MEETEETSE — The dot of land deep in the woods, dozens of miles from any town, would have been perfect.
To get there, she would have had to pack in. The first car to drive even close came through just 12 years earlier.
That’s why Amelia Earhart picked it.
The famed aviatrix would have gone unnoticed and unbothered.
Mount Sniffel to the south would have cast long shadows in the summer afternoon, enveloping her cabin in cool.
Below, Wood River would have whispered the only sound.
Yes, it would have been perfect. The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic asked friend and Meeteetse rancher Carl Dunrud to build her a summer home on the spot. He cut logs and laid the beginnings of walls in 1936.
One year later, Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10 Electra disappeared over the Pacific Ocean during her attempted around-the-world flight, and Dunrud stopped building.
Monday marks 75 years since Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan went missing. Researchers with the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery return to the Pacific atoll Nikumaroro this week with sonar and robots to try, once and for all, to find Earhart’s plane. A 1937 photograph discovered earlier this year shows what could be a landing gear sticking out of the Pacific.
Had history gone much differently — had potentially credible radio signals gone noticed, had Navy ships and planes found clues in the ocean — Earhart would have come here, to the Wyoming quiet, to get away.
The remnants of Earhart’s cabin have endured more than seven decades of wind and winter on the Shoshone National Forest. Two walls have been weathered away completely, evergreen trees growing in their place. What’s left are four logs splintering and sinking into the soil.
“It’s not going to take much before it’s all just a pile of dust,” said Joan Dunrud, Carl Dunrud’s daughter-in-law.
Earhart’s connection to northwestern Wyoming began with her husband, publisher George Putnam.
Putnam, his son and first wife, Dorothy, took a trip to Yellowstone National Park in 1921. Carl Dunrud, a packer for tourists in the park, led the Putnams on their trip. A few years later, George Putnam came back.
“We went out and had a grand time,” Dunrud wrote in his book, “Let’s Go! Eighty-five Years of Adventure,” which draws on journal entries he kept throughout his life. “We left the trail many times and started for the wildest places on the map.”
Putnam told Dunrud he should quit his job and join him on an expedition to northern Canada.
Dunrud did quit in 1925. But when he got to the Putnam home in New York to prepare for the trip, plans had changed. Putnam was to go to Greenland to bring back animal specimens for the American Museum of Natural History. Still, he wanted Dunrud to come.
“Now I wondered how I would place on the ship’s roster. I was a green hillbilly from the Sweetgrass Hills of Montana and a ‘retired’ Yellowstone Park ranger,” Dunrud wrote. “Everyone else on the roster, except the sailors, was a high-powered scientist of one kind or another.”
But Dunrud found his place. Photographs show him butchering a walrus in the arctic, roping a polar bear cub from a row boat.
Some eight years later, Dunrud was back in Wyoming. He had purchased the ghost town of Kirwin — a remote mining camp dead since 1907 — and ran the nearby Double Dee Ranch outside of Meeteetse.
Putnam wanted his second wife, Amelia Earhart, to camp and experience the Wyoming he had in the ’20s. They planned a trip to the Dunruds’ ranch for July 1934.
Earhart arrived first. She drove cross country in her air-cooled Franklin and went unrecognized until she reached Douglas. Dunrud had to adjust her carburetor to the 8,200-foot altitude so she could make it to the Double Dee, said Jim Dunrud, Carl’s son.
During Earhart’s stay, photographer Charles Belden snapped images of her sitting on the corral and joking with Carl Dunrud as he pretended to cut her hair with sheep shears.
She posed for a photo in a checkered shirt, one arm around the Dunruds’ dog, Tag, the other around Jim, then 2 years old. The image hangs in Jim and Joan Dunrud’s home today.
Earhart liked the sound of the stream at night; it put her to sleep, Jim Dunrud said.
Carl Dunrud led the couple on a two-week pack trip through the mountains. Before they left Wyoming, Earhart filed on a mining claim one mile upstream from Kirwin.
“She saw a spot that she would really like,” Joan Dunrud said.
Prior to her final flight, Earhart sent some of her things to the Double Dee Ranch to be stored until her cabin was finished, including a flight jacket and a buffalo coat given to her by actor William S. Hart.
She sent a wooden chest of gifts to the Dunruds with a bamboo fishing pole and Winchester .22 rifle.
Joan Dunrud said Carl likely harvested timber on the spot to build the cabin. He wrote in his book that four walls had been built about halfway up by July 2, 1937.
“Then she was lost,” Jim Dunrud said. “And that was the end of the cabin.”
He said his father corresponded with Putnam following the disappearance, but Putnam never came back to stay with the Dunruds. During World War II, the family had to shut down the Double Dee.
Earhart’s flight jacket and buffalo coat have since joined the collections of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody.
By the 1970s, the cabin had begun to rot. Carl Dunrud wanted the community to remember her, so he had a small stone monument erected in Meeteetse.
A photograph from 1984 shows four walls — only a few logs high — and a door frame.
Last week, Jim and Joan Dunrud went back to the cabin to show two journalists the site. They hadn’t visited in a couple years.
The door frame is gone. The remnants of only two walls are left. “Boy, it is really melting away,” Joan Dunrud said.
Any human remains out in the Pacific would be long gone. Pieces of plane would be deep on the ocean floor.
Earhart’s cabin, too, will soon crumble away, leaving no traces behind.
“To be out in the weather that long,” Joan Dunrud said, “it probably stands to reason we’d all deteriorate.”