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Cowboy keynote: Values stand test of time in changing West

ELKO — Three Westerners shared their own powerful stories of timeless values from the Elko Convention Center auditorium stage Feb. 1 during the keynote address of the 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

“[We] rural people often feel misunderstood by the rest of the world,” said Kristin Windbigler. Twenty years ago, the Western Folklife Center executive director began attending gatherings, where she recognized in cowboy poetry her own culture as a rural northern Californian. Through ordinary people’s extraordinary stories, she also recognized the power of expression.

Speakers Eric Trigg, Emily Nielson and Nephi Craig embraced that power onstage to express what matters to a ranching family, how poetry inspires courage in rural teenagers and why Native American cuisine promotes healing.

Although from vastly different backgrounds as a ranch owner and commercial airline pilot, high school English teacher, and Native American chef, the three share a Western heritage and the ability to identify the values important to their situations.

For Trigg’s family, keeping their 50,000-acre New Mexico ranch intact and in the family was more valuable than the money they’d gain by selling it.

“How could we put a price on owning such a vast piece of land that is so remote there’s no cellphone service, and the stars are brighter than you have ever imagined?” Trigg said.

The third-generation ranchers then put the land in a trust owned by the heirs and wrote up rules stating that 85 percent of the family had to agree before the ranch would ever be sold or divided. They agreed that all profits would go back into the ranch or be donated to charity. Perhaps most important, the family stays involved by helping with the “annual family work week” to conquer a large ranch project, and share food and fellowship.

“This has been a great way to get to know each other, and it gets everyone involved — a sense of belonging to the ranch,” Trigg said.

By making changes to the ownership structure and management, and working together as a family, the Triggs hope to preserve what they value most and that the ranch will stand the test of time.

Students of Nielson at Elko High School faced a different kind of test. When the “outside-the-textbook English teacher” asked a high-schooler to memorize poetry for a competition, she was asking the young girl to take a risk in order to learn and grow.

“I have seen firsthand how poetry can change the lives of my students,” Nielson said. “I would love for you to leave here today with an understanding of how poetry connects us all.”

After the young girl, once a self-professed “poetry hater,” won third in the national Poetry Out Loud competition, she became a poetry lover. The conversion led Nielson and collaborators including cowboy poets and colleagues to reimagine how to teach poetry.

“As instructors, we have learned to teach the art of making poetry personal, and then once that’s accomplished, performing it onstage, lights glaring and judges watching,” Nielson said. “… I recognize that it is the poetry that empowers them.”

The results extend beyond a textbook knowledge of poetry. The experience fosters additional time-tested values that teachers cherish: students’ better understanding of themselves, the creation of a community and the blossoming of confidence.

“They are sharing more than a poem,” Nielson said. “They are sharing their courage to be heard.”

In seeking to answer the question, “Why is there no Native American cuisine?” Craig learned about what he values in his culture and gained the courage to help lead what he calls a “dignified resurgence.”

Looking to his ancestors and immediate family from the Apache and Navajo tribes, Craig saw examples of trials and recovery. He acknowledged that he “stands on the shoulders of giants” and that “we are a continuation of our ancestors, that the strength and courage and tenacity flows through our bloodlines.”

His ancestors encountered challenges that continue to affect people today, he said. Craig reflected on some highlights of American history including the California Gold Rush and the Louisiana Purchase, saying each story left out the indigenous experience.

“It was a very different experience for us on the other side of these benchmarks,” Craig said, explaining that indigenous culture was interrupted for hundreds of years. “Those are just a few examples of why we don’t see Native American restaurants.”

Through his Café Gozhóó, a Western Apache café and learning center in Whiteriver, Arizona, Craig aims to help lead a “dignified resurgence” and “intelligent coexistence” through training, cooking and recovery. He said the Apache word “Gozhóó” means, “happy,” “balance, ”“harmony,” “love.”

“What we think Western Apache cuisine and cooking will be built on is a priority of healing people, of healing the landscape, of reconnecting so that we can have an intelligent response to historical trauma in that recovery process.”

