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Do overs (Custom)


I recently shared a story from my past with a youth group – one more attempt to pinpoint those critical times when the best life lessons are learned.

It happened one day when I was on horseback to round up a herd of cattle from one pasture to move to another pasture for better grazing. Our ranch has huge tracks of land where the cattle graze, so in order to find all the cows, we each take a horse, spread out to different areas of the pasture and then converge back at the gate to the pasture with all the cows.

That day I was especially tired and truly thought the ride was going to take more energy than I had. After riding for a while, I climbed a hill to survey the area and to make sure I’d found all the cows. In the distance was a grove of trees. I couldn’t see any cows in there but I hollered loudly in that direction to see if any would run out of the trees.  Many times when they hear you making noise the mother cows run out to find their calves. Instead of riding over to check closer, when no cows emerged, I continued on with the cows I had already gathered toward the gate.

We count each cow as she comes through the gate and by the end of the drive; we realized we were missing nine pairs of cows with calves.  It is vital that we have all the cows and their calves with each move, so my dad started listing all the places he thought they might be. One by one, everyone confirmed they’d checked those spots thoroughly. Then he asked about the grove of trees in my area. I confirmed I’d looked “everywhere” but may not have checked the grove like I should.

The next thing I knew, I was headed back on my horse by myself to check that grove of trees while everyone else continued on moving the cows to the new pasture. Sure enough, the nine pairs were there and I now had the more difficult task of moving the nine pairs by myself to the new pasture. If I didn’t have energy to make the ride the first time, you can imagine how tired I was after going back the second time.

So the question that was posed at the time, and many times since is, “Why do we have more time to do it right the second time than we did the first time?” or “Why can we make the time for do-overs, but not make the time to do it right the first time.”

However you want to ask the question, I told the youth, “If you decide to make the right choice now, you won’t have do-overs that require repentance, fixing heartache and prevent future progression.” Do-overs not only waste time, but energy and emotion as well. There’s confidence that comes when you don’t cut corners and skip your responsibilities. But most important is the confidence God has in you and your ability to help him bring others back to the fold when they wander.

Last-minute, local holiday shopping

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Last-minute, local holiday shopping

The recent snow that’s blanketed the Bitteroot Valley is beautiful and gives me another reason to stay close to home for last-minute Christmas shopping. I whole-heartedly support our Main Street businesses and hope you will too.

Hamilton and our surrounding communities have wonderful shops and stores filled with beautiful and affordable gift ideas. I’m a big fan of gift cards and gift certificates that allow your favorite people to feel loved with the added bonus of their own shopping experience at the perfect time for the perfect item.

This year, our family is trying to focus our gift-giving with gifts that build relationships and make memories rather than just fills a space under the tree. I hope you’ll join me, even amid the chaos, to refocus on what matters most in our lives and enjoy peace this holiday season.

The following are a few of my favorite places to shop local:

