An engaging series of vignettes garnered during a six-month-long trek through the federally-owned expanses of the American West. Conaway, a former writer for the Washington Post, packed not only the requisite outdoor gear into the back of his van when he headed west, but also a half-year's supply of sympathy, humor, and plain old-fashioned horse sense. The result is a work loaded with superbly rendered portraits, evocative descriptions of nature, and quite a few startling revelations. Conaway wends his way back and forth across the sprawling, soaring landscape, encountering such memorable Westerners as Basilio (a Basque sheepherder of monumental self-sufficiency) and Ed Cantrell (a 20th-century gunslinger who's respected, feared, and sometimes challenged in the best Dodge City tradition). Then there's Leslie Earl Derrington, a bare-chested old codger who, with his sole companion, a Doberman named ""Gideon,"" plays good Samaritan to the illegal aliens who stagger past his sun-baked desert home. It's one helluva gallery of ""originals."" For all his sympathetic rendering of the land and its people, Conaway isn't a predictable preservationist. If former Interior Secretary James Watt comes in for some scathing remarks, so do the members of the American Wild Equine Council, whose efforts to save the wild horse Conaway considers wasteful, unhistorical, and maudlin. His description of a New Age environmentalist chanting pseudo-Native American prayers to ""the Grandfathers"" while struggling to ignite a campfire without his usual propane cigarette lighter is a classic of understated scorn. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a refreshingly cleareyed and yet loving portrait of the modern American frontier.