DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB ZANE GREY’S WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND

BLOG #13, SERIES #3

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

ZANE GREY’S WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND

March 28, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ordinarily, I will not plan to feature a given author more than once a year, or in close proximity to a previous listing, but for a very special reason I am making an exception for April’s Book of the Month.  The obvious reason is last week’s blog on Death Valley National Park.  You may remember that our January book was Zane Grey’s Heritage of the Desert—(the December 28, 2011 blog).  But since Grey’s greatest desert novel—perhaps the greatest desert novel ever written—was set in California’s Death Valley, the coincidence was just too good an opportunity to pass up.

 

Immediately after the close of World War I (contemporaries called it simply “The Great War”), Zane Grey assumed the role of a desert rat himself as he immersed himself into the desert world so that his next novel might ring true.  From my Master Chronology I have documented this period according to locale (based on letter postmarks and diary entries):

 

January 1, 1919            Zane Grey in Palm Springs, California

January 3, 1919            Exploring desert between Chuckwalla and Chocolate Mountains

January 4, 1919            In vicinity of Yuma, Arizona

January 5, 1919            Exploring Picture Canyon, Mecca, Brawley, El Centro, and Holtville, California

January 6, 1919            In sand dune waste between El Centro and Yuma

January 7, 1919            Meets famed frontiersman, Charlie Meadows

January 8, 1919            Yuma Midland, in vicinity of Picacho, for some time

February 23 – mid March, 1919            Exploring California/Arizona desert country

March 21, 1919            Train to Death Valley Junction

March 22, 1919            Travel from Junction to Death Valley

March 23-26, 1919            Walking across Death Valley with a desert wanderer

March 27-28, 1919            Walks 12 of the 34 miles back to Death Valley Junction

 

Grey and his wife Dolly had first fallen in love with the Southwest desert country during their 1906 honeymoon.  Beginning in 1907, Grey, in expedition after expedition, both on foot and horseback, internalized what was still frontier country.  This is why Wanderer had such a long fuse to it.

 

In my 1975 Vanderbilt doctoral dissertation, I summed up the significance of Wanderer of the Wasteland in these words:

 

Although Wanderer of the Wasteland had been written in 1919, it was not published until 1923 (eighth on the 1923 best seller list). Wanderer of the Wasteland is one of Grey’s finest desert epics.  The protagonist, Adam Larey, (alias Wansfell, The Eagle, Tanquitch) is a heroic super-human on the scale of Michelangelo’s “David.”  In terms of emotional drain, the book probably took more out of Grey than anything else he ever wrote. The following entries come from his diaries: January 19, 1919.  “Today after years of plan [sic], and months of thought, and weeks of travel, reading, I began the novel that I have determined to be great.”  January 26.  “Dolly read the first chapter, and her praise made me exultant and happy, and full of inspiration.”  February 13.  “I feel that I can write best in the silence and solitude of the night, when everyone has retired. There is a bigness, a glory about the approach of the Wasteland Wanderer novel . . .  It grows upon me day by day.”  March 1.  “Finished the seventh chapter . . . . But this week I go to the desert again, and after that to Death Valley.  Then I will be able to write with a living flame—this novel obsesses me.  It is wonderful, beautiful, terrible.”  May 22.  “I write swiftly, passionately.  I am approaching the climax, and have to rise to tremendous heights.  I feel the surge of emotion—a dread—a terror—a pain, as if this ordeal were physical.”  May 29.  “IT IS MIDNIGHT.  I HAVE JUST FINISHED MY NOVEL WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND.  Twelve hours today—28 pages—and I sweat blood!. . . .  I do not know what it is that I have written.  But I have never worked so hard on any book, never suffered so much or so long.  838 pages.  170,000 words.”

 

The book includes some of the finest desert description: terrain, fauna, plant life, etc., that he ever wrote.  The theme partially is the Old Testament Cain-Abel love-hate relationship, partly the redemptive power of suffering, and partly the desert crucible which will either destroy or ennoble those who submit themselves to its fires.  Magdalene Virey, considering the short period she lives in the book’s pages, is nevertheless a memorable character.  Altogether, it took Grey ten years to gather all the material for the story.  Then, as he began to write, several trips to the Southern California-Arizona border country and two trips to Death Valley helped give him the fresh inspiration he needed.  Later, Grey observed:

 

When the novel came out in book form I said I was willing to stand or fall by it.  I was.  I am still.  I had high hopes for this novel of the wastelands.  A few of them were realized, yet most prominent critics who reviewed the book damned it with faint praise.  They all struck the same note.  They could not see the beauty, the wonder, the tragedy and soul of the desert, the truth of the waste places of the earth and their equally ennobling and debasing effect upon man.  It was not that there was not enough of my ten years’ absorption of the desert to convince the critics of these things.  It was that they did not know anything about the desert—that they could not believe in the heroism and idealism of man.33

 

When he finished, Harpers asked him to cut 100 pages out of the book. . . “All in my interest, they said!  Did you ever hear of such callowness?  Just to save a little money they would cut my book to nothing. . . .  There are some aspects of this literary game that are sickening.”34 Eventually Grey shortened it some, supposedly by about 3,000 words.  To him, it was like cutting off his own flesh.  His 1919 diary entries during this period reveal how carefully he researched his subject.  Nothing was too insignificant to count.

