How many mountains proclaim what they are by including the descriptive noun “mountain” in their name? That’s mostly a rhetorical question. In general, I’d guess, not many. …
How many mountains proclaim what they are by including the descriptive noun “mountain” in their name? That’s mostly a rhetorical question. In general, I’d guess, not many. Around us, we have Cedar and Rattlesnake, Carter and Sheep, the Absarokas (North and South), the Beartooths, the Bighorns, Owl Creek, Jim, Table, etc. We know they’re mountains. Their name doesn’t require you to say so.
But who would think of saying, “We’re going to hunt on Heart?” Or “I live on Heart.” Or whatever …
It’s just an indicator that Heart Mountain is different. If you live here, of course, you know that. A glance out the window tells you so. And, most people do have windows that frame it. There it is, sitting by itself, only loosely connected to the closest mountains as though at some point it wanted to escape the family ties.
The origin story
And, in a sense it did. Back in near geological time, Heart Mountain was part of a gigantic geologic feature that blew apart. What are now Heart Mountain’s twin heads came roaring south as part of a huge (think the size of Connecticut) rocky mass, moving with the speed of one of those trains you find in China and Europe, sliding on just a 2% grade. Incredible to think of the force and the power. It was by far, geologists think, the biggest landslide ever to happen on land in the entire earth’s history. What caused it? Theories abound. Geologists say that the whole process only took around half an hour.
Imagine! Actually, impossible to imagine.
The bulk of the movement slid on a bit, but Heart Mountain must’ve found what it wanted, because it stopped and took up squatter’s rights.
I can only say, “Well, of course.” Heart Mountain deserves a unique origin story, and it certainly has one.
In the eye of the beholder
When I was a kid, we wonderingly referred to it as an anomaly — an upside-down mountain. “How could that be?” we asked. “Impossible,” we thought, marveling.
Almost as wonderful was and is the aspects Heart Mountain presents to the world. Surely, you’ve noticed that Heart Mountain appears as an entirely different entity to the people in Cody from the single-headed mountain I see near the relocation center or the view you get in Powell proper. Out on the Two Dot Ranch or going over Skull Creek Pass, you wouldn’t recognize it. I’d like a dollar for every time I’ve argued with people about what image to use on a letterhead or logo.
Heart Mountain proliferates — no surprise — with descriptives. It’s a sleeping Indian. No. It’s an Indian’s head. No. It’s a box on a hill. The Crow thought the twin peaks looked like the two lobes of a buffalo heart — hence, the name. From my house, it reminds me of the profile of a French legionnaire.
Have you thought about the mountain’s gender identity? I’m using “it,” but most of the time I think of Heart Mountain as a “she.” Then, there are days when only a “he” will do. Those are times when I’m on his upper portions where he seems muscular and powerful.
The pronoun “she” comes to my lips when walking or riding the lower slopes, when I watch her gathering clouds around her like a vain woman playing with her scarves. Probably, as you drive between Cody and Powell, particularly on an evening, you’ve observed her profiling herself in various ways with the sunset and cloud formations. Always, her use of shifting light, color, and hue impresses. Sometimes she’s a harlot in scarlets and golds. Other times, she’s the virgin queen — all dressed in silvers and blues.
“What a drama queen,” I say to her. “Vain,” I laugh. “You’re just plain vain.” And, yes. Having spent much of my life on her lower slopes, I feel I’ve earned the privilege of speaking truth to her power.
The nature of the presence
Which brings us to Heart Mountain and her mystical aspects.
“She’s magic,” one of my riding buddies told me years ago. “It’s like she has a special force field around her.”
Other people have said much the same thing, ascribing mystical properties to her. My mother certainly did.
I’ll admit, Heart Mountain does influence weather patterns, breaking up winds, creating mini-climate zones, focusing storms. But there’s nothing mystical there. Or is there?
One thing is for sure: She/he has wormed her/his way into our psyches and become as iconic to the current white population as to the Crow and other tribes that populated the area. If you don’t believe me, thumb through a phone directory and look at all the businesses and associations of one sort or another that use Heart Mountain in their name.