Saturday, August 20, 2011


I recently spent another wonderful summer week in Red Lodge, Montana in the shadow of nearby Grizzly Peak all framed by those magnificent, snow covered Beartooth Mountains. It all went by too fast – so much to see and do, so little time...

Fittingly, a whole Different Kind of Animal - Frontier Airlines - was our means of transport to Montana and then back to Dallas from Billings via Denver. They did their usual superb job.

While we were waiting to board our flight home I couldn’t help but notice all the tourists regaled in every kind of T-Shirt or ball cap that declared their affiliations or their most recent encounters with the geography, flora, fauna or activity of the area. Like the diversity of the wildlife in Yellowstone, the huge number and types of T-Shirts was absolutely amazing. We all want to belong to a special group and likewise hold up and declare to the whole world what we think is important, what we have done and T-Shirts accomplish that goal.

Understanding that this is just an early August weekend snapshot, most of the shirts that numbered in the hundreds showcased Yellowstone National Park and many of its features including Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake and Falls, or some of its more prodigious animal life including Moose, Elk, Grizzly, Black Bear, Red Fox, Gray Wolf, Bison, Pronghorn Antelope, Deer, Cutthroat Trout and even the threatened Lynx, among others. Even the several states that incorporate Yellowstone National Park including Wyoming, Montana and Idaho were featured in some of the shirts. Shirts heralded various activities within The Park including tent camping (not this kid!), climbing rafting, paddling (canoeing and kayaking), among others.

I even noted one shirt that just said YELLOWSTONE in large faded capital letters with YNP and 1872 (the date Yellowstone was founded) in extra wide bold letters. With that shirt we have ascended to the upper stratosphere of privilege, subtlety and perhaps even snobbery. Over 900,000 people visited Yellowstone this July (third year in a row) probably attributable to our staycation rationale. Good or bad, no doubt in future years Yellowstone will surely surpass 4 million annual visitors, many of whom will buy at least one T-Shirt. I frankly don’t know if Yellowstone can accommodate more visitors without permanently damaging their ecosystem or further habituating their wildlife to humans.

So, the medium of T-Shirts we use to pass on a message or to identify ourselves as part of a special class is here to stay along with other clothing and paraphernalia. Along those lines I couldn’t help noticing the hundreds even thousands of welcome bikers in Red Lodge many with the obligatory and very functional leather jackets, T-Shirts, kerchiefs and do rags with most declaring allegiance to Harley Davidson, pilgrimage to Sturgis or another like message. Not surprisingly members of the American Motorcyclist Association have again voted the Beartooth Highway as their favorite stretch of road in the United States. Their numbers grow and I share that sentiment for that daring and scenic stretch of mountain highway known for its steep switchbacks (fall down, fall off) that ascend up to Beartooth Pass at 10,947 feet. As a side bar the only other road that comes close is Trail Ridge Road in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). While known for its spectacular views and higher elevation (climbing to 12,183 feet), it is much tamer.

While these bikers come from myriad communities across North America and no doubt are individualists in their own environments, this year many more looked cloned. They were different but all the same. Also, there seemed to be more screaming eagles and skull jackets and fewer sport bikers. I know this is stereotypical but I saw more angry, rough looking men with long hair (or none at all), beards, mustaches, some piercings and lots of tattoos.

Having said that I suspect there were lots of accountants, lawyers and bankers, etc. in that lot. Many professional folks like to jump out of their seemingly mundane lives and adopt a mean, tough persona that includes a Fu Manchu, goatee, shaved head, scowl and with an old timey Nashville Country look that belies their more genteel nature. I guess we on the Highland Games and Scottish Festival fields all decked out in our kilts and country dress are no different though we are celebrating our Scottish origins and culture – all part of that one day longer declaration. Again, whether its leathers on the Beartooth or the Keith & Austin Kilt at Grandfather Mountain, it’s all part of being part of something bigger than we are by ourselves – and that gives us and our ain folk credibility and integrity.

Now back at home in a scorching, drought stricken Dallas, Texas I continue to ponder these cultural paradigms, of course, while wearing my new 2011 Red Lodge T-Shirt wondering how I would look in a Fu Manchu and a tattoo – a thistle, of course


Ned Buxton

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