Life in the Real Desert: Westerns and Old Movies

Town sign outside of Burger King

Town sign outside of Burger King
My life in the real desert thus far has consisted of much more than personal injury and the shock of having no television. It includes the reading of old western favorites and movies that remain in the collection. Split into blu-ray, NTSC, Region 0 and Pal, the DVDs are spread out between RV and 5th wheel. In terms of stimulation, the tales by Louis L’Amour are hard to beat. Each story a sort of male romance novel built around rugged and hard men who must either fight, solve a mystery or puzzle, or defeat a villain who has designs on the girl of the protagonist’s dreams.

It took me awhile to figure out that these adventure stories of the old west were, in fact, the male answer to Harlequin Romance. These gunfighters, gamblers, cowboys, miners, lawmen, soldiers and so on are all just men searching for something. In the books it is either home, land, destiny and/or a woman. Each hero is an individual who yearns to put down roots, eventually for some and sooner for others, and they are tired of being a lone traveller.

The best thing about the heroes in L’Amour’s books is that the partner they seek is not a helpless and timid female. These men want strong women who will be an equal partner in the relationship. In that sense the author, through his protagonists, was an early feminist supporter way before it became fashionable. Considering L’Amour wrote during the 1950s and 60s he was ahead of his time.

While hanging the title of feminist around the neck of this self-educated wandering man may feel awkward, it is worth remembering that L’Amour himself was a strong character. A man who struck out to explore the world and all it had to teach him in his early teens. There is little doubt that his own strength moved him to admire the trait in anyone else who possessed it and this is reflected in his writing.

Each of the many books written by the late author are “page-turners,” and impossible to put down until the tale is finished. Many of his stories have been made into films or, in the case of the Sackett sagas, made for TV programs starring Sam Elliott and Tom Selleck as two of the many brothers in the large clan.

Perhaps it is the location I’m in that makes the reading of these books seem a necessity. While L’Amour’s writing about the West took in all of the frontier, many of his characters crossed not only the plains but the deserts of the southwest. Some died from attacks by indigenous tribes of the region and others for lack of water in a dry and barren land. Still more were victims of a slow draw or died as the result of poor judgement.

The area where I live, like others that have been home in the US, feels like a land “out of time” and if one suddenly came across a calvary patrol, dusty, tired and sweat stained from their efforts it would not be surprising. The people who populate the country now are just as fiercely independent as the settlers, nesters, ranchers, cowboys and pioneers that L’Amour writes of in his stories. All that is missing, when one goes to town, is the sound of spurs jangling on a boarded sidewalk.

deserted house in the desert

Rather interestingly, out of all the films in my collection, Westerns have not been viewed very often. Possibly because most of the ones on hand were filmed in either Mexico (Durango) or some other “standard” setting favored by the studios, like Death Valley et al. Although that may not be the case at all.

It could well be that this part of the “old West” is new to me. From Hi Jolly’s grave to the infamous Yuma state (territorial) prison miles down the road, all the local history, from Tyson Wells stage stop to the army presence here in this part of the desert, is waiting patiently for me to discover it. It is all, except for Hi Jolly, new to me.

Once the dust has settled from my move, a lot of research into the area will be done. I have already read about the camel experiment and a short book about Arizona Rangers has provided a wealth of information about the times and, rather interestingly, about news coverage of events back then.

The small stage stop museum is only open part time and once my injuries clear up completely, I will be seeking information on the old way of living in the real desert. A lifestyle that is only remembered, it seems, in western books and movies.

14 April 2015

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

25 thoughts on “Life in the Real Desert: Westerns and Old Movies”

    1. Thanks matey. One of Louis L’Amour’s characters states in a book that healing in a higher elevation is faster, if that is the case, I was lucky to have been injured here! LOLOL


  1. It takes a strong man to be a “feminist” as we didn’t grow up with those values. But great women, in my own family, showed me the way. I can proudly say that some of my very best friends are Women, and any guy who hasn’t discovered them is a way big loser. So hats off to Louis L’Amour partner…


  2. I taught a course in Lore of the West for seven years. Years later a “boy” who has since become the town sheriff came up to me in a bar and said, “Remember that Louie L’Amour book you taught us?” I said yes and he proceeded to proudly retell the entire plot. As he left, he turned around and said, “That’s the only whole book I’ve ever read in my whole life.”