That’s important, he said, “because there is much more at stake. Think about your families and the legacy we create, because it has the chance and opportunity to stand the test of time.”

As Gail Steiger said in the introduction, the world — and West — is in the midst of fast-changing times.

“Change can be hard for lots of folks,” he said, but then reminded listeners that the key is to hold strong to values, so they will continue to stand the test of time.

The Best of the West features musical favorites

ELKO – The Best of the West took the stage at the Elko Convention Center auditorium Wednesday night, as popular and beloved musicians performed to a full house for the 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Riders in the Sky, Adrian Buckaroogirl and Wylie and the Wild West sang old favorites and new songs to an audience that happily stayed 20 minutes longer than scheduled.

Appearing first, Riders in the Sky combined comedy with yodeling and country-western songs, including “Back on those Texas Plains” and “Don’t Fence Me In.”

Frequent performers at the Gathering, the band is celebrating its 40th anniversary; however they appeared Wednesday night with Mark Abbott of the Sons of the Pioneers standing in for bassist Too Slim.

“His wife lost her long battle with cancer Friday morning,” said guitarist Ranger Doug, explaining Too Slim’s absence.

Singer/songwriter Adrian Buckaroogirl performed an acoustic set with songs drawn from her cowgirl past in Charleston and California, including “Buckaroogirl” and “100 Pounds.”

Wylie Gustafson of Wylie and the Wild West said it had been a few years since the band played at the mid-week concert.

“There’s something about the Wednesday night audience that’s special,” Wylie said, before launching into several songs including “To Ride,” The Whoop Up Trail” and “Hey Maria.” He also led the audience in the hymn “How Great Thou Art.”

Gustafson said he remembered the band’s early performance at the Stray Dog Café 21 years ago.

“Those were wonderful days,” he said.

The audience groaned when the signal was given to end the set in five minutes, but Gustafson told the audience not to worry.

“Time flies when you’re having fun,” he said. “We might cheat a little bit and stretch this show.”

All of the artists will be performing at various events throughout the Gathering, which concludes Saturday night.

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Not enough to build a snowman

ELKO — The only big storm to hit Nevada in January dumped up to a foot and a half of snow in the east central part of the state – but left Elko County high and dry.

The winter had been very warm and dry across the region leading up to the Jan. 19-21 storm, according to the National Weather Service.

“The cold front dropped temps significantly and low pressure developed over east-central Nevada and tracked northeast into Utah. … When all was said and done, a general 1-4 inches of snow fell across northern and western valleys,” stated the agency on its website.

White Pine County took the brunt of the storm, with more than a foot of snow in many locations and 17 inches in Ely.

Elko ended up with a scant 0.47 of an inch of precipitation for the month, which is less than half of the normal 1.12 inches.

The first four months of the water year that began Oct. 1 are also running at about half the normal amount, with only 2.17 inches of precipitation.

The extended forecast for Elko calls for dry weather and highs in the 50s over the next week.

Mineral production up 6% in 2017

U.S. mines produced an estimated $75.2 billion of raw mineral materials in 2017 – a 6 percent increase over 2016 – the U.S. Geological Survey announced Jan. 31, in its annual Mineral Commodity Summaries.

Nevada is listed as No. 1 out of 11 states recognized for producing more than $2 billion in nonfuel minerals.

The report from the USGS National Minerals Information Center is the earliest comprehensive source of 2017 mineral production data for the world. It includes statistics on more than 90 mineral commodities that are important to the U.S. economy and national security.

“The Mineral Commodity Summaries provide crucial, unbiased statistics that decision-makers and policy-makers in both the private and public sectors rely on to make business decisions and national policy,” said Steven M. Fortier, the center’s director. “Industries — such as steel, aerospace, and electronics — processed nonfuel mineral materials and created an estimated $2.9 trillion in value-added products in 2017 or 15 percent of the total U.S. Gross Domestic Product.”

