Rattlesnake Mountain offers sweeping views of the historic McWhorter Ranch, a pristine property largely unchanged since it was settled in 1903, laced with dry grasses and sagebrush and home to elk and other wildlife. The ranch stretches down the mountain's south face across more than 20 square miles of Washington's shrinking shrub-steppe habitat.

In the not-so-far-off distance, another scene unfolds: the bustle of the nation's fastest-growing metropolitan area, complete with high-tech businesses and newly-planted vineyards to support a booming wine industry.

McWhorter Ranch is going up for sale June 1, and given its size and location, the property could very likely draw bids from agricultural and real estate developers. But state and local officials are working with conservation groups to try to raise enough money to stave off any speculators and preserve it.

"There aren't many of these big ranches left. It's a rarity and it's precious," says Jeff Tayer, regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "As rare as this is now and as precious as it is now, it's nothing compared to how rare it will be 20 years from now."

Lucullus Virgil McWhorter traveled west from Ohio to settle a sprawling stretch of land in arid south-central Washington in 1903, raising sheep, cattle and children. He developed relationships with the Native American tribes in the area, studied their culture and helped them defend their land and water rights.

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