      1. Not quite sure what the “Ha” is in reference to…That said, I’ve followed your blog, I love the poem, and tweeted it on my feed. I’m assuming, a dangerous thing I know, that you are the friend that Marilyn is referring to… Cheers!


    1. I honestly believe, although I’m a recent denizen of this desert sidetrack, that it has probably not changed much over the years. πŸ™‚ thanks for stopping by and commenting and I have to confess, I quite like the sculpture as well! Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think, as I’ve gotten several different answers from various folks, about an hour and a half or so from the “big city.” Although if one travels by “Greyhound” it apparently takes over three hours. πŸ™‚


  3. Really beautifully written. The only western I know shot in Arizona was Tombstone (our current favorite righteous violence fix), having been to Tombstone and hoping to get back at least once more in this life.

    This is a brilliant analysis of a genre. Never read a better one or one AS good. I tweeted and Facebooked you. Depending on whether or not I have a bright idea tomorrow, I might just reblog this post.

    The problem with Arizona as a place to shoot is probably the hugeness of the cities and the negativity of the politics. It’s easier to shoot almost anywhere else. The local pols need to get over themselves and rejoin the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for the kind words of praise! I have stated my views on the Western genre in conversations past and realized that I’d never written them down. It seemed like a good time to do so. I’d forgotten about Tombstone being filmed here and I am learning about Arizona politics a bit at a time. I’d forgotten about their “immigration” solution down here…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Basically, they harass anyone who doesn’t look American, read “white.” Especially out in the less populated areas. They need to get their collective heads out of their asses and reenter the real world. Meanwhile, Arizona is getting a very bad smell attached to it … probably not entirely deserved, but reactionary politics has that effect on the rest of the world. You can add Indiana to the elite list of backward states. I wonder how many more are going to resign from the 21st century? Probably going to get worse before it gets better.


      2. So, in essence, Arizona has turned into the WASPs of the Southwest…Wonder if someone “shook” Indiana and made a group fall down to the desert? Just a thought, but considering the local attitude towards modern Internet, modern Backward State is a pretty apt description…


      3. Mike, You’ve summed up my love of westerns so very well. If you’re a real westerns film fan, it’s about more than the classics. I have a special affection for the “B” westerns, including those from 50’s — the Republic oaters in Cinecolor with Forrest Tucker, Rod Cameron, Jim Davis, Wild Bill Elliot and others. Then there are the UI (Universal International) westerns of the 50’s with Audie Murphy, Rory Calhoun, Dan Duryea and Stephen McNally. Most of these were lean, well acted, action-filled and often dark endings. I’m preaching to the choir here, I know. I’ve read a lot of the Louie L’Amour westerns, Jack Sher (“Shane”), Zane Grey, etc. They, too, are lean and mean. Westerns have always been an escape for me. I know about the reality of those times involving prejudice and injustice but I go with the legend rather than fact. Marilyn and I hope to return to Tombstone. So, here’s also hoping we get to see you and hang out. Marilyn has filled me in on some of your current “back story”. Hang in there. You’ll do, Pilgrim!


      4. Thanks Garry! I always enjoy it when you stop by and I’d love to touch base with you two in Tombstone! I agree with you, by the way, about the “b” westerns. Many an “oater” come on telly and I tried to watch them all; the good, the bad, the ugly, and the indifferent were all fodder for my imagination and the ideas of what the “real west” was. Like you, even though I know that the fact does not match up to the legend, I also tend to take the Liberty Valance road and believe the legend! πŸ™‚


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