CHEYENNE - Ranchers are true American heroes, said photographer and filmmaker Jim Keen.
Keen pays tribute to the lives and contributions of ranchers in his just-published book, "Great American Ranches of the West."
The book highlights 30 family-owned ranches in 17 western states and the people who operate them.
Among those in the book are two ranches in Wyoming - the Warren Ranch near Cheyenne and the Circle Bar Ranch.
The coffee-table styled book with high-quality slick pages is filled with nearly 600 of Keen's color photographs. He made the photographs during his many visits to the ranches. Keen started the book in 2002.
The photographs show the essence of life on a ranch. There's a photo of a moonlit prairie accented with a windmill.
There are photographs of the Wyoming ranch on a bone-chillingly cold, snow-covered morning to a cattle drive on a Texas ranch in the Gulf Coast.
Keen, with Ami Reeves, writes about the families who have been on the ranches for generations.
His engaging writing style includes stories about the history of gritty people who founded the ranches.
He writes about, for example, how ranchers on a Gulf Coast ranch in Texas must look out for alligators. He writes about a woman who became known as the Cattle Queen of Montana more than a century ago.
Ranchers he has met have many things in common, he said.
Independence is a common thread. "If you're going to be a rancher, you know how to do everything," he said.
A rancher may need to call on skills as a plumber, a veterinarian and a grassland manager all in one day, he said.
Other character traits among ranchers are integrity, honesty, a strong work ethic and hospitality.
The closest neighbor is 30 miles away for some people he interviewed. Those at one ranch have to travel 65 miles just to get their mail.