John Treadwell Dunbar

John Treadwell Dunbar is a freelance writer

Most Recent Articles by John Treadwell Dunbar:

Durango Southwest Colorado

Dec 5, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Durango Southwest Colorado“What’s that smell?” she asked one crisp fall morning standing on a corner in historic downtown Durango as the world-renowned Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, laden with giddy tourists bound north into the rugged fold of the spectacular San Juan Mountains, chugged by. With a toot of its horn that woke the guests at the Strater and Palmer hotels, Old Ironsides belched a thick, black column of smoke and coal cinders that stuck to the roof of my mouth and clogged my nostrils with a 19th century industrial stench, which, like the earthy aroma of horse manure, some people grow fond of.

“Money,” I said, holding a copy of “Chasing Sovereignty” in one hand, and with the other waving to Mabel and her camera peering out of the yellow box car that rolled past in a noisy procession that has been huffing and puffing, back and forth and up and down the verdant Animas River Valley for 130 years and counting. “Lots and lots of money.”


Butte, Montana

Oct 30, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Butte, MontanaKnown in its day as the richest hill on earth, and harnessing immense mining wealth beyond comprehension, Butte, Montana, grew into a city of tall, brick and stone buildings meant for an anticipated 100,000, and built to last. Together with Anaconda thirty miles away, Butte is the largest National Historic Landmark District in the United States boasting over 6,000 buildings that are certain to awe visitors drawn to this incredible reminder of a time when copper really was king, and competing Goliaths named Day, Clark and Heinze went to war to gain the lion’s share of the earth’s bounty.

It was a time when babbling migrants from the four corners of the globe melted into the dirty landscape and crawled deep into the crust and toiled in ways today’s workers can only imagine with a shudder and a nod of gratitude to the labor movement that brought a measure of sanity and incremental safety in the wake of the conglomerate stampede, and invariable deaths that came with the dark and damp terrain; and the life-threatening, back-breaking task of gouging copper out of Mother’s epidermis; gold, silver, zinc, lead and molybdenum, but mostly copper so vital to the booming age of electricity and its industrial and residential demands.


Three Capes on the Oregon Coast

Oct 9, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Three Capes on the Oregon Coast, Pacific City to Cape MearesDevoid of the Willamette Valley crowds that descend on Lincoln City on the northern Oregon Coast during the pleasant months, the exquisite tranquility of forty-mile-long Three Capes Scenic Drive, and quaint ocean-side villages that dot this string of pristine pearls, is a surprising and pleasant respite few out-of-state visitors are aware of.

Beginning at tiny Pacific City three miles west of Highway 101, and meandering generally north past diminutive and sandy Cape Kiwanda, the two-mile lofty protrusion of Cape Lookout that juts out into the Pacific Ocean like the Titanic, and the rocky bulk of Cape Meares at the far northern end of the drive, this hidden gem of coast pulls us back year after year without fail.


Going-to-the-Sun Highway

Sep 24, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Going-to-the-Sun Highway, Glacier National Park MontanaNative Americans referred to the jagged mountain kingdom in Glacier National Park, particularly the stunning east side, as “The Backbone of the World.” If you’ve ever traversed this million-acre superlative of towering rugged mountains, dwindling blue glaciers, long and abiding bodies of green water, and lush cedar-hemlock forests on that 50-mile, white-knuckle drive across the twisting turns of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, you’re certain to agree, emphatically, as your head bobs up and down in amazement.

You’re in good company. Two million other flabbergasted visitors a year from across the globe drawn to this alpine mecca of free-roaming grizzly bears, this “Switzerland of America” that borders fair Canada, chime in with that singular universal expression that sums it up nicely: Wow!


Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Sep 17, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Bryce Canyon National Park, UtahBryce Canyon isn’t a canyon at all, but a twenty-mile-long series of massive eroded amphitheaters carved out of the eastern edge of the verdant Paunsaugunt Plateau, shaped like horseshoes crammed tight with freestanding walls, slots, and windows and fins.

There’s nothing like it anywhere in the world that I can think of.

It’s even unique by Southern Utah standards which is why it has become so popular, and why it’s love at first sight for all comers who are invariably entranced by the million shades of pink, white and orange limestone towers morphed and eroded by the patient force of water, and the heat of the sun.


Bisbee, Southern Arizona

Sep 1, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Bisbee, Southern ArizonaI knew he was a snake the minute I saw him sitting in his little red sedan in the near-empty parking lot across from the Bisbee Grand Hotel. A striking caricature of Geico’s Gecko, this skinny, twenty-something, clean-shaven oddity with the loping gate had no business with that gorgeous Hispanic brunette driving the getaway car. Something was up.

