I’m beginning to think the answer to the question posed in my title is “no.” At least in the West within a thousand miles of LA. After leaving Movie Flats in the Alabama Hills, the lovely but surreal setting of the Trona Pinnacles became my next camping destination. The pinnacles are located on the playa of Searles Dry Lake in the Searles Valley, just one valley west of Death Valley National Park in this harsh basin and range country. If you read my earlier post on the Bennett-Arcan wagon train party’s 1849 escape from Death Valley, it might interest you to know that another party became trapped in Death Valley about the same time. The Jayhawkers abandoned their wagons as well and walked out by way of Searles Valley. They acted to save themselves from a situation of their own making, so they were only heroes in a limited way. Yet even this marginal heroism beat what followed after this place too became a popular filming location, like Movie Flats. The cameras here weren’t shooting good guys shooting outlaws and Indians. The cinematography was of a different type.
Riding off into the sunrise at Movie Flats
I just spent a couple of days camping in and hiking through hero country. No, it wasn’t a battlefield. And yet it was. If that sounds contradictory, it should become clear shortly. It is a princely place if you’re drawn to southwest high desert country like I am. This tract of land is situated near Lone Pine, California and is in the Alabama Hills, a name which has nothing at all to do with Alabama. The area has it all: sun, sagebrush, cactus, canyons, and jumbles of huge golden boulders. If that isn’t enough, topping it off is the grand mountain vista backdrop of Mt. Whitney and its surrounding high Sierra peaks. I’d better confess right here that I’m not the first to notice the ultra-western-ness of these features. The Hollywood movie industry noticed it 90 years ago. Continue reading
The author just doin’ nothing in Death Valley
I recently spent three weeks camping in Death Valley National Park. There, when not hiking canyons, I basked in the pleasant—well, hot—temperatures and eased into a languid “I kind of like just doin’ nothing, it’s something that I do” sort of existence (description courtesy of a Robert Earl Keen song—Something I Do). Continue reading
Joseph Stalin: Moscow Metro mosaic (beggs-Flickr)
Sasha Zaichik is the protagonist in this short novel, Breaking Stalin’s Nose, by Eugene Yelchin. Sasha is less a hero than an innocent victim, for what else can you call a ten-year old who’s been brought up with nothing but lies in a cynical, totalitarian state that maintains itself through fear and terror.
At first glance Yelchin’s novel looks like a book for children, but don’t be fooled—it carries a message that resonates with readers of all ages. I’m talking about the human toll of Stalin-era Communism in the Soviet Union, but it could apply to any dictatorial government or ideology, past or present. Think Nazi Germany, Maoist China, North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, the Taliban, etc. Continue reading
Although I’ve disliked the cold ever since my army infantry training days, I do like to read about it. The setting is one reason I picked up Revolver, by Marcus Sedgwick. A turn-of-the-century gold field and the environs of an iron mine in the frozen north of Alaska (OK, that north isn’t really frozen all year round but it always makes for a more dramatic description) provide the setting for this adventure novel. While this sounds like the very ingredient of a riveting Jack London story, I should warn you at the outset to be prepared for something slightly different. Continue reading
Treasure Island stands out as a classic of young adventure fiction for good reason. Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale has survived the test of time because it is fast paced enough for the modern reader, packed with action and heroism that the young readily take to, and populated mostly with characters who leave little doubt about whose side they’re on. I say mostly, because one exception added a new element to this type of adventure fiction in the 1880’s—moral ambiguity. But more about that below. Continue reading
Here’s another 19th century young western hero, but a fictional one this time. The book is Payback at Morning Peak by Gene Hackman. Okay, I’ll admit that I picked up the book out of curiosity to see if the former actor can write.
Northern New Mexico and central Colorado provide the setting for this novel. Jubal, a 17 year old boy, is out hunting when he hears shots and sees smoke at his family’s farmstead. He returns to find his family under attack by a gang of lawless rowdies. To his horror, he finds his father gagged, trussed up, and suspended over a roaring bonfire. Seeing the indescribable agony his father is experiencing in being roasted alive, Jubal knows he must reach inside himself and shoot his father. Jubal’s mother is already dead and his sister is dying. Both have been brutally raped. Continue reading