The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of  American settlement westward, explain American development."

Westward Ho!

I kept reading, including essays by other historians. I learned that Turner's thesis was warmly embraced in 1893 by educated audiences, not surprisingly, as the fruits of the nation's policy of Manifest Destiny were being harvested, and it continued to be supported well into the 20th century. Beginning in the 1960s, however, a new generation of historians challenged key parts of Prof. Turner's thesis, including his silence on governmental atrocities committed during the Indian Wars, the absence of frontier women in his analysis, and the role of minorities in westward expansion and settlement, among other omissions. They didn't dispute the frontier's influence on American development as much as they disputed Turner's rosy evaluation of its impact. It was an academic debate, to be sure, but one that raised interesting issues about the West and the nation.

I wasn't sure what it all meant to me until that sunny day in 1988 when a question popped into my head: what did the frontier look like today and was it still influencing our national character?

Indisputably, the frontier still existed in the American West – at least in my mind. By 'frontier' I mean the meeting-line between nature and culture as expressed on the land. It was a line that I had studied for years as a professional archaeologist, especially on survey as I walked mile-after-mile across the desert with a crew looking for prehistoric sites. Sometimes the meeting-line was subtle, such as a solitary field house hidden among trees; sometimes it was obvious, such as a multi-story ruin or a dense scatter of broken pottery. But in all cases, the way the hand of humans touched the land was fascinating. Later, when I became active in the conservation movement I witnessed a much less subtle meeting-line, too often in the form  of destructive  human