  1. For children’s gifts: Main Street Toys just opened this fall adjacent to the Bitterroot Drug and is also owned by Pete and Jeni Siefert. I’ve always loved shopping for gifts at this historic pharmacy on Hamilton’s Main Street but now, there’s even more possibilities in this new toy store full of quality gifts.
  2. For memorable experiences: The “Flying Hawkes” will always recommend a scenic flight over the Bitterroot Valley as one of the best gifts you can give someone. Simply call Choice Aviation and they can arrange for the memorable and breathtaking experience. Call 363-6471.
  3. For practical gifts: With gas prices plunging, now is a great time to get more bang for your buck and share gift certificates from Lone Pine and Riverside Conocos. Located at the north and south ends of town, gift certificates are easy to pick up on your next fill up and are guaranteed to give someone a practical gift they will sincerely appreciate.
  4. For sweet treats: “Let someone else do the baking,” has always been my motto. I love Red Rooster Artisan Bakery in Hamilton as well as River Rising on Main Street. Ali Bowcutt at Red Rooster has an assortment of artisan breads and baked goods that are beautifully wrapped and ready for you to share with neighbors and friends. You can’t beat the cookies at River Rising and both bakeries have warm drinks and lots of smiles served.
  5. For clothing and accessories – I’m amazed how many wonderful clothing shops offer all you could want or need. Downtown Hamilton shops include Bellas, Fords, Foxwood, The Closet – all with wonderful employees and owners waiting to help you find the perfect gift.
  6. For local events that will knock their socks off – The perfect stocking stuffer can be a pair of tickets to a local event or concert. The Bitterroot Performing Arts Council has an upcoming dance performance in January. They also have a Main Street box office where you can drop in and see what else is on the calendar. We have world-class entertainment right here in the Bitterroot and the series makes perfect monthly date nights. I’m also so proud of our local theaters – the Hamilton Players and the Stevensville Playhouse gather great talent in our community for unforgettable plays and musicals. The gift of performance tickets help your loved ones not just gather things, but memories, which last much longer.
  7. For fine dining and good eats – Everyone loves a gift certificate to a fun restaurant and dinner they can look forward to. Some of my favorite spots in the Bitterroot Valley include The Wild Mare, Spice of Life, Bouilla, and Clatters (with a storefront right below the Iten Company – they send us their sweet aromas all day long).  Also, Big Creek Coffee Roasters, which is also located on the main drag of downtown Hamilton, offer gift certificates or awesome gourmet coffee presents for your loved ones.
  8. For your favorite outdoor enthusiasts – With so many amazing outdoor opportunities in Montana, you’ve got to have the gear to go with it. My favorite spots for all the right gear include Bob Wards & Sons, Al’s Cycle, Red Barn Bicycles, Hamilton Polaris and Murdochs.
  9. For your furry kids – Whether for a pet that’s a member of your family, or livestock that’s part of your livelihood, give them a little treat or accessory this holiday season. I love Murdochs and Wild About Pets in Hamilton where I always find exactly what they need.
  10. For ensuring quiet time: One of the best parts about the holiday season is to sit by a fire and read – to your children or maybe even a book you’d enjoy. Stop by Chapter One Book Store this week and pick up something for everyone on your list. Enjoy the season! Merry Christmas!

Influence of Families

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Influence of Families

On rare occasions, our kids get to stay with their cousins on the ranch when Brian and I need to be out of town. After our last trip to Rexburg, Idaho, I came away with such an appreciation for the good influence aunts and uncles can have on a child’s life.

For one, aunts and uncles can get your kids to do things they wouldn’t necessarily do at home. Although it was a lot of work for my brother, the kid weren’t about to tell him “no” after he caught all the horses, saddled them up and was ready to take them all riding to move cows.

My kids have a healthy fear of moving the cows when I’m not there. They don’t always want to do it, unless their uncle asks them to. He helps instill confidence and teaches life lessons when things are hard. Since he’s had more horse wrecks than anyone in my family, he’s the perfect guy to help them face their fears.


In addition, cousins often introduce kids to hobbies that parents don’t make time to do. My son, Cash, is clearly bound and determined to be a hunter and trapper someday. When he was three years old, I remember turning around in my seat and seeing him in his car seat holding out his hands and saying, “One day, these hands are going to hold a real gun.” It’s a dream that is coming closer to reality, thanks to his cousin, Cannon Hawkes. Cannon will take Cash to sit in his blind or to check his traps and Cash has the time of his life.


The day we flew from Hamilton to the ranch in Leadore to pick up the kids, I saw from the skies, my mom’s Econoline van down below and all the cousins piling out to meet us. Including my three, she was wrangling 10 grandkids between the ages of 2 and 12. I knew they’d had a great time and even more – I knew they were more accomplished, more brave and had more experiences to deepen their character while we were gone. Credit goes to a caring extended family.

All Because Two People Fell In Love

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I fell in love with my husband, Brian, for many reasons. Up until now, I didn’t know that one of those would be his mad skill at refrigeration installation. He swept me off my feet with intelligence, wit, humor and attention to detail. I also loved his spirit and willingness to serve others without hesitation.