 

33Zane Grey, “My Answer to the Critics,” unpublished manuscript (in possession of the Zane Grey Family), p. 5.

34Zane Grey, letter to Dolly Grey, June 26, 1922, unpublished (in possession of the Zane Grey family).

 

From Zane Grey’s Impact on American Life and Letters (pp. 174-6).

 

* * *

 

So total was this immersion that, in the years that followed, Dolly often addressed him in letters as “Wansfell the Wanderer.”  In fact, during her own epic journeys across the U.S. by auto during the 1920s, whenever a desert wanderer stepped onto a road (most all unpaved) ahead of her, she’d think for a moment it was her husband. [Rarely did they travel together].

 

After the book was published, so many readers asked him to write a sequel that he finally did so [he wrote very few]: Stairs of Sand.

 

* * * * *

 

Get prepared for a great read!  It is easy to find this book on the web.

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DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

BLOG #12, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #10

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

March 21, 2012

 

 

Death Valley (one of Patricia Schultz’s 1,000 Places to See Before You Die) may be summed up in three superlatives: “Hottest,” “Driest,” “Lowest.”  In July of 1934, a temperature of 134E was recorded at Furnace Creek Ranch—at that time, that was the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth.  Later, a site in Libya recorded a temperature of 136E (two degrees hotter).  It is the driest area in our National Parks system (average rainfall, less than two inches; some years, none at all).  Its Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level) is the lowest place in North America.

 

The name, of course, is part of the mystique.  Apparently, it dates back to 1849 when a wagon train of pioneers en route to California chose this valley as a route through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  But rather than a route out, they got instead lasting heat, hunger, thirst, and “awful silence.”  One man died; the rest were found by a rescue party, and climbed out over the Panamint Mountains.  One of these, more dead than alive, upon reaching the summit, turned for one last look and, with deep feeling, muttered, “Good-bye, Death Valley”—and the name stuck.

 

 

The valley is 120 miles long and over 60 miles wide.  Surprisingly soaring up from the deepest spot in North America, are peaks such as Telescope Peak (11,049 feet), representing one of North America’s greatest vertical rises.  In the winter, these mountains are often snow-capped.

 

In spite of its hostile climate and scarcity of water, “desert rats” (most prospectors or desert wanderers) have long haunted these silent reaches.  Over 10,000 abandoned mining claims can be found here—gold, silver, lead, zinc, mercury, copper, salt, manganese…and borax.  Interestingly enough, a young graduate of the University of California, Stephen Tyng Mather, early on became sales manager for Pacific Coast Borax.  A born advertising genius, Mather generated a flood of publicity glamorizing the early days of Death Valley, and branded his product as “20 Mule Team Borax.”  Over 100,000 copies of his Borax recipe book was distributed and sold within one month!  Before long, Mather started his own borax company, and quickly became very wealthy.  As fate would have it, however, in a 1914 letter to his good friend, Franklin Lee, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Mather groused about the condition of America’s national parks.  Lee zinged a letter right back, challenging him with these words, “Dear Steve, if you don’t like the way the national parks are being run, why don’t you come down to Washington and run them yourself?”  That’s all it took—and today Mather is considered to be the father of our national park system, now the envy of the world.

 

Mather never forgot Death Valley; no matter how many other great scenic wonders he managed to save for posterity, he kept pushing for its preservation.  Zane Grey’s blockbuster desert novel, Wanderer of the Wasteland (set in Death Valley), a media trifecta (magazine serialization, book publication, and movie) helped Mather’s cause no little, as did the advent of that long-running radio show (later movie series), Death Valley Days, memorably hosted by none other than  Ronald Reagan.  In 1933, President Herbert Hoover (formerly president of the National Park Association) signed a bill giving it National Monument status, with an area of 1,600,000 acres. Yet mining continued even after that time.  Not until 1994 (61 years later), when President Clinton pushed through the Desert Protection Act, did Death Valley at last become a national park (at 3,396,000 acres the largest national park in the lower 48, and roughly the size of Connecticut).

 

FURNACE CREEK INN

 

By late 1926, Pacific Coast Boraxt was building Furnace Creek Inn, the type of upscale resort Mather favored because he felt it would enhance the park’s status with the general public.  The company had great plans for the resort (designed by Los Angeles architect Albert Martin), and saw to it that rail service into the basin was arranged for.  According to Christine Barnes, the process was a bit involved: the underutilized Tonopah and Tidewater railroad lines transported arriving guests from Union Pacific and Santa Fe railroad stops to the Death Valley Junction; there they would climb aboard the Death Valley Railroad cars for the twenty-mile journey through the Funeral Mountains to Ryan, where the tracks ended.  Motor coaches would take them the rest of the way (Barnes, 52).

