My heart sinks as I read the sign. I’m a little bit north west of West Yellowstone, searching for what used to be Blarney Stone Ranch, my great grandfather Emmett’s property. In 1959, an earthquake ripped through the area. Landslides washed out entire sides of mountains, forming a dam and creating a lake permanently changing the area’s landscape. Apparently, the epicenter was in the middle of Blarney Stone.
Believing the quake to be a sign from god, Emmett sold the property a few years later and none of my remaining family had ever been to, or knew the location of, the property. All we had was a map consisting of the local fish distribution from 1960. A single dot marked the approximate location of Blarney Stone.
Other than that, the only remnants were a few letters discussing the earthquake and attempts to turn the ranch into an elk farm. I had seen that there was a museum dedicated to the quake and my plan was to exchange copies of these documents for information. Yet again, I was left to my own devices. I was ok with that though as that’s when self discovery tends to happen.
Walking up to the closed down building, a swirl of questions flooding my mind, and an awe inducing scene of beauty opened up in front of me. Pine covered mountains sandwich in a crystal blue lake. Smoke from a forest fire casts a haze over the horizon. Out in the boonies, a sense of time is lost as everything seems exactly the same as it would have been on that fateful day.
It’s hard for me to fathom what the area was like before the quake. Imagine, the entire ecosystem being reformed in minutes. The power of the ever changing earth. As much as the community was devastated, a new world was created at the same time.
At this moment, I feel so small.
I’m on top of the world. I thought to myself as I sat on top of this boulder. I looked out over the land stretching out in front of me wondering what secrets these rocks held. Imaging all the adventures that had happened over all the lives that had passed through here. Marveled by how close this was to Yellowstone, yet how far away it seemed. Not thirty miles away, thousands of people were discovering that world, completely unaware of what else lie so close.
In fact, this was my third time to the area and my first time coming this way. I wondered how many people had done the same. If it wasn’t for this search would I have ever come this way? How many treasures are there waiting just beyond our fingertips that we never are able to grasp, simply because we don’t push ourselves that little bit further? Even though part of me would’ve liked to sit here all day, I didn’t have time to dwell too much on this line of thinking. I had a mission and I needed to figure out how to accomplish it. Now how do I get down from this rock?
Pulling off to the side of the road, I’m mesmerized by the fields that open up in front of me. I think this is the property, but as it’s been broken up over the years, I have no way to tell for sure. Now, fences block off most of the fields, and ranches dot the expanse of golden grass. Not far In the distance is the lake that I hung around earlier, offering reprieve to the wildlife in the area. I look up to see a huge nest on top of a pole and have a longing to learn as much as I can about birds of prey. One lands gracefully in its home and starts calling out, seemingly perturbed by my presence.
I had spent the day searching but had come up empty handed. Every road seemed like a dead end and I felt as if I was running short on ideas. As I watched the sun set, I scoured the internet for any information I could on the earthquake, hoping it would bring me closer to finding an answer. Any clue would help, no matter how fruitless it may have seemed. Eventually, I came across a single picture of two buildings labeled Blarney Stone Ranch.
Well, at least this was something.
I returned to the map for what seemed like the thousandth time hoping something would finally click. After staring at it for what seemed like an eternity, I thought that maybe what I had been thinking was a road near the dot was actually a creek. Knowing that the ranch was next to a creek, I cross referenced my GPS and saw a creek a mile or so down the road. It was too late to investigate that evening, but I knew where my search would start in the morning.
The next morning, I found myself driving down a rough gravel road into a neighborhood that overlooked the area I was in the previous evening. The creek had been a dead end, surrounded by forest with no buildings that could have been a ranch. I seemed to be at my wit’s end, and didn’t have a clue where to go from here. The road continued to get rougher, and although I stopped to ask every person I saw about Blarney Stone, no one had any information that could help me.
A feeling of defeat started to roll over me as I exited the car to get my bearings. I stared out over the horizon in wonder, humbled by the lake and mountains in front of me. Directly to my right was a fence with a few signs warning trespassers of entering. We don’t call 911, it proudly claimed along with pictures of revolvers. If nothing else, the warning reminded me that I needed to be cautious while exploring. With that in mind, should I admit I was clueless? Was it time to accept that wandering around aimlessly wasn’t going to get me anywhere?
I leaned up against my car, pondering what I should do, staring out into the distance. All of a sudden, I felt like something clicked inside my head and out in the distance, I saw two buildings that looked like they matched the picture I had found. My heart leapt with joy as I pulled my phone out to compare the images.
This was it. There’s Blarney Stone Ranch. If this picture really is of it, that has to be it.
I got back into my car to look at my GPS to see if there was a simple way to get over there. I set a waypoint to where I thought the property was and tore off in a wave of excitement.
