I met an old cowboy, 
I saw the look in his eyes, 
Something tells me he’s been here before, 
Because experience makes him wise. 
 – Guns N’ Roses

The main reason that I got into photography was because of my father. My dad has always enjoyed photography, and he likes traveling and exploring. That’s pretty much his only real hobby, and so I finally broke down and bought a Nikon D200 in order join him in that.

For a while there we’d take short (and long) trips throughout the Southwest looking for interesting places and landscapes to photograph. That became one of the fun parts of photography for me – having a plan but being open to seeing what would develop if you were willing to let it happen.

Not long ago, I saw a picture of a couple standing on a playa. I immediately wanted to try and find it. I enlisted my dad and we headed off down toward Wilcox, AZ, to see if we could get out there and take a look.

Once we arrived we searched everywhere for a way onto that stupid playa and never did find what we were looking for. One of those failed attempts led us by chance down a long dirt road that ended with a sign that said “Museum Ranch – No Trespassing.”

We turned around and I noticed a house on the left with a man standing out back. Dad pulled up and I got out, waved at the guy, started walking toward him, and introduced myself. The gentleman’s name was Rick and I asked him how we could get to the playa. His response was, “Well that ain’t goin’ to happen from here.” When I asked him for directions, his response was not reassuring since it was basically take the next 2 lefts and then look for the playa on the left.

I thanked him and was about to leave when Rick ventured the following comment. He said, “I don’t know, but yous being a photographer, Museum Ranch would be the place to go. They have a lot of real interesting stuff down there.”

I perked up and said, “Really, like what?” He responded, “Well, Fargo has worked in the movie industry for a long time. He’s 84 or so and he’s running a bunch of cattle down there, but he’s got a chapel, stage coaches and all kinds of stuff down there. Hell, the TV show ‘American Pickers’ came out there last year and he charged them $500 just to look around. Fargo don’t do nothing for free.”

I said, “Well that sounds real interesting. How do you get to Museum Ranch?”

“You don’t, not without an invitation.”

“How does one get an invitation?”

“You have to talk to Fargo.”

“Well, can I e-mail Fargo?”

“Hell, no, he ain’t got no computer.”

“Can I call him?” I asked.

“No, ain’t got no cellphone either.”

“Well,” I asked, “how do you talk to Fargo?”

“Oh, he comes up here every three or four days and eats some of our food and drinks some of our beer,” Rick replied.

“Well, the next time you see him, you let him know I’d like to talk him,” I said and peeled off a business card and gave it to Rick.

I got back in the car and figured that would be the end of it. About five days later at work, I got an e-mail from Rick telling me that I could call Fargo at a number he had attached as long as I did it before 7:00 am.

So, I called Fargo the next day and was surprised to have a very friendly (and lucid) conversation. We set a date to visit the following Saturday.

Dad and I left for Wilcox early on Saturday morning. I was dressed and in my normal exploring clothes – cargo shorts, hiking boots, t-shirt and a baseball hat. We arrived at the end of the same dirt road we’d stumbled upon earlier. As promised, the gate was open and we drove on up to the ranch.

Getting out of the car, I was confronted with an old man, who was still thin, hard and  weathered. He wore a black cowboy hat, bandanna, a light blue Western shirt, jeans and a fancy pair of cowboy boots. I knew this had to be Fargo.

He looked at me with measured gray eyes that I imagine at one time had to be a bright blue and said without preamble, “God d***mit, you come down here wearing that sh*t! You’re on a ranch now, you need to dress like it.” Then he paused and said,”You’re six minutes late. Well I guess you better come up to our place and have some coffee.”

And just like that, I knew that the effort of getting down here was going to result in a great day. My dad and I sat and talked with Fargo and his right-hand man Cuatro for about an hour.

Fargo shared stories of all the movies he’d worked on, the actors he’d met and the things they had done. Everywhere you looked, there were small pictures of Fargo with famous people, riding horses or signed memorabilia. He sold John Wayne a horse. He worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, and the list just goes on. In fact, if you’ve seen a Western movie from the 70s, 80s or early 90s, chances are good you’ve seen some of Fargo’s stagecoaches, wagons,  horses and other Western gear.

It was a fascinating conversation with a guy who took a road less traveled, was better for it and had reached a stage in life where he has the freedom to call it like he sees it and could care less what others think.

We toured his place and the memorabilia there was simply amazing. In the end, I took a few quick pictures of Fargo and one of Cuatro. They have become some of my favorite portraits and really symbolize to me all that I love about photography — which is that you need to connect with people in order to get a great photo and that means you have to enter into their world, and I’m always richer for it.

I plan on going back and when I do I’ll take more pictures – and I won’t forget to wear jeans this time.