'Brokeback' country readies for visitors
By Alan Solomon
By Alan Solomon
There is no Brokeback Mountain. That doesn't mean people won't pay to see it.
The mountain, like the Annie Proulx short story in the New Yorker (later in a book) that spawned a much-honored motion picture bearing the name, is fictional.
Proulx placed it somewhere in Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains. The movie's director, Ang Lee, shot the film in Alberta, along the Canadian Rockies, primarily in the Kananaskis Country area near Banff National Park, because it was cheaper.
If you film it, people come.
But where "Shane" brought Wyoming's Grand Tetons into national focus and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" generated detours to see Devils Tower, also in the state, "Brokeback Mountain," a tale of cowboy-cowboy love that received numerous Oscar nominations, carries with it a unique kind of baggage.
Ten Sleep is a little town (pop. 300) at the base of the Bighorns that has drawn some attention as the nearest settlement to the country that likely inspired Proulx, who visited the area.
"It's a charming little place," said Diane Shober, director of Wyoming's state travel office. "It is absolutely breathtaking."
Nearest sizable town is Worland (pop. 5,200), 25 miles west. Mike Willard is executive director of the Worland-Ten Sleep Chamber of Commerce.
"Hopefully, it will have a positive effect," Willard said. "We've got beautiful country out here, and a lot of great people, and we're very open to everybody and anybody — and come on out and visit."
Some of those great people, evidently, are more open than others.
"In this area," said Darell Ten Broek, who operates Ten Broek RV Park, Cabins and Horse Hotel in Ten Sleep, "we don't deal well with — whatever you want to call 'em. Not that it doesn't go on. There's a couple that have been in this town since I've been here and everybody leaves them alone, but it just isn't very well accepted here."
Even the chamber's Willard conceded not everyone is thrilled.
"My mother's family has been around the area since about 1893," Willard says, "and she's enjoyed the other books she's read by this gal, but this one did not impress her at all. She felt it portrayed us as a bunch of demented hicks."
Nonetheless, people of all persuasions, lured by the promise of pristine wilderness and, perhaps, by the unquestionably romantic setting, are sure to come on out and visit. Some may wind up visiting the Wyoming mountains shown in the movie's ads and posters, and they'll be dazzled — and wrong.
"Yep, that's the Tetons," said Jackie Skaggs, public information officer for Grand Teton National Park, about 275 road miles west of the Bighorns. She was looking at the film's Web site. "It looks like it's taken from a point on the Snake River near Blacktail Ponds, and that is the classic full-range view."
At least they're in the designated state, where Shober said half the calls coming into her office are about Brokeback.
" 'Is Brokeback Mountain a real mountain? Is there a place where we can go?' They're seeing the wide-open spaces that are indicative of Wyoming," she said, "so we're excited for what that could mean for us."
So is Alberta. There may be no more beautiful stretch of mountain scenery in the world than the Rockies from Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which straddles the Montana-Alberta border, through Banff and Jasper National Parks.
Unlike most of Wyoming's Bighorn region, the Rockies along the Alberta-British Columbia line have been a serious tourist draw for generations, spawning world-class hotels, spas and ski resorts. Diversity, of all kinds, is nothing new.
"There's always been a gay-friendly community here," said Judy Love Rondau, representing Travel Alberta. "The beauty of the scenery actually overwhelms the story. Everybody I know who's seen the movie, whether they like the story line or not, says, 'My gosh, it looks like it goes on forever.' I don't think people realize there's countryside like this left."
From Annie Proulx: "The mountain boiled with demonic energy, glazed with flickering broken-cloud light; the wind combed the grass ..."