All that has been put to the test serving our extended family on countless projects, cattle drives and thankless chores. But for some reason, his sacrifice and willingness to help design and install a new walk-in freezer and refrigerator at my parent’s ranch simply tops them all.

One of our business ventures has been Lone Pine Conoco, south of Hamilton. From the moment we began construction in 1997, Brian has been involved in every detail. As a result, he’s our family’s resident expert on refrigeration.

The cooler and freezer are as vital to a ranch operation as a tractor – just not as glamorous and never at the top of the list for capital improvements. From storing bulk groceries for three square meals for 10-15 ranch hands to storing vaccines and medicines – we couldn’t live without sufficient cold storage.

So the day the old refrigeration system blew it’s last cold breath was truly tragic.  Brian painstakingly measured and re-measured the space in the basement where the largest and most efficient system could be installed. He compensated for old electrical and all the variances an old ranch house provides. He ordered all the supplies including the compressor and condenser, wall material and shelving. For two days he worked steady and installed every bit. One night he wouldn’t stop until the caulking was complete.

My brother was impressed but could only shake his head and tease, “All because two people fell in love.”

It has been an emotional event for my mother. At one point she even texted me: “Going down to the cooler is like a religious pilgrimage.  I think I saw the image of the Virgin Mary on the door.” She also has a great sense of humor.  Because food chores never cease, my husband has done more to simply her life than anyone has done in years. She is a hard working ranch woman and deserved a little love from the farm budget. It’s always easy to justify the purchase of another farm implement or tractor or more cows, but this time, the investment was all for her and of course everyone else reaps the benefits by default.

To see my mom that happy, it’s hard for me to describe the level of gratitude I feel. It couldn’t have been a more romantic reveal – even if that was the last thing on Brian’s mind.

His attention to detail is what made all the difference in this first class system. The shelves were designed to be the exact size of the vaccine boxes or 10 dozen eggs or crates of bottled peaches and pears. He dreamt about it at night and woke with brilliant ideas to make it even better.

“If you’re going to do it, do it right,” he said at the time. But that’s his mantra for everything he does – with our businesses, his church/community service and all his work for our family.

My gratitude swelled to a whole new level this holiday season for my man and his mission to help our family succeed.


Canning Peaches

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Canning peaches


Certain opportunities give us a chance to step into our parents’ shoes and experience appreciation in a whole new way. My latest opportunity came as I stood face-to-face with 24 boxes of freshly picked peaches and pears waiting to be canned.

I had gone to my parents’ home for my cousin Melva’s funeral earlier this month and saw the peaches and pears in my mother’s basement. Without a shred of experience, I had wonderfully optimistic hopes of canning all that fruit so my mother wouldn’t have to.

At 40 years of age, I had somehow managed to miss any opportunity to help her with the annual ritual of bottling the fruit to store for the winter. I asked her how I missed out on helping her all these years and we finally realized that I was always outside instead – moving cows, farming or participating in school activities.

Canning time coincides with one of the busiest times of the year at the ranch. So while the rest of us were moving cattle, mom was downstairs canning all by herself. Every year, she has bottled more than 200 quarts of peaches and more than 80 quarts of pears, but often, it wasn’t enough to get us through to next canning season. Since fresh fruit is hard to come by on our rural ranch, hot meals at lunchtime for all the family and the ranch hands is always crowned with bottled peaches or pears for dessert accompanied by a cookie or piece of cake or pie.

But this year, I thought I would give her the gift of skipping this laborious chore. So I set myself up in her makeshift kitchen in the basement in a routine that is best described by the word, “precarious.” Not all of the burners work on her stove, so I set up some hot plates on rickety old TV dinner trays and found enough cords to connect to various electrical outlets so I wouldn’t blow a fuse – such are the challenges of living in an older ranch house. The large canner set on two stove burners while the saucepan for warming lids barely fit. I had sugar water heating and I was peeling and pitting peaches as fast as I could. I also couldn’t believe all the time required for preparatory chores like cleaning all the bottles and sanitizing all the lids and rings.