We parked near the back of the lot – the Yukon packed to the gills with our precious possessions - and as we walked across the spread of asphalt I caught them out of the corner of my eye staring us down and glancing over at the rig. We continued walking, enthralled by the beautiful buildings that will take your breath away in this quaint gem of a town, when, on cue, that inexplicable force that moves us from time to time, moved my head to the right just as we were turning the corner. And there he was, three steps from our overloaded SUV taking those big hurried strides.


Fort Laramie National Historic Site

Jul 22, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Fort Laramie National Historic Site, Southeast WyomingLocated near the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte rivers near the Nebraska border in wide, open country populated by sprawling ranches and small Western towns, and low hills and shallow ravines where pine trees grow, the refurbished 19th-century military post of Fort Laramie stands as a vivid reminder of America’s westward migration, a fifty-year saga of epic proportions brimming with tales of triumph and tragedy, hope and despair, honor, treachery and greed, which continue to resonate in vivid detail through the annals of American history.

During these tumultuous years from 1834 to 1890, Fort Laramie played a central role, in one guise or another, in the opening and settlement of the West. The European-American legacy began in the 1830s when it was known first as Fort William, then Fort John, and served as a hub in the lucrative fur trade business.


Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

Jun 29, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Northeast Utah - Southeast WyomingI’ve lost track the times I’ve driven up and down the 191 searching, not earnestly, but in vain, for the fabled Flaming Gorge Reservoir. And then I got smart and bought a map and drove east from the 191 near the southern end of that large body of water along forested Highway 44 to the Red Canyon Overlook. Approaching in early May with not a soul in sight, a spur road cut north through somewhat open country of tall Ponderosa and the pine. Slamming on the brakes when a bighorn ewe and her little one galloped across the road, I fumbled for the camera and snapped a blurry shot through the bug-splattered windshield just for the record. Then, step-by-step I shuffled down the footpath to the promontory where I stood clutching the rail at the very edge of the illustrious Red Canyon twisting off into the distance, and felt my jaw drop 1,700 feet to the water below. Wyoming might have ended up with most of the water, but Utah got the best of the scenery.


Florence On the Central Oregon Coast

Jun 17, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Florence On the Central Oregon CoastHistoric Old Town in Florence on the Central Coast has been called charming and quaint, which it is, and is regarded as the heart of this “City of Rhododendrons” that attracts retirees and the younger set in droves. They come and stay for good reason. Florence (pop. 8,500) offers all the amenities one could hope for, particularly in one’s Golden Years, whether cultural, recreational, intellectual or commercial.

Located on a relatively flat, forested plain at the extreme north end of the mighty 40-mile-long Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Florence is within close reach of 30 refreshing freshwater lakes and acclaimed golf courses, and lies only a couple of miles inland from the blue Pacific Ocean crashing and rumbling on mile after mile of pristine sandy beaches. During the last two decades, this worthwhile destination has matured into a vibrant and tasteful community worthy of serious exploration as it is consistently ranked one of the best places in America to retire.


Canyon de Chelly National Monument

May 30, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Canyon de Chelly National MonumentI didn’t know Spiderman had a lady friend living in Arizona, or that she lived atop the taller of two spires known as Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “Duh Shay”), a large sheltered gorge of multiple canyons in the otherwise mundane brown terrain west of the Chuska Mountains.  To outsiders, Canyon de Chelly near Chinle is a desolate and remote place, a thing of such unusual beauty it has become a mandatory stop on anyone’s Southwest itinerary. Inhabited continuously for roughly 5,000 years by Native Americans, including the cliff-dwelling Anasazi, this is one place we just had to see for ourselves.

Determined to locate this mystery woman, I stood on the south rim staring out at iconic Spider Rock, zooming and telescoping patiently as I brought the 800-feet-tall, free-standing monolith into focus, sweeping my fading eyes over the wind-swept, sandstone pillars familiar to anyone with a television set - it’s a popular backdrop for commercials.


The Coos Bay Coast, Oregon

May 15, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

The Coos Bay Coast, OregonWith a seemingly endless flow of money at his disposal, an obsessive penchant for pretty flowers blooming in manicured gardens, and not one, but two, ostentatious mansions to brag about, lumber baron Louis Simpson assembled and cultivated one of the grandest estates on the American West Coast between the 1920s and 1942. Perched on a sprawling bluff high above the raging Pacific, Simpson’s masterpiece, known to the 21st century as Shore Acres, commanded stunning views of rugged headlands, teeming rookeries, offshore islands and sea stacks, and an enormous reef awash with thousands of feathered fowl and vast herds of marine mammals – seals and lions. Living in pinniped heaven, these blubbery beasts of the deep blue sea haul out now as they did back then, and lounge about on rocky ledges and in isolated coves under temperamental gray skies that are heavy, long and wide, but which mercifully turn blue during summer and fall.


Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson, Arizona

May 1, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

The White Dove of the Desert, Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson, ArizonaStanding alone for more than 200 years in the harsh desert of southern Arizona above the Santa Cruz River on the Tohono O’odham Reservation ten miles south of Tucson, the Mission San Xavier del Bac is considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States, and the oldest extant European structure in the state of Arizona.

Once rotting under the burdens of time and the elements - scorching heat, torrential monsoon rains, and well-intentioned, though misguided, encasement in an exterior cement veneer during years past - significant restoration efforts are returning the White Dove of the Desert to its original ecclesiastical glory, resurrected, as it were, with love, sweat, and much-needed financial contributions from private, and ever-dwindling public, resources.


Ennis, Montana, and the Beautiful Madison Valley

Apr 14, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Land of Shining Mountains, Ennis, Montana and the Beautiful Madison ValleyNot just another friendly village in Southwest Montana surrounded by grass-fed Herefords and Black Angus beef, Ennis (pop. 1,000) was crowned a Top 20 Western Town by Cowboy Magazine in 2009, and deservedly so. It’s likely you’ve seen Ennis without realizing it.

Back when the big guy was kicking and chopping his way to action-hero fame, Steven Seagal, with nearly 40 films to his name, filmed “The Patriot” (1998) here and down south on his stunning 18,000-acre Sun Ranch, which he sold off in ‘98. The plot is relatively straightforward: Patriotic country doctor saves the world from a deadly virus by discovering a cure and beating up evil paramilitary militiamen in the process. Nothing wrong with that.


The Ruins of Chaco Canyon in Northwest New Mexico

Mar 30, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

imageThey came. They built. They vanished. Unique among Native American prehistoric civilizations, the gradual rise and terribly swift fall of the Ancient Pueblo Indians of America’s Southwest, the Anasazi, continues to transfix modern man. Understandably, admiration for the ancients’ beautiful architectural triumphs and preconceived notions about this relatively peaceful utopian civilization of farmers have been tarnished by what is considered heresy among many archeologists and self-proclaimed descendants of the Anasazi - the Hopi, Zuni and other pueblo peoples.

According to experts in the field, and others, it appears as though they ate each other, or were sacrificed and devoured between the ninth and 12th centuries by a ruling elite of Mesoamerican cannibals intent on maintaining their grip on power through sheer terror. Or maybe they were gobbled up in the 1100s by invading hordes from Old Mexico, the Toltecs. Regardless of who perpetrated this unseemly culinary tradition, or why, it’s virtually certain that human sacrifice and the feast that followed were not limited to country folk in far-flung communities, but likely practiced in a big way in the big city at Chaco Canyon as well. The debate rages on.


Winthrop, Northcentral Washington

Mar 19, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Winthrop, Northcentral WashingtonTwenty years ago I happily stumbled upon the great little Western-themed town of Winthrop in the wonderful Methow Valley. True to its mining and ranching roots, Winthrop has been converted into a portal into the past showcasing covered walkways, Wild West saloons, and Main Street facades. Easily passing for the originals, and some are the real deal, weather-streaked barnwood exteriors scream, “Giddy-up, pardner!” Scratching my head in bewilderment, I thought I landed on a back lot at Universal Studios. All that was missing was my gelded Appaloosa, spurs to go with the pointy boots and some chaw dribbling down my chin. And one of them big hats.

That day I came in over the Cascade Mountains from Puget Sound along State Highway 20, just another line on the map in need of exploring, and part of the fabled Cascade Loop Scenic Highway through North Cascades National Park dripping with 300 glaciers and countless waterfalls. Rolling west to east through a two-million acre swath of wild country of various bureaucratic designations, I vaguely remember a long, meandering climb, almost always up, that took me through dense Douglas fir, and nearer the summits, alpine meadows awash in lupine and fireweed. In keeping with the winter-waterlogged Pacific Northwest, everything was intensely green. There were few homes along the way to Winthrop, and back then, little traffic - the way I like it.


The Mormon Trail of Tears

Mar 2, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Mormon Trail of Tears, Southern WyomingThis was a rut I was grateful to be stuck in one crisp, blue-sky morning in eastern Wyoming. Standing deep in a trough on a sparsely wooded hill overlooking the North Platte River near the outskirts of Guernsey, I felt the earth rumble as oxen mooed, whips cracked, and covered wagons creaked up the steep rutted incline hauling heavy loads of the essentials, and the trivial. Hardened women in bonnets and long skirts followed coughing in the dust, and men in hats on horses yelled at their livestock and encouraged children and the old staggering to keep pace.

