough canyon of the North Fork of the Powder River also offers some of the best (if not most difficult to reach) fishing to be found in the region.