I have to admit, it was a lonely job and several times, I caught myself thinking grateful thoughts for my mother’s dedication to this chore of provident living.

After 10 hours of fast and furious work, I was disheartened to realize I had only made it though 7-and-a-half boxes of peaches. I was disappointed that my dent was so small, but my mom was of course, very grateful.

When it was all said and done, mom sent me a picture of her storage shelves proudly displaying the colorful jars – 207 peaches and 81 quarts of pears. It’s an amazing task that I doubt I’ll ever be able to match. But I’m grateful that I finally gave it a try and learned a few skills in the process.

Melva’s life of goodness

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Melva’s life of goodness


As Americans, our hearts are heavy on this day of remembrance. But mine is especially heavy, not only for those who left this world too soon 14 years ago, but for my cousin Melva Kauer who recently passed away unexpectedly. We celebrated her life last week and I’m so grateful for her example.

At age 80, Melva was one of the last of her generation and lived a full life on the family ranch in the Lemhi Valley. She was the daughter of my dad’s Aunt Lenna and much older than I, but I always felt close to her.

Remembering the tragedy of 9/11 often leads to self-introspection – Are we making the most of our life? Are we showing love to our family? Are we serving our fellow men? Are we grateful for those who sacrifice in our behalf? I feel it’s appropriate to pay tribute to Melva today because she could answer “yes” to all those questions.

She was a happy, service-oriented person. Despite the serious heartache in her life – including losing two of her four children when they were toddlers – Melva was so full of hope. I think she soothed her soul through service and losing herself to help others. She didn’t indulge in psychologists or anti-depressants to fight her pain; she simply found a cure by forgetting about her problems and helping others instead. She was a great example to me.

She had a deep love for her animals and especially the lambs she raised. They knew her voice and would come running at her call.

Just this summer, she put so much time and effort in finding a way to restore my great-grandparents wagon for our Centennial Ranch celebration. Her efforts really made our family reunion so much sweeter, and for many of us, we had no idea that it would be our last chance to be with her.

My children were able to sing a special hymn at her funeral. The words written by Karen Lynn Davidson will always remind me of Melva:


Each life that touches ours for good,

Reflects thine own great mercy, Lord;

Thou sendest blessings from above

Thru words and deeds of those who love.


What greater gift dost thou bestow,

What greater goodness can we know

Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways

Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.


When such a friend from us departs,

We hold forever in our hearts

A sweet and hallowed memory,

Bringing us nearer, Lord, to thee.


For worthy friends whose lives proclaim

Devotion to the Savior’s name,

Who bless our days with peace and love,

We praise thy goodness, Lord, above.


Elephant Ears

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Elephant Ears


Everybody’s summer ends with some singular event. Ours happens to come in the form of elephant ears.

For the last seven years, our oldest daughter has been a member of the Bitterroot Swim Team. Since then, her brother and sister have joined her in the pool and found a talent in competitive swimming across the state of Montana.

The only team fundraiser of the year is a booth at the Ravalli County Fair where swimmers and parents have an envious assembly line producing fluffy, yet crispy scones – fried bread smothered in butter, honey or cinnamon and sugar. It’s a favorite mid-way fare for our friends and neighbors and it’s a busy way to end our summer. The proceeds are used to pay our coaches and rent the swimming pool.

The Ravalli County Fair is always held over Labor Day weekend. Since joining the swim team, our family has also been involved in the booth in some capacity – either cleaning before the fair, cleaning the booth after a week of fast and furious dough stretching and bread frying, or being a part of the mad cooking while lines of patient customers wait their turn for a treat.

The science of thawing the dough, rising the dough, stretching the dough and cooking the dough is a carefully managed system of timing and ingenuity. The method is passed down from one family to the next and we all become closer friends as we work side by side.

