The Arizona Desert: Old West Revisited…Sort Of

Old Tucson Studios Western Town SetSince heading down to the Arizona desert, it does feel sort of like I’ve revisited the old west. Of course a lot of that feeling is down to the fact that if I’m not bicycling or traveling “shank’s mare” to make the 13 mile round trip (plus) to town and back, I’ve no satellite for television. [Or Internet that works well enough to watch anything else.]

Now before folks start thrusting fingers and shouting at me to stop whining, let me explain.

I’ve spent most of the last year watching television shows and doing recaps/reviews each and every week. There was a long list of shows that I covered. From new ones like” Gotham” and “Scorpion,” to older popular ones like “The Walking Dead,” I covered as many as I could. Since many came on at the same time, I used the DVR and Hulu Plus to the maximum extent possible to catch-all that were available.

Now, I’ve only my DVD collection to watch, and write on occasionally, to keep me amused. I’ve discovered that free WiFi, while not strong enough for the screeners sent by Sony/SyFy for “Helix”, work (just barely) for Hulu and Netflix. I’ve not tried Amazon Prime just yet to see if this works at Carl Jr’s or Burger King.

Oddly enough, I had gotten out of the habit of watching telly while living in England. Oh, I had a few favorites. I spent a pretty exciting and very entertaining time binge watching Breaking Bad after finally discovering what all the fuss was about. The Walking Dead was another instant addiction as was American Horror Story.  But other shows on the box were ignored. My biggest passion was playing video games, doing the odd YouTube video on films and writing for this blog.

I am slowly trying to sort out the Internet situation and getting back on the television teat so I can write about shows I like, or in the case of Gracepoint, dislike…a lot. Funds are low and eating, along with paying off bills and medication are the highpoint of my existence at this moment so the problems with reviewing will have to stay unsolved for the time being.

Desert Mountain

Apart from discovering that walking the desert on the way to town (and WiFi) and back feels like revisiting the old west when one strays from the road and crosses the hardpan, I’ve learned that 56 year-old legs, knees, ankles and the back take a pounding. I’ve even gotten the odd blister… Granted, I do tend to powerwalk where I can, after all I was a Prison Officer for 10 years and passed my fitness test each and every year, but my body, since the very invasive operations in 2012, is complaining.


Aches, cramps and bruising aside, the walks are brilliant. The landscape is breathtaking, inspiring and addictive.  This is during the day of course. After dark is another matter. Dusk is interesting, but hazardous. (Dusk was when I did  my faceplant in the dusty desert floor.) There are animals roaming the desert when the sun goes down; most of which are better equipped than I at survival if we should meet.

Listening this evening to a couple of coyotes yipping, yowling and howling just around the corner from my temporary home, goose-flesh marching up and down my entire body while doing so, reminded me that these pack roaming creatures will attack a singleton wandering across the hardpan.

Then there is the mountain lion that is hanging around the area, I have seen his (or her) prints and the thing is huge. Neither of these would have anything to fear from me. Like any unarmed red-blooded male, I would most likely scream in terror and might just get a couple of steps away before getting nom-nommed for their tea.

Still, in the moments where I am walking the desert floor and the 4X4’s, Quads and motorbikes are nowhere too near, I can hear my footsteps. Crunching through the crusty sand and gravel as well as puffing through the dust.  The birds, one who sounds just like he/she is whistling to get your attention, dart and flitter by to have a quick look at the desert newcomer.

Brief glimpses of jack-rabbits bounding away and, just recently, baby jack-rabbits scurrying clumsily to hide are another delightful occurence. These walks, although pretty damned painful at the moment (not to mention slow) are the preferred  way to cross the desert, rather than riding the bike with the dodgy gears. For one thing, who ever heard of biking through the old west? For another,  this rider cannot power the bike across the hardpan. Too much sand, deep dust and gravel make it difficult to keep pedalling. And of course these is the lack of silence connected with the mechanical means of travel. Ruins the desert aesthetic, doesn’t it.

