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The Son Of The Madam Of Mustang Ranch | By: Joe Leonard

8557cvrCompelling, adventurous and inspirational, The Son of the Madam of Mustang Ranch, is a memoir. Guns, violence and lust; wars between two houses of prostitution, gambling rife and aplenty, and debauchery. It was a crazed and corrupt world, and Joe Leonard was born right into it. Beyond all, this is the story of how Joe gained the courage to leave the dark realm he had inherited behind and return to the natural and untamed world of his youth, in pursuit of his better angels. His journeys carried him to Africa, Costa Rica, the Arctic, and the Indian villages of the Sierra Madre. He kayaked the hundred-year flood of the Salmon River in Idaho, completed the first winter ascent of Mount Regan in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, was blown up the face of a cliff in the embrace of a windstorm, believing all the while it would most likely be his last moment on earth, and was saved from an avalanche by the hand of God.

Joe pioneered the first back-country hut-to-hut skiing system in the United States and held the first white-water rodeos in the country. He even met Jesus Christ, in the flesh, when he came to Mustang Ranch in a Volkswagen Van to save the girls from their unholy ways.

He spent much of his life speaking, photographing and supporting environmental issues.

Joe guided and was photographed by National Geographic, SKI Magazine, Town and Country, TIME magazine and PBS Idaho.           
Buy / More about:  The Son of the Madam of Mustang Ranch

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Home > Galleries > Joe > Ski huts - Yurts, Wall Tents, Igloos, Snow Caves

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A snow cave in the Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho - 1979

Snow caves are a good alternative to tents; you don't have to carry them on your back and they are warmer and totally wind resistant. The following story is a classic survival story.
In February of 1982 two young ladies were coming to Stanley, Idaho on a Friday after work. They wanted to participate in the "Stanley Stomp" - a great fun, anything-goes time, for people to just cut loose.
The young ladies left Boise, Idaho dressed in their party clothes: blue jeans, cowboy boots, and light weight blue jean coats to drive highway 21 to Stanley. Part of highway 21 was in a canyon that was steep and narrow. The department of highways would close that section of the road when they determined it was dangerous. What the girls didn't know was that a major storm was already dumping heavy snow on the Sawtooth Mountains.
When they arrived in Lowman, Idaho, the highway department had already erected their road closed sign and barrier for the winter. There wasn't a lot of snow in Lowman yet, so the ladies decided to go around the barrier and on to Stanley. They drove up the mountain highway for 15 or 20 miles when their car got badly stuck.
They made a decision to walk the rest of the way to Stanley. Apparently a boyfriend of theirs said that if they didn't make it by dark on Friday night he would come looking for them on his snow machine. The girls walked for several miles following the highway, until, exhausted from fighting the 2 feet of snow that had accumulated, they sat down in the middle of the road and waited for their rescuer. He never showed up.
Of course we had no knowledge of their folly until the Sheriff in Lowman called the Stanley Sheriff on Tuesday next and explained that two young ladies had been reported missing. They hadn't shown up for work Monday morning, or Tuesday, and their families hadn't heard from them. A person one of the girls worked with said she remembered overhearing a phone conversation and the mention of the "Stanley Stomp." Also, someone in Lowman had noticed a car on Friday, after dark, pass through Lowman headed up the highway towards Stanley. On Monday afternoon a rescue group from Lowman had attempted to snowmobile up the highway towards Stanley to see if they could find them, or at least their car. By that time five or six feet of snow had fallen and large avalanches has slid down the canyons, and because it was still snowing heavily there was too much avalanche activity for them to continue on.
The Stanley Sherriff gathered up a group of people with snow mobiles, a Thycol snow crawler that belonged to the Harrah Company, and me because of my experience with avalanche danger. At that time I owned a Larven. A Larven was similar to a snowmobile except it was much lighter and the rider wore his skis and used them to turn the machine. The group showed up at my house at about 3:30 in the afternoon on Tuesday, and, because the Larven was slower then the snow machines we picked it up and put it on the bed of the Thycol and started out, hopefully, to find the young women who had been missing for four days and nights.
Between Friday when the girls started on their ordeal and Tuesday afternoon the storm had laid down about 8 feet of snow. Snow machines are very efficient in snow, unless their is a lot of it - and there was a lot of snow.
The Thycol had no problem plowing through that much snow but top speed was about 7 miles per hour. For awhile the snow machines tried staying behind the Thycol but snow machines don't run well at slow speeds, and we had a long way to go before dark. Finally, the rescuers on snow mobiles went around us at high speed but didn't get far before they were stuck in the deep snow.
We took the Larven off the Thycol and I went ahead to see what I could do. The Larven was so light that it would float on top of the snow. I went over Blind Summit and started down the road to Lowman, but I soon discovered that there had been many avalanches that had piled up on the highway, which wasn't a problem for the Larven. It easily climbed over the debris and I continued on. Soon I came to an area with a steep slope above the highway that hadn't slid yet. It was too dangerous to drive the Larven under the potential slide area because I was alone; if I was caught in a slide, the rescuers would have another rescue on their hands, and they wouldn't even know where to begin looking.
I turned around and rode back to the find David Kimpton and Steve Coal; they had made good time in the Thycol and they weren't far behind. I told them of the problem, but because it was getting dark and because the storm had passed through the temperature was dropping rapidly it was imperative to continue the search. If the ladies were going to survive they needed to found soon.
I told them about the slide area that I had to cross, and turned on my Peeps to transmit. Peeps is an avalanche transmitter and receiver that is designed to find you if you're buried in snow. I gave them another and turned it to receive: it would pick up my signal if I were buried. And I went on ahead.
I crossed the avalanche area safely and went on down the highway on my Larven. A short time later I passed a hole in the snow. The opening was about two feet around. I was going quite fast because it was getting dark and I stopped about 20 feet past the hole. I got off the machine and skied back. I had seen holes like this in the snow before, at the den of a hibernating bear and also a squirrel who was nesting under the snow. I bent down and looked in the hole and saw the young ladies sitting on the pavement 6 feet down. They were alive. They looked at me and relief flooded through them; after 4 days of being in the hole they had given up being saved. They stood up and frantically tried to climb out of the snow cave that had formed around them. Later, I learned that they had walked through snow that was waist deep until they were so exhausted they could go no further and they sat down. It was snowing so hard and heavy that they were covered by the falling snow, and their body heat had melted the snow that had fallen on them, forming a snow cave around them. The snow had saved their lives!
When they came up out of the snow cave they were sopping wet from melted snow. They were very cold and hypothermic. I didn't have any clothes but what I was wearing. I gave them my coat, wind pants and anything else I could spare. Fortunately, at that moment the Thycol arrived with David Kimpton and the Steve Coal the driver. The Thycol had a heater inside and we were able between the three of us to get them out of their wet clothes and dry them out.
We radioed for an ambulance to meet us in Stanley and got them to safety. They survived. They had frost bite on their toes and else ware on their bodies and physically were not badly damaged. The mental trauma they had gone through was intense, and that took a time to overcome.
They were saved by the snow isolating them from the wind and cold temperature outside of the cave. If it hadn't snowed so much, so quickly, they would not have survived the first night. The snow cave had kept them alive for four days and four nights. If we hadn't found them when we did they wouldn't have survived the fifth night.

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