A “No Trespassing” sign was clearly displayed across the front gate as I pulled up to the property. Two dogs ran around the yard freely, barking loudly at the strange visitor walking up to them and alerting a woman sitting on the front porch. Arming myself with my best smile, I wave and start to approach.
“Hello!” I yell out. “I was hoping you could help me. I’m looking for Blarney Stone ranch”
“You’ve found it.” she responds with a smile.
This was it. I had found it.
“My Great Grandfather used to live here.”
“Ahhh. You must be a Culligan.” Her soft voice responds like the song of a siren, pulling me in closer. “Let me show you around.”
She introduced herself as Amber and informed me that her husband Chip has owned the property for the last 20 years. His family had been part of West Yellowstone since the 50’s and one of the reasons he had bought the property was because of its historical significance to the earthquake. With that in mind, he had left the two main buildings almost untouched, a fact that I couldn’t be more delighted with.
Walking inside was like entering a time capsule. Sets of antlers adorned the warm wooden walls along with teepees and other Native American themed decorations. A golden glow seemed to cover the entire room welcoming me inside. After showing me around briefly, Amber informed me she had to get back to work but invited me to explore as long as I liked.
With every turn I took, more thoughts rushed through my head. Legacy, family, purpose, history; all of a sudden, it all seemed so relevant. Was any of the attachment I was feeling to this place real? It was hard to know for sure. I walked through the kitchen, unchanged since Emmett, and imagined my aunts and uncles running about with their cousins. I imagined the laughter that I was sure would have echoed through the halls. I felt the running footsteps that would have reverberated throughout the floors. How much of this feeling was a creation of nostalgia?
Walking down a set of stairs to a dank basement below, I was pulled out of my illusion and reminded of another side of this story. This basement connected the two buildings and was in fact a bomb shelter meant to save the family when Communism brought forth the end of the world via nuclear war with the help of the Antichrist.
While bathing in the immense pleasure of sentimentality, I had forgotten how interesting of a man Emmett was, a devout christian and doomsday prepper. This reminded me that none of my direct family had ever been to the ranch while he had owned it and the images that had flooded my mind never would have taken place. Feeling a bit more somber, I decided to take a walk along the creek on the other side of the property.
There I found the head of the household, a beautiful labradoodle who was eager to play fetch. What a perfect way to get my head out of this weird space. For the next hour I threw the stick over and over as she ran through the stream, jubilant with no care in the world. It was in this moment that I seemed to be able to come to peace with the feelings rolling inside of me. No matter how weird our family history, it is a part of the story of us — of how we came to be. In the end it is simply information for us to do with what we please. As I took deep breaths of the crisp mountain air I couldn’t help but feel satisfied.
Feeling like I had found what I was looking for, I made way to say goodbye to Amber and thank her for her kindness. I wanted to offer her a chance to look at the documents I had brought for the museum. The next thing I knew I was sitting at her kitchen table, letters strewn across the table as we read over them together, pointing out interesting tidbits and learning more about the history of her home. Thinking she might have some pictures from when Emmett owned it, she tore through drawers searching for the relics, finally finding a stack filled with cows and arial shots.
As I went through them, one in particular stood out of an old Irishman and a farmhand. Suddenly, I was staring at Emmett and the fantasy I had been living in my mind became real. Turning the picture over, all it read was farmhand. I gazed out the window and saw the location the picture was taken from. I could see him standing there, clear as day. I could hear his voice call out to my grandma and her siblings, most likely telling a ridiculous tale about God or Jesus. Or maybe of the evils that lie inside jazz music. Who knows. In my imagination, he sounded like my Great Uncle Jerry, his youngest son and the closest I ever came to knowing him.
In the moment, I felt complete.
Later that evening, I sat at the edge of Earthquake Lake again, pondering the outcome of the past two days. I simultaneously felt closer and further away from my inner self than I ever had before. I felt like I was standing at the edge of a long lost home. At the same time I felt as if my family was so far away. As I sat there, I contemplated purpose and I reflected on the meaning of destiny. As many answers as I felt I had found, with them had only come more questions.
Who was I and besides the shared genes, did I really have any relation to the man who once owned this land?
On the corner by the road was a sign with a number indicating there were 80 acres of land for sale.
Was this my destiny? Was this why I had been brought to this space?
I was currently looking for land to start a non profit school on and couldn’t help but entertain this line of thinking. Was there some eternal energy that connected me to Emmett and as a result to this land and was it the result of that energy that I found myself there that fateful day?
I laughed at the absurdity of it all… that I was brought here by some divine power. Yet, the thought kept with me and has continued to stay with me in the days since. How I wish to live in that field, to wade in those waters, to breath in that fresh air.
Nonetheless, that is not reality and I have moved on to the next destination. All the while, I dream of the day I will return to Blarney Stone Ranch.
Closest Supercharger West Yellowstone 15 mi
201 S Canyon St, West Yellowstone, MT 59758