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Crossing Continents Thursday, 6 August, 1998, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Death of the Cowboy?
Tim Whewell and Sherry Laney in Catron Country, NM, July98
Tim Whewell interviews Kit and Sherry Laney, once ranchers and now victims of the new rules of the American West

Listen to the programme in full

The way of life that has defined the American West - and inspired the country's most powerful national myth - is being slowly extinguished. This week, Crossing Continents tries to find out whether it's the end of the road for the cowboy - hounded off the land by a combination of conservationists and developers.

In Arizona and New Mexico, environmentalists dedicated to saving species like the southwestern willow flycatcher and the loach minnow have launched successful lawsuits to ban all grazing along hundreds of miles of riverbanks. Without access to water, there can be no ranching.

Kit and Sherry Laney, for example, are fourth-generation ranchers who have been forced by one of the lawsuits to sell more than a thousand cattle and leave their 220-acre ranch. In this programme, we go to meet them in the one-room hut that is now their home.

Tim Whewell fitted for chaps, New Mexico, July 98
Tim gets fitted out with a pair of chaps...
Some aspects of the cowboys' way of life live on. Every year, each New Mexico village hosts a lively rodeo and dance, where cowboys and cowgirls come from all the neighbouring ranches to show off their skills. The clothes are central to the event: boots, hats, big trophy belt-buckles and chaps.

But the ranching way of life may soon be a thing of past. Tim Whewell talks to conservationists who say the American public now wants wolves, elk and owls more than it wants cowboys. Will the Old West soon survive only in theme parks?

Preston Bates + Tim Whewell, NM, July 98
Preston Bates gives Tim a lesson in riding Western-style
There are some, like Preston Bates of the N Bar Ranch, who think that it might be possible to combine conservation, ranching, and another element of the New West - the tourist industry. Preston's ranch welcomes and accommodates visitors who want to experience a little of the freedom of the old West; but in his scheme of things, horse riding and campfire cooking are mixed with some distinctly new-wave activities like birdwatching and wildlife photography.

Interior of NM earthship - adobe house
Interior of one of Mike Reynolds's earthships - built of tyres and mud
And the programme also examines a new twist in New Mexico's long history of building adobe - mud - houses. Drawing on the traditions of the Pueblo Indians, and the Spanish Conquistadors, architect Mike Reynolds has developed the adobe dwelling for the next millennium - the Earthship. Like a spaceship it is completely self-sustaining, and like more traditional adobe houses, it's made from materials close at hand.

In modern New Mexico, that means mainly mud and - the new part - recycled car tires. Tim meets Reynolds at his 'Greater World' development outside Taos, and also talks to some of the Earthship dwellers who share his vision of sustainable living.

New Mexico rodeo ringmaster, July 1998
on a New Mexico rodeo...
Mike Reynolds, architects, on adobe (mud) housing
describes the form and philosophy of 'earthships' - adobe (mud) homes
See also:

02 Feb 98 | Despatches
13 Jul 98 | Letter From America
30 Jul 98 | Crossing Continents
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