Alex Ebel’s 1980 Gila monster poster for Nocona Boots

Our family moved to Estes Park, Colorado, in 1981 when I was about 6 years old. It was a small town nestled in the picturesque Rocky Mountains, and my dad got a job as the manager of the local diner, “The Coffee Bar”. I would go in and help clean dishes and work in the kitchen to earn the world’s best, juiciest burger, hot French fries, and chocolate milkshake. Across the street was a boot store, aptly named “Boots” to my recollection, ran by an old timer who also went by the name “Boots”. He was a kind and funny man, a true cowboy the likes that are only seen in old westerns and their modern remakes. Never without his cowboy hat or boots, nor his large shiny belt buckle depicting some rodeo challenge long since won. Always ready to spin a yarn, tell a tale, or impart some old west wisdom, visiting Boots was always a relished treat for a young boy new to the mountains of Colorado.

Sometimes after working at the diner my dad and I would go to visit with Boots. On the wall, Boots had several Nocona Boot posters including the Gila monster print shown above. I do not know why, but the picture struck me like a bolt of lightning. Its beautiful, cryptic black and orange pattern, beaded skin, and tenacious bite peaked my wonderment, so I asked Boots what kind of lizard that was. His response furthered the mythos as his description of the Gila monster went something like “the toughest, meanest, reptile this side of a diamondback rattler. Once they bite, they don’t let go. You have to pry them off with pliers, kinda-like they guy in the poster is going to do”. I was hooked and couldn’t get home fast enough to learn more. Utilizing my pre-internet Wikipedia resource, the World Book Encyclopedia, my research for the Gila monster started. There was not much to read about in the encyclopedia, which provided a scant line of text and minuscule drawing of the venomous lizard, so the library was the next place to go. but, the local and school libraries had a few books on reptiles, each only sharing a black and white photo and brief mention of the Gila monster which had become a mythical creature in my mind the likes of which only a young boy can imagine.

My curiosity for Gila monsters has never subsided. Few things in life have held my fascination this long, but none still fill me with a child-like wonder like the magical Gila monster. And it all that started from this poster, back in 1980-something.

PS – There is not much information on this poster, or the “Let’s Rodeo” campaign that Nocona Boots commissioned famed sci-fi and fantasy illustrator Alex Ebel. I do know there were about a dozen of them and the actual prints (not the ads) have become highly collectible. I am glad old Boots gave me his print when the shop closed down. It hangs in my home office to this day and serves as a reminder of youthful days filled with wonder and the hunger for knowledge, and time with my dad who passed away last year. Let’s Rodeo!

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