3 February 2015

Old West Icon Faces Closure Flyover Pictures Hopes to Help

Old West Icon Faces Closure Flyover Pictures Hopes to Help

The Pony Express was a short but vital part of the American West and the history books tell of a group of young men, boys really, who rode hard and fast against the elements, indian raids, bandits and all sorts of other challenges to get the mail to folks before the stages, telegraph and railroads came in to put the Express out of business. Flyover pictures is honoring that old west memory and hope to help an icon hold off closure. Read on to see what is in danger of being closed and why.

One of the Pony Express stations remains at Middlegate, Nevada. Self advertised as being the “middle of nowhere” with an elevation of 4600 feet and a population of 17, this piece of the old west was turned into a roadhouse with a few motel rooms added on. Over the years this roadhouse has become a vital part of a spread out community that consists of ranchers, miners, the military and truckers who pass through this desolate part of desert.

While the building itself has passed through a few hands over the years, the purpose of Middlegate Station has been the same. It provides the folks who live in the middle of nowhere food, gas, rooms and a sense of community. The place is “off the grid” which means that it is not hooked up to any sort of power line. Quite a few years ago, the power was provided via a diesel powered generator.

Old West Icon Faces Closure Flyover Pictures Hopes to Help
Like most of the residents in the area, the station is off-grid.

This power source was, at the time of its inception, a cost effective way to provide what was needed for a community of “off grid” denizens. As laws changed, and diesel became  too expensive to provide power to the station, the good folk of Middlegate looked to alternative sources of energy via grants, loans, or other programs that have been open to residents who are “on-grid.”

The way to find an alternative way of keeping the way station open has been fraught with loopholes and stumbling blocks that made it difficult for these independent minded people to keep their center of the community open. The biggest hurdle to overcome has been that these “incentives” to use alternative energy do not apply to applicants who are not already on the power grid. With so many different people relying on the Middlegate Pony Express station to provide them with a place to meet, eat, sleep and visit with the occasional tourist or trucker these obstacles needed to be overcome.

Flyover Pictures found out about this iconic piece of the old west and took it upon themselves to help these proud individualistic people who either choose to live out in the middle of nowhere, or have no choice for whatever reason. Being “off the grid” may be the result of a decision to live where the air is clear and neighbors are not breathing down the back of their necks, but it should not be impossible for these modern people who want to live out west in an uncrowded area and beautiful country.

Old West Icon Faces Closure Flyover Pictures Hopes to Help

According to the folks at Flyover Pictures, around 200,000 people live “off grid” in the U.S. and many of this number are a vital part of the core of American providers. Ranchers, truckers and miners who keep the U.S. moving on. Middlegate is not only a historical monument to the days when Americans were fulfilling their vision of “manifest destiny” and heading further and further west in search of land, gold, and freedom but it represents the same spirit of men and women who fell in love with this picturesque area of the world.

Flyover Pictures are making a documentary in an attempt to chronicle the journey of the folks in Middlegate, Nevada who want a viable, and affordable, source of alternative energy for their wide spread community. The days of the Pony Express rider may be over, but the spirit of these stand alone young men who feared nothing and certainly did not feat wide open spaces lives on in the people who have decided to make this desolate area of the U.S. their home.

The documentary has the working title of The Last Roadhouse and it is being funded by Kickstarter as well as the money in the companies own pockets. Speaking to Lisette Cheresson, her enthusiasm, concern and empathy for the folks at Middlegate shines through. She and her partner Ryan, as well as the other folks who make up Flyover Pictures have been out to the area often and have already begun working on the documentary.

Old West Icon Faces Closure Flyover Pictures Hopes to Help
The Middlegate Crew! (From left to right: Brian Colgan, Megan Robertson, Lisette Cheresson, Ryan Cheresson)

There are only three days to go in the campaign and this last stretch will, hopefully, enable the filmmakers to meet their goal of $7,500. Thus far, they have over 127 backers and are roughly $278 short of their target. Tonight, I just became backer number 128. Please dig deep and see what great things you can get from donating to keep this worthwhile and vital part of a scattered community energized.

I will be keeping track of Flyover Pictures and their progress. I’ll try to report on each stage of the project and keep interest in this documentary alive. We owe it to the figures of the old west and the proud independent people who call Middlegate home.

By Michael Smith

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