The Great Divide

“If every range had a biographer like Gary Ferguson, perhaps we would finally treat our mountains with the respect they deserve. The Rockies will outlive all the insults, and this splendid book will make their memory permanent in our own finite times.”

-Robert Michael Pyle

The Great Divide: The Rocky Mountains in the American Mind
The Great Divide: The Rocky Mountains in the American Mind

W.W. Norton, 2006


More than any other American landscape, the Rocky Mountains have prompted a remarkable medley of fierce, poetic dreams. For some 150 years this region served as a landscape of freedom for the outcast and marginalized of our culture: from the rebellious sons of wealthy industrialists, to African American trappers; from affluent young women struggling for suffrage, to the hippies of the 1960s, determined to turn their backs on the establishment. From this spot on the crest of the continent comes a fresh look at how the nation’s wild lands inspired some of our most cherished notions of freedom, as well as how much we stand to lose, should our connections to those lands drift out of reach.


A rich natural and cultural history of the Rocky Mountains and their place in the American imagination

For most of our nation’s history, Americans have identified with the “purple mountain majesties” of the Rockies. Trappers and debutantes, miners and missionaries, artists and drinkers, escaped slaves, independent women abandoning hoopskirts, and assorted black sheep of respectable families have all sought refuge and inspiration there. This spectacular landscape has always offered a sense of freedom from crowds and conformity—a world, as Frederic Remington described it, “beyond derby hats and mortgages bearing eight percent.”

Gary Ferguson spins magnificent tales about the vivid characters who have peopled this majestic region, from the original Indian inhabitants and their interactions with European explorers, to the delirious victims of the gold rush fever, to hippies of the Sixties, to today’s adventure travelers in high-tech outerwear toting satellite phones into the wild. Throughout, he explores the ebbs and flows of America’s attitude toward the vast expanses that embody our sense of freedom.


“In this fine book Gary Ferguson writes with beauty, with perspective, humor, and a considerable vision.”
Mark Spragg, author of An Unfinished Life and Where Rivers Change Direction

“One of the most concise, up-to-date and intelligently-assimilated histories of the Rocky Mountains, and a showcase of the attitudes and forces—spiritual, economic, geologic, cultural—that have sculpted this beloved place.”
Rick Bass, author of The Book of Yak

“Your experience of these grandest of American mountains will be vastly enlarged by The Great Divide. Showing what the Rockies were, and what they have become in a time of overarching avarice, Ferguson paints a magnificent and mournful panel of humans butting their hard heads against ultimate grandeur.”
Robert Michael Pyle, author of Where Bigfoot Walks