It’s strange how things can capture our imagination. In some cases our sudden infatuation turns out to be just a passing fancy. We might flirt briefly with a new hobby or a fashionable craze. Art or books we have loved as teenagers, we later discard as passé or outgrown. But some people fall in love and remain true to whatever it is that drives them, be it a sport, their work, art, religion, or maybe a way of life.
For me, that driving passion is the Old West. I love its history and am full of admiration for the indomitable spirit and bravery of the people who set out to explore it and spent their lives in that untamed wilderness. I love its grandeur and scenery. I love the tales of the shootists and lawmen, the homesteaders and ranchers. And I love the culture of the Indians whose roots are intertwined with nature. They understood their land and were its natural custodians.
Before my first visit to the West I was in love with the idea of it. I always had been – I was, like so many of my generation, raised on a diet of Gunsmoke, The Virginian, John Wayne and reruns of Shane and The Lone Ranger. These seeped into the soul. I didn’t see the Hollywood sets, my mind delighted in the panoramic landscapes, and the freedom to ride through towering scenery toward distant horizons.
I wanted to experience that firsthand. I wanted to spend hours in the saddle rounding up cattle and then camp by a small fire at night and gaze at limitless skies with an eternity of stars.
Of course there is never a guarantee that the reality can live up to our dreams. Some things can prove to be a huge anticlimax. But I had to discover if those Western states were as wonderful as I hoped, that they were more than Hollywood facades.
My first visit to Wyoming was a revelation. I don’t know if it was the scale of the country and the vast skies, the scent of sagebrush, the call of the coyote or the sight of eagles overhead, but I was overwhelmed by the sheer unspoiled beauty, the spirit of place.
I love camping out in the Bighorn Mountains – whether it’s the clarity of air or the lack of light pollution in this least populated state, but I swear that the stars are brighter there than anywhere else. It’s almost as if the stars are layered on top of each other – pity the city dwellers who have never seen the full glory of those skies!
But while my heart is in Wyoming, I also love Colorado, Utah, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona. They are each amazing in their own ways and have provided me with a fountain of wonderful memories. I rode with a Navajo guide through Monument Valley, following in the footsteps – or maybe I should say hoof prints – of John Wayne. I discovered a perfect model for the Sinclair family ranch when I visited Cimarron in New Mexico. And I shot my first Colt 45 in the desert near Tombstone.
Every step I have taken in the West has deepened my love for it. What started as an infatuation with an idealized old west, has become a passion to last a lifetime. And it’s affected my writing too. Now that I’ve been there and breathed in that pure air and gazed at rock formations weathered and twisted into a myriad of shapes by wind and water, my writing is more assured. I think the voice is more authentic.
I have yet to make it to Texas – but I’ll be there in June, eager to explore the Lone Star state and meet new friends. I hope to meet some of you there!