Harley Bates is steaming. He pushes past the off-duty cop standing in front of his ranch and charges the reporter and photographer.

"Get the hell off my land!" he says.

"Sir, I'm a reporter … "

"You're scaring people taking their pictures as they drive in!"

A quarter of a mile away, the roof of a school bus crowns a small hill. Through a telephoto lens, tiny figures mill about. The reporter and photographer take turns looking for wisps of cigarette smoke.

So begins the third day of the 2004 Adventure Team, a 12-day hiking, four-wheeling and canyoneering extravaganza on Utah's public lands and one of Philip Morris International's most secretive — and successful — Marlboro promotions.

Forty-two young men and women from Europe, Latin America and Asia, selected from more than 1 million applicants, are playing cowboy at the company's expense. (Because of legal constraints, Americans cannot participate.)

All contestants undergo a complex application process, each handing over their name, address and personal details about where they shop, what music they listen to and what they smoke. As more and more countries restrict tobacco advertising, the data allow the company to talk directly to its customers.

Marlboro marketers and outdoorsy camps — doubling as focus groups — whittled applicants down to a busload. The winners were flown in September to Moab, where Philip Morris showered them with fleece, leather and custom-made cowboy hats. By day, they crossed Utah's public lands, playing on ATVs and horseback, and by night, they retired to private ranches, like Bates'. In return, they surrendered their names and photos for future advertisements.

At the front gate, standing on public land, the reporter starts asking questions.

"Sir, the public has a right to know how Utah's public lands are used to promote cigarettes … "

"Nonsense!" yells Bates.

The photographer raises his camera. The reporter stands a little straighter and sucks in his gut.

Critics have long attacked the Marlboro Adventure Team's use of public spaces, arguing that America's canyons, deserts and picturesque birthrights shouldn't help sell cigarettes.

In response, during the last five years Philip Morris has gone underground, operating on both public and private land and keeping as low a profile as possible.

Which begs the question: Why bother? Why fly halfway around the world when the Alps, the Negev and the beaches of Micronesia are closer to the contestants? Is Utah really worth the trouble? And why does Moab, a magnet for environmental activists, turn a blind eye?

The answers, as John Wayne once noted, are "land and money, the two things that drive men mad."

The reporter presses on: "We just want to speak with the team … "

Bates invites the reporter to kiss a certain part of his anatomy and walks away. The rising sun begins its attack on the surrounding red rock towers. Then the cowboy stops and spits toward the interlopers.