According to this year’s report, the United States continues to rely on foreign sources for some raw and processed mineral materials. In 2017, the country was 100 percent import-reliant on 21 mineral commodities including rare earths, manganese, niobium and vanadium. This number of 100 percent import-reliant minerals has increased from just 11 commodities in 1984.

The $75.2 billion in nonfuel mineral production by U.S. mines this year is made up of industrial minerals, including aggregates and metals.

Thirteen mineral commodities produced in the United States were worth more than $1 billion each in 2017. The estimated value of U.S. industrial minerals production in 2017 was $48.9 billion, 3 percent more than that of 2016. Increased natural gas and oil production benefited some of the industrial mineral sectors. However, slower construction activity resulted in stagnant production in industrial minerals used in construction.

U.S. metal mine production in 2017 was estimated at $26.3 billion, generating 12 percent more value than that of 2016. Supply concerns and increased investor activity resulted in higher prices in 2017 for most metals. However, despite higher metal prices, domestic production of materials was lower than the previous year.

In 2017, 11 states each produced more than $2 billion worth of nonfuel mineral commodities. These states were, in descending order of value: Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Alaska, California, Minnesota, Florida, Utah, Missouri, Michigan and Wyoming.

Two new gold mines opened in late 2016 and 2017; one in Nevada and one in South Carolina – the first gold mine east of the Mississippi River since 1999.

Strong demand from consumers drove the average price of lithium up 61 percent in 2017 vs. 2016.

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Michael Martin Murphey returns to the Gathering

ELKO – The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering has a special place in Michael Martin Murphey’s heart.

Murphey arrived in Elko 33 years ago on the invitation of his friend Willy Matthews and was awestruck by what he discovered.

“I came out and walked around with a dropped jaw,” Murphey said. “There were so many people who liked what I liked. I thought I was a maverick and it turned out there were lots of us mavericks.”

This year, Murphey returns to his roots on stage, performing with just his acoustic guitar.

“I’m proud to appear as an acoustic act,” Murphey said. “I like the challenge of playing solo acoustic. I’m going to put in a lot of stuff that shows off the finger-picking style I loved as a boy listening to Chet Atkins records.”

During his three-day stay in Elko, Murphey said the event is mostly about getting together with fans, musicians and poets.

“What I look forward to is the people I’ve never met before,” Murphey said. “I’m like my father. I’ve never met a stranger.

Murphey listed names such as old friends like Ernie Sites, Waddie Mitchell, Don Edwards and Ian Tyson and included new musicians like Andy Hedges of Lubbock, Texas and Kristyn Harris of McKinney, Texas.

Murphey said that during the gathering, it would be inevitable that he and other fellow Texas performers will get together.

“I’m a Texan. If we’re in a place not Texas, we all congregate,” Murphey said.

In the last few years, Murphey has explored old time country music that has roots in early bluegrass, which uses similar instruments like the mandolin, banjo and fiddle, a throwback to his early days when Muprhey wrote a song for Flatt and Scruggs.

His album “Buckaroo Bluegrass” won a Grammy and Murphey plans to include some of that in his shows.

Murphey splits his time between Fort Worth, Texas and northern Colorado, where he owns a cattle ranch, something that he felt would help keep him in tune with the cowboy way of life.

“I didn’t feel I could sing cowboy music without having the experience,” Murphey said, adding that the cattle business is currently resurging and employing more people.

“It’s a growing industry again,” he said.

Thanks to that personal experience, Murphey said his new album tells about the contemporary West.

“I’m singing this year about what’s going on in the cattle business,” Murphey said. “Anybody who’s interested in what’s going on in the new West, not the old West, I encourage them to come.”

Murphey performs three times at the Gathering. The first is “The Ponies; A Celebration” at 11 a.m. Feb. 2 at the Elko Convention Center.

“Come-A Tai Yai Yippee on the Old Chisholm Trail” is at 11 a.m. Feb. 3 at the Elko Convention Center.

Murphey will also perform at Pardners of the Wind 8 p.m. Feb. 3 at the Western Folklife Center’s G Three Bar Theater.