This summer was worth celebrating as the Bitterroot Swim Team brought home its third state championship in a row. The kids are excelling and enjoying the experience. I’ll never forget the surprise of watching my 6-year-old figure out his strokes and eventually qualify for state in every event. I’ll always be grateful for the older kids who have set an amazing example of character for our young swimmers to look up to. We cheered each other on as times were shaved and swimmers achieved personal records as well as state records.

We’re grateful to raise our kids in the Bitterroot Valley with such wonderful families and friends. We’re grateful for swim coaches who give of their time and the Bitterroot Aquatic Center where they practice. And we’re grateful for the opportunity to work a booth at the Ravalli County Fair each year so that the organization can continue to support our kids in their pursuits and talents.

We hope to see you all at the fair this week with sticky hands and big smiles enjoying an elephant ear and celebrating our swimmers’ success.









Centennial Ranch

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Centennial Ranch


It’s been 100 years since my Great-Grandfather Whittaker stepped off a train and arrived in Leadore, Idaho, to establish a ranch of his own. He and his young wife loved the area that reminded them of home in Circleville, Utah, with the majestic mountains on either side of a wide valley and plenty of room to farm and graze. They built a cabin and raised 11 children in the Lemhi Valley. My Grandpa Whittaker was No. 3 of 11 and kept up his parent’s tradition of hard work. He really started expanding the ranch when he took over.

Legend has it, that the ranch had its beginnings started with two bum lambs. My grandpa, as a boy, had two lambs to care for and his brother got two as well. They bottle fed the lambs, kept them warm and eventually earned something for their round-the-clock efforts. His brother sold his sheep and bought a saddle. My grandpa took his earnings and invested in more livestock, which led to opportunities to purchase land … and so on and so forth. That decision by a young boy at a fork in the road made all the difference in the path he took and the progress he made.

My grandpa as well as my father became the anchors in the family operation. They both had a vision that guided every decision as more land was acquired; larger herds of livestock were developed and other ranching operations were purchased to add to the main ranch. His home became the epicenter of family activities and especially Fourth of July celebrations.

My father continued in his father’s footsteps and last Fourth of July, we held a Centennial celebration to honor the legacy and sacrifice of the Whittakers. More than 100 relatives from across the country gathered at my parents’ home.

We participated in the hometown activities like the EMT breakfast and the Leadore parade down Main Street. We then gathered at the house for a big meal of pulled pork and barbecue beef sandwiches and of course, a Centennial cake.

Older relatives spent the afternoon telling stories and sharing memories of the ranch. The highlight was bringing out the old wagon used by my great-grandparents. My cousin Melva went to great lengths to have the wagon restored and ready to roll.

The event was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed in those relatives who lived fairly close but chose not to attend. Moments like that are few and far between and I firmly believe we have to take advantage of opportunities to honor the past and strengthen family bonds for future generations.

I love the place where I grew up and all the life lessons I learned while working hard for the good of our family operation. I’ve tried to pass on those experiences to my children who are the fifth generation to work on our Centennial Ranch. I hope we all make my great-grandparents proud.



HGTV Results

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After my episode of “Living Big Sky” appeared on HGTV on May 30th, I had some great response. I heard from old friends from my days at Utah State University and from law school at the University of Montana who had seen the show and loved it. But most importantly, our Iten Company office received calls, emails and feedback from potential sellers and buyers. Read More

Filming for "Living Big Sky"


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It’s finally time! I’m so excited to announce that the HGTV episode of “Living Big Sky” featuring the Iten Company will air of May 30th at 9:30 P.M. and again at 12:30 a.m.on May 31st. So set your DVR’s to record and get ready to watch one of my proudest moments of 2014. Read More



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We’ve had some beautiful Spring weather in Montana and there’s no better way to enjoy it than from the air in our Cessna 182. I love where I live and I love my work, so add my awesome husband to the mix and it was the perfect day when we flew together to Horse Prairie, Montana, to meet with a ranch owner.

