In 2001 the Weekly Standard sent me to Elko, Nevada, to cover the nationally acclaimed annual Cowboy Poetry Festival for a back-of-the-book piece. “The Gathering,” as it’s called, is about more than poetry and music, and Stewart Udall was there to make a speech and participate in a seminar on public lands management. The press room was busy and over four days I made a few friends. We were a lively bunch going to the events and tracking down the likes of Baxter Black, Waddie Mitchell, Ian Tyson and Michael Martin Murphey for an interview or photo. One afternoon I was sitting in a lounge in the Elko Convention Center, when I struck up a conversation with the — to me — recognizable Mr. Udall. At the time President Bush was battling to get cabinet positions confirmed, including Gale Norton, his first Secretary of the Interior. Mr. Udall told me that his own confirmation hearing for the same job in 1961 took “about a half hour after lunch.” I then asked him about his memories of his friend the late Wallace Stegner, a writer whose work I admire. I kept my mouth shut as Udall passed on a familiar oft repeated joke: “Somebody once asked Wally: ‘What is the difference between your view of the West and that of Louis L’Amour?’ And Wally said: ‘About two or three million dollars.” Stewart Udall was not only a legendary American conservationist, but a very nice man.
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