We learned that recently with the loss of a great sports figure.

Closer to home, another giant has left us, creating waves of sadness that touch not only those who knew him but destroying a link to the rich history of our region.

Local rancher, cattleman, businessman and outdoorsman Frank Mendenhall, 62, passed away Monday after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.

While I considered my friendship with this gentle giant to be deep, it turns out that just about anyone who knew Frank feels the same way. It’s the kind of man he was.

Even those who didn’t know him well remember him as “that big guy.”

He filled a room, not only because of his 6-foot, 5-inch frame, but for his gentle spirit, intelligence, broad curiosity of life and nature, and a seemingly unlimited willingness to help anyone in need.

Frank was born in Love Valley at the eastern toe of Palomar Mountain. He was part of the historic Mendenhall family that homesteaded the mountain in the mid-1800s.

He was deeply connected to the land, spent a lifetime exploring his home range, but also enjoyed traveling to Europe, Canada and throughout the United States, but always on the backroads where he could meet the real people.

The quickest way to get Frank’s attention was to suggest a root beer float or a chance to be with his three granddaughters. He’d drop everything for that opportunity.

Frank was as comfortable on a horse roping and rounding up cattle as he was on a tractor or working a chain saw.

“He loved the outdoors, hunting and the cowboy life,” said his brother-in-law Gary Whyte. “He was always there to help. You never had to ask.”

Frank had broad interests and was a deep thinker, often emerging with incredible insight to complex problems. He had the cowboy talent, borne of necessity for sure, that allowed him to do almost everything from repairing cars and farm equipment, plumbing, electrical, concrete work, welding, running barbed wire, fixing a well clogged with mud, or you name it.

He was also innovative, founding a grass-fed cattle company, a popular hunting club on thousands of acres around Palomar, and operating Lake Henshaw Resort, campground and store and finding ways to improve fishing at the lake.

His active mind was always looking at ideas that some might consider a little wild, such as a zip line from the top of Palomar Mountain down to Lake Henshaw, a hunting lodge at the old Honor Camp northwest of Lake Henshaw, or business plans to find cheaper sources of gasoline.

I spent many a day in the field with Frank. He showed me nesting eagles, hawks, deer herds, wild turkey and historic Indian village sites. He was in tune with nature and understood the necessary balance between man and the environment. He was just as happy in a field of wildflower as he was with a trophy deer.

One of the most special times we spent together was my wedding day.

I had proposed during a picnic on Mendenhall property and we had stopped by Lake Henshaw to share the good news with Frank and his wife, Janice.

Frank’s face lit up at the news and they asked where we planned to get married? We had no idea. The ink on the proposal was still wet.

Without hesitation they insisted we marry on their property in Will Valley and they “would take care of everything.”

The night before our wedding, Frank dug a pit with a backhoe, built a fire and let it burn down to glowing coals. After roasting overnight, glorious deep-pit barbecued pork came out of the ground to the delight of our guests. It was the finest I have ever tasted.

Travelers along Highway 76 below Palomar Mountain might notice signs designating the route as the Joel Mendenhall Memorial Highway.

Frank and Janice lost their son Joel in as tragic ranching accident seven years ago. Like Frank, Joel shared the cowboy ethic, honesty, warmth and willingness to help anyone in need.

Age 62 is way too young by today’s standards, but there must have been a need for a man like Frank somewhere else.

With a good rifle, open country, flowing streams, a bottle of his favorite Wiser’s Canadian Whiskey waiting in camp, family and good friends around him, I know he will continue wearing that soft smile that so defined him.

Travel the backroads well on the wings of the angels, my giant friend.

Email ernie@packtrain.com or visit erniesoutdoors.blogspot.com