By: Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh
An email from HELUN TOUTHANG, Saikul Hill Town, Manipur, which reads: Sir, To spend a small time every Sunday on your article has been always a good time and it’s all the more today (27 Nov)… You have enlightened a big section of the people through your articles. Thank you very much, Sir…with bigger expectation for the comings.
While in school I was very fond of cowboy films or Western films (Westerns). I used to read a lot of cowboy novels during my college days.
The most famous writer was Zane Grey (1872-1939), known as the “Father of the Western novels”. Famous Western movies starring popular actors such as John Wayne, James Stewart and later, Clint Eastwood were based on his books.
The popularity of the Westerns died in the early sixties. The young generations would have hardly seen any. My son has not read any cowboy book or seen any Western film.
Stirred by the Western films I always had a longing to travel through the Apache (pronounced Apachi) country of Arizona, Nevada and Colorado (Sonora) deserts with sage brush, sand and cacti.
Westerns are an expression of life in the settlements of immigrants from the “Eastern Seaboard” to the “West”.
They often stress the harshness of the wilderness and frequently set the action in a desolate village; or the small frontier town with its saloon, general store, livery stable and jailhouse.
It is usually the saloon that emphasizes that this is the “Wild West”. It is the place to go for music (raucous piano playing), women (often prostitutes), gambling (draw poker or five card stud), drinking beer or quaffing whisky, brawling and shooting.
In some Westerns, where “civilization” has arrived, the town has a church and a school with a single woman teacher who has come from the ‘East’. It often shows a rich ranch owner (a retired Major) with a lovely daughter and no wife.
Almost all the Westerns are fictional but some are based on true stories such as Gunfight at OK Corral in Arizona. The Westerns are set in the later half of the 19th century.
The American West is west of ‘Eastern Seaboard’ or around California – the easternmost costal states in the Pacific Coast such as San Francisco, San Diego to the east of Mississippi River.
It is a bit confusing in that San Francisco is in the Pacific Coast facing east. But you have to go there to believe that the Golden Gate Bridge, 1.2 miles (App. 2 Km) long connects San Francisco to the Marin County in California, facing the Atlantic Ocean, beginning from South Carolina.
My wife and I flew from London on Monday, September 26 2011 for the old cowboy trail in the Apache country. Until then I did not know where the American West was, often set in the
We landed in Los Angeles (The Angels, or the City of The Angels) Airport and from there we drove southwards along the coast to San Diego where we stayed for the Night and the next day.
Spaniards were the first Europeans to arrive at California, America. Whenever they discovered a place they named it after a saint such as San Francisco, San Bernardino, and Santa Fe. (San for male and Santa for female like Santa Maria). But Santa Cruz like the Santa Cruz airport in Mumbai means Holy Cross.
San Diego was the first European settlement in what is now known as California. It was named after the Spanish Flag Ship. It is located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. It is an American naval base and Marine Training Centre.
We toured the USS Aircraft Carrier Midway that saw fighting in Vietnam and the Gulf War, with a collection of 27 restored aircrafts, now a museum piece in the San Diego bay.
On the third day we drove west towards Phoenix (full of unique Golf Courses) in Arizona via Yuma. It is the typical desert landscapes of the Wild West with mountains, reminiscent of many cowboy films. There are varieties of cacti. The most amazing ones are those you see in cowboy films, called Saguaro – tree size, native of Sonora Desert of Arizona.
Its flower is the State wild flower of Arizona. It looks like a white Datura flower (Sagol Hidak in Manipuri). Poaching the cactus (Federal property) carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in jail, and $20,000 fine. Usually the thieves get a fine of $50 – $70 per foot.
Arizona is Apache country. Apache is the best known Indian tribal names because of
their ferocity in fighting. Geronimo, the name of an Apache fighter evokes an iconic Western American Image. There is a Western with Victor Mature playing his part.
The Apache tribes lived and fought the invading Spanish in the beginning, then the white Americans. They were nomadic and lived in conical huts – wigwams made of wooden frames, covered by matting of brush. Men were hunters. The Apache men used to dress in dear skin shirts and breechcloths and moccasins. Women wore buckskin short dresses and long boots. They wore feathered headgear.
They now live on their reservations – land they own, but as US citizens, obeying American law. At present, about 55,000 Apaches live on or near reservations.
The next morning we travelled through Navajo Indian country and stopped at Sedona surrounded by spires of red stones mountains, for sight seeing.
Driving further uphill, past the Oak Creek canyon we had the stunning views of the rusty Grand Canyon – one of the most awe-inspiring sights in the world. It is 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and 1 mile deep. With a helicopter ride for 25 minutes we could see the mighty Colorado River running majestically though the gorges.
After lunch we descended to Flagstaff located on Historic Route 66 in North Arizona for the night. The next morning we drove north to Las Vegas. It is a city with excitement, which never sleeps. Our hotel Planet Hollywood was right in the middle of the strip. We could enjoy a simple stroll to and from the hotel.
All the hotels (5 Star) are resorts with colourful and amazing spectacles of light and a vast array of entertainments. You can gamble or, eat and dine all night and day.
Two days later we drove through the Mojave Desert eastwards to the ghost town of Calico where there is a replica cowboy town with a real life Sheriff and shoot-out show. After lunch we drove to Vasalia in north California for the night stay.
Next morning we travelled to the great Yosemite National Park in Sierra Nevada. Here, we found evidence ‘for the survival of the fittest’ in the plant Kingdom – the Sequoia trees.
The Giant sequoias can live over two thousand years. Their trunks can reach over 25 feet thick through which an old wagon could pass. They contain tannin and are resistant to fungus and insects, and even fire.
Through research they found that wild fire actually promotes reproduction of these tress, by clearing away the competing fir and cedars and by exposing bare mineral soil for the tiny seeds (size of a paddy) to take root.
Later, we drove to Sonora for the night. Next morning we travelled to the east coast city of San Francisco with the world famous Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf. We crossed the bridge to see a bit of the Atlantic Ocean.
After two days we travelled southwards along the eastern Pacific coast, one of the loveliest coastal routes in the world, to Cambria for the night’s stay.
Next morning we drove to Santa Barbara near California for lunch. It has miles of beautiful beaches – the American Rivera, where Hollywood stars had houses overlooking the beach.
We drove to Anaheim for the night.
Anaheim is very close to Los Angeles, where the Disney Land and Universal Studio are located. It was very enjoyable to visit this Studio, which is three storied. We also enjoyed a conducted tour of the old Queen Mary Liner, anchored there as a hotel and conference venue.
Two days later we went to Hollywood in the morning, visiting among other places, Hollywood Boulevard where the names of famous stars are immortalised with their palm and foot prints in cement on the sidewalk (footpath), known as Hollywood Walk of Fame. Because of the holy name, Mohamed Ali’s was set on the wall, not to be trodden.
The famous Sunset Boulevard is a street in West Hollywood that is an icon of Hollywood celebrity with its Sunset Strip – the centre of nightlife, where the famous stars used to hang around.
Hollywood is now dying as most movies are now filmed elsewhere because it is cheaper. The glamour of movie stars of the ‘50s and ‘60s became old fashioned by the ‘70s.
Since the mid-1960s Westerns were made in Italian Studios, known as a derogatory “Spaghetti (specific Italian dish) Westerns”, but typically featuring an American Star, such as Clint Eastwood in the “A fistful of Dollars”.
In the afternoon we left Hollywood for the Los Angeles Airport to fly back to London with a time difference of eight hours forward, and jetlag on arrival on Monday October 10 2011.
The writer is based in the UK