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You Might As Well Tack Up A Wall Of Disneyland Signs At The Rockies.

By Gregory McNamee

SEPTEMBER 28, 1998: 

Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West, by Tim Egan (Alfred A. Knopf). Cloth, $25.

YOU MIGHT AS well tack up a wall of Disneyland signs at the Rockies, suggests New York Times Pacific Northwest correspondent Timothy Egan in this curmudgeonly look at the Mountain West: The region is all a sideshow these days, trading on the myths of its past, selling its future to developers and junk-bond salesmen and other hucksters. Although the West celebrates stalwart do-gooders, lone heroes, and desperadoes in places like Deadwood and Tombstone, in fact it is and has always been highly corporatized, with a curious boss-driven politics that persists in the present.

B-movie actor Bruce Willis found this out, Egan writes, when (after buying up much of the little Idaho town of Hailey) he decided to launch a ballot initiative against nuclear-waste dumping in the vicinity. "In the election," Egan writes with evident glee, "he was outgunned by fellow Republicans who favor a nuclear presence. He could have learned something from the Copper Kings: They never lost unless it was planned." Similar clashes between old sensibilities and modern mores fuel much of Egan's narrative. He writes of a New Mexico man who, "hiding in the woods of custom and culture," has exploited local anti-government sentiment to defy U.S. Forest Service restrictions on cattle grazing in wilderness areas; of a Colorado entrepreneur who believes the future of Western agriculture lies in ostrich ranching; of the present Interior Secretary, Bruce Babbitt, who has "somewhat meekly" been working to undo environmental damage wrought over the last century; and of out-of-the-way places and people caught up in this rapidly changing region.

Backing his observations with solid reporting and storytelling, Egan writes with grim humor and thinly disguised anger, the justifiable rage of a native son fed up with the seemingly endless development and destruction now being visited on the West in the name of progress.

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