Driving would have taken me three hours to arrive at my destination, but instead we were there in 40 minutes. Read More


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As the snow begins to melt and flow to our rivers and streams, it’s also time to fill the pool and begin another season for the Bitterroot Swim Team. All three of my children are involved in the competitive team that includes swimmers ages 5 to 18 from Stevensville to Darby. Last year, we boasted 115 swimmers and have earned the Montana State Championship title for two years in a row. I just finished a three-year term as the club’s treasurer and am so happy about what we have accomplished. Read More



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I pulled my kids out of school for a week to work on my family’s ranch for calving season. Being on the ranch during the busiest times of the year is truly an educational experience. The part I love the most is taking each of my three children for one-on-one time. The rotation is not only fun, but functional as I teach new skills and make sure they understand the associated responsibility. My 11-year-old is old enough to drive the tractor that pulls the hay wagon, but I wanted to be sure she clearly understood the responsibility that comes with that chore. Read More



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Recently I made my annual pilgrimage to Leadore, Idaho and the Two Dot Ranch where I was blessed to be raised.  Those who know me, know that I travel to the home ranch every year at this time over my birthday which just so happens to fall during the heaviest time of our calving season. During the month of March, we usually get between 85-90 percent of our entire herd calved out.  It is the time of year that requires the most physically, mentally and even spiritually while at the same time being tremendously rewarding in these same areas as new life is born and treated with the utmost care.  In all my life, I’ve never experienced a calving season quite like this one. Read More



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Has everyone seen the Ravalli Republic today?!  Great article by Michelle McConnaha on some of our favorite people.  Congrats to the Johnsons’ on their new adventure!


The true Montana log cabin experience on a private lake is only a few minutes away from downtown Hamilton.

Angler’s Lodge is a hidden gem, offering many options and amenities for a private getaway or for largegroups – like family reunions and weddings.

Mike and Debbie Johnson lived in a city, and owned a large nursing home with heavy business responsibilities. One visit to Montana and they traded it all in. Read More



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Last weekend was a perfect time for a winter cattle drive. I can’t remember when the weather was this beautiful in February. Last year, I was a popsicle – a solid brick of ice on the back of my horse as we moved cattle 15 miles to the home ranch. I have never been that cold in my life. But this year, our Saturday cattle drive was warm enough for the whole family. Read More

our friend’s father’s yacht


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We love to celebrate love on Valentine’s Day, but now that Brian and I have been married this long, we’ve learned that love is much more than physical attraction. We believe that love has many facets – physical as well as emotional, mental and spiritual. If you don’t work on all four, then you don’t have a strong foundation. Physical love is only 25 percent of the whole picture when it comes to intimacy. Read More



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My husband and I never skied with our parents when we were kids, so that’s one goal we’ve made for our growing family. With Lost Trail Powder Mountain Ski Resort so close, our goal is attainable.

At the southern end of Ravalli County on the Idaho/Montana border and the Continental Divide, sits Lost Trail Ski Resort. The mountain receives more than 300 inches of fresh snow every season and the family-owned operation provides enough groomed trails to offer both family-friendly as well as extremely challenging adventures. Read More


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When I purchased the Iten Company in 2013, Tasha Nixon was already a part of the company.  She had been an employee of the business and transitioned easily with the new ownership. Now, after more than a year working together, I don’t know what I’d do without her. Read More



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One of the most exciting experiences of 2014 was the opportunity to help create an episode of a new HGTV series, “Living Big Sky.”  A camera crew of five came to Hamilton in December and we spent four days together filming. The producers of the show accepted nominations of Montana realtors to be featured in the reality show airing in early 2015. I didn’t apply, but a friend nominated me and I was certainly surprised when the producer called and said I had been chosen for the show. Read More


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With gas prices falling during December, more people have ventured out for the holidays. As families come and go from the Bitterroot Valley, I hope they make a conscious choice about where they fill up their vehicles. While all gas stations are affiliated with franchised brands, some are locally owned – like Lone Pine Conoco. Read More