“The Last Cowgirl” is a page-turner of a different sort. Or rather for a different audience. If you love the land, puzzle over our abuse of it, and wonder why you continue to live in (or near) Utah, the “Land of Cognitive Dissonance,” take a ride with Jana Richman. It’s a rough-and-tumble ride over dessert terrain just west of the Salt Lake Valley but unknown to many. If you listen closely, you’ll hear you can’t deny the land.
Told in alternating present tense and flashbacks, this story works backward into your heart like cheatgrass in an unsuspecting sock. Dickie Sinfield is middle-aged, cranky and moderately successful as a journalist in Salt Lake City when she gets news that her big brother Heber’s life was snuffed out in a nerve gas explosion at Dugway Proving Grounds. This takes a very reluctant Dickie back home.
In Clayton, we meet Bev, the strongest wisest rancher in the valley, George, Dickie’s tough angry father, Holly, the best friend you wish you’d never had, and Stumpy, a red-headed cowboy raised by his grandpa and chock-full of the range.
It is one of the mysteries of human nature, that we can find our home in a place, in people, and be the last one to recognize it. Dickie Sinfield is “The Last Cowgirl.” Drive out past the Oquirhh Mountains to the Onaquis. Sit quietly awhile. Let the silence inform you. Then read Richman’s novel for the backstory. It’s a sad Utah tale very likely to grab your heart.
South Onaqui Loop, photos and hiking information
BLM Onaqui Herd Management, photos and viewing information
Dugway Proving Grounds Survivors, info and articles about chemical, biological and radioactive open air testing