There are many kinds of wildernesses, Aldo Leopold wrote in A Sand County Almanac, and each kind enforces a different set of responses from the people who live there. These responses evolve as cultures, patterns of relationship, adaptation, and submission between people and the land.

The American West is one such culture, or more accurately a half dozen related cultures, so recent that we have been able to watch it or them grow. The Wests are as different as Spokane and Santa Fe, Missoula and Moab, but they are made a kind of whole by their prevailing aridity and the adaptations it has made necessary; and those adaptations, begun in the earliest years of the frontier, have created differences in occupation, costume, attitude, life-habits, that mark the West off from other regions.

All of the Wests are young, still nascent. All have been more or less obscured by the myths of self-reliance, individualism, and anti-social independence that as cowboy or badman or lone-riding gunslinger hatched like cuckoo chicks in a robin's nest and crowded out the legitimate nestlings.

Cowboys, badmen, and gunslingers were a part of the historical West, but only for about a generation. In the mythical West of horse opera they go on, timeless, changeless, endlessly repetitive, preserved in amber or under glass, and they have taken our attention away from the real people of the real past and the real present.

The real cultures of the West, in contrast with the mythical one, developed slowly and against difficulties. Aridity made permanent settlement difficult. From  the beginning the West  was