Among this rolling wave of humanity were hundreds of poor English and Scandinavian Mormons on foot who had no idea what awaited them in October of 1856 as they pushed and pulled two-wheeled carts with bloody hands ever-onward to Zion and the Valley of the Salt Lake for 1,300 tiresome miles in the ultimate test of their faith.


Cedar Breaks National Monument

Feb 21, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

imageHeralded as one of the great natural amphitheaters of the world, Cedar Breaks will take your breath away not simply because of its eroded beauty and exceptional panoramic views, but also because it sits on top of a mountain on the edge of the Markagunt Plateau at 10,300 feet above sea level where clean air is paper thin and often blows very hard and steady like it did when we visited one recent golden autumn. Bobbing and weaving, while my beleaguered heart rumbled in my chest, I leaned into the wind, gasped for air and stood in amazement at Point Supreme and the Sunset View Overlook, two places you don’t want to be during a July lightning storm.

The sheer size caught me off guard the first time I inched toward the edge where the land falls away abruptly exposing terrain shaped like the folds of a curtain, plunging chutes and exposed ridges and rocky forests of freestanding buttes and fin walls, stone arches and the hoodoo army which quite frankly reminds me of Bryce Canyon; everything painted pink and orange, and shades of purple. It’s a slow, methodical process focusing on individual pieces that make up the whole, assimilating the mosaic and assigning it a proper place in your mind.


Yachats On the Central Oregon Coast

Feb 6, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Yachats On the Central Oregon CoastOn a clear day the view from the headlands at the Sea Lions Cave visitors center is outstanding. But step too close to the edge and you’ll get the woozies, maybe the wobblies, as you gaze down at fields of wavy green grass that plunge 300 feet to the blue Pacific churning and sloshing back-and-forth in a perpetual rolling ballet.

Look south to Florence eleven miles distant and watch the wide, empty beach recede into a misty horizon. Look north two miles and there, perched high on a bluff, is the beautiful Heceta Head Lighthouse, the most photographed and arguably most beautiful lighthouse on the Oregon Coast, though I’m not sure how that’s measured. Then step in the elevator and plunge 208 feet down into the bowels of mother earth for the experience of a lifetime. Really. For a reasonable price of admission you’ll be treated to the world’s largest sea cave. It’s not a gimmick or a circus trick, just nature hard at work carving out basalt rock one salty wave at a time. And yes, those are sea lions down there lounging about, rubbing blubber, yelping and multiplying, and stinking up the place.


Taos, New Mexico

Jan 21, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Taos, New MexicoSaturated in the arts and a rich Hispano heritage, awash in charming adobe-style architecture and 400 years of contentious history marked by occasional bloodletting of incomprehensible proportions, this quaint Northern New Mexico resort community of international fame has been known to cast a spell, a benign trance that reels back seekers and others inclined to the aesthetic year after year. But beware. If you’re not careful, even you might turn your back on urban life and move here like so many globetrotters and the creative who tap into the landscape’s romantic inspiration that lends itself to their creativity and peace of mind.

Painters, potters, sculptors and writers the caliber of D.H. Lawrence and John Nichols have plied their craft on the verdant high desert of the Taos Plateau, and men and women, with and without talent, continue to aspire to the works of the hand alongside temperamental actors and rebounding directors at home among the eclectic and traditional. They’re a special breed, perhaps, setting themselves apart and infusing a peculiar vitality into this ancient community of narrow crooked streets and buildings flat and square and rectangular, stacked low to the ground in clean lines of smooth plaster and mud colored in tranquil tones; the browns of the earth and deeper shades of red, and pink, and the lighter scales of blue.


Augusta, Choteau, and Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front

Jan 14, 2012 — John Treadwell Dunbar

Augusta, Choteau, and Montana's Rocky Mountain FrontThere I stood with my mouth open in disbelief on a small rise at the edge of rolling prairie near the southern end of Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. Catching my breath, I listened to loud rumbling as the earth quivered beneath the split hooves of mule deer in the hundreds thundering off in a bounding panic through twisted jack pine and brittle, tan grass and prickly pear. They ran for their lives, those beautiful mulies, through rolling foothills near towering cliffs at the entrance to the Sun River Canyon 20 miles west of Augusta - the greatest little cow town in the American West.

Suddenly it dawned on me. No wonder famed American novelist A.B. Guthrie lived on the Front near Choteau a few miles north of here. He could have lived anywhere, but settled for a slice of heaven on earth within sight of Ear Mountain. The same can be said for old what’s-his-name who jets back to Montana between jokes and more recently sank roots in the shadow of this incredible, uplifted, 60-mile-long wall of mountains running north and south.