 

 

Martin’s Spanish Revival hotel was built on a low knoll at the mouth of occasionally running Furnace Creek, but received its water supply from nearby Travertine Springs.  Furnace Creek Inn officially opened on February 1, 1927.  As time passed, the complex continued to expand.  By 1928-29, more and more tourists were finding their way here.  A nine-hole golf course was completed in 1929, as well as an exquisite freshwater swimming pool.  Daniel Hull, renowned landscape architect, had been brought in to complete the masterpiece that is the inn.

 

 

VIPs began to arrive—including the likes of Clark Gable, John Barrymore, Jimmy Stewart, Anthony Quinn and Marlon Brando.  Today, it and the nearby Furnace Creek Ranch are operated by XANTERRA Resorts.

 

OUR MEMORIES

 

Once again, in this all too short a journey we call life, we woke up in the venerable El Tovar Hotel.  Since it would be a long day, the alarm clock rang at 6:15 a.m.  Luckily, we landed the NW window table and were served by our favorite waiter, Noah.  A scrumptious breakfast of French toast, coffee, and splitting a to-die-for cinnamon roll.  By 8:15 a.m., Bob and Lucy Earp, Connie and I, were ensconced in the Lincoln Town Car and “On the Road Again.”  Our route took us west through Kingman, Arizona, 93 through Las Vegas to 95, then up to Death Valley  junction on 190.  The temperature kept climbing, and climbing as we descended into the deepest valley in America.  In reality, it is not really a valley at all because 2,000 years ago this was a great lake 600 feet deep.  Even though this was still a spring May day, it was already 98E when we checked in at Furnace Creek Ranch.  One of our trip’s major disappointments had to do with our inability to stay at Furnace Creek Inn, reason being that it is open only during the “relatively cool” winter months.   The rest of the year it lies fallow.  But at the Ranch, we were pleasantly surprised by the spacious, comfortable, and cool rooms.  Afterwards, we drove up to Furnace Creek Inn, and walked around the Shangri-la where we’d hoped to be staying. The palm groves were hauntingly beautiful, as was the turquoise Mediterranean pool.  The lawns, shrubs, and flowers were verdant.  The inn was everything we heard it was—at least from what we could see.  Some day, we vowed, we’ll return and stay here.  Then back to the Ranch for dinner, ice cream, and early sack-time.  It had been a long day.

 

 

Next morning early, we headed up to famed Zabriski Point for sunrise, then back for breakfast.  We quickly discovered that meals at the Ranch, because of the continual influx of tourist groups (by bus, auto, and motorcycle), was semi-cafeteria style—necessary because of the off the street clientele.  But the food was good.  It felt no frills Old Westy.  Afterwards, we drove to a place I’d dreamed of visiting all my life: Scotty’s Castle.

Because it is nestled in the hills about 3,000 feet above the valley floor, it is about nine degrees cooler there.  After strolling through the visitor center, we joined a tour group, and were lucky enough to snag a marvelous guide.  I’m sure you too have discovered that, in traveling, the guides make all the difference.  As we moved through the lovely castle, our guide brought to life the fairy-tale story behind its building :a talented westerner known as Death Valley Scotty, who had ridden with Buffalo Bill for twelve years in his famed Wild West Shows all across America and Europe; but Scotty was also a desert rat, a miner, and a con man who sold shares in nonexistent or non-producing mines.  One of his victims, Albert Johnson, a millionaire, overlooked being duped and built a castle that cost several million dollars to construct, then let Scotty claim ownership of it, supposedly built from the fortune made in his nonexistent mines.  Johnson and his wife had no wish to claim ownership, they’d just listen to Scotty tell tales and let him bask in the adulation of his devoted public.  Oh there’s so much more to their story and to the castle!  You’ll just have to come and explore it for yourself.  By the time we got back to the ranch, it was 105E in the shade.

 

We mixed with pilgrims from all over the world, including a large cavalcade of Brazilian motorcyclists.  We were told that even in the blistering heat of summer, visitors come anyway, seeking to experience one of the iconic extremes life has to offer.  After supper, we retired early, for tomorrow would be another very long day.

 

SOURCES

 

Atchison, Stewart, Death Valley: Splendid Isolation (Mariposa, CA: Sierra Press, 2002).

 

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Parks (Bend, OR: WWW West Inc., 2002).

 

Parker, Stanley W., Death Valley’s Scotty’s Castle (Wickenburg, AZ: K.C. Publications, 2010).

Schultz, Patricia, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die (New York Workman Publishing, 2003).

 

Southern California & Las Vegas Tour Book (Heathrow, FL: AAA Publishing, 2009).

 

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States, (Washington, D. C. National Geographic Society, 2009).

 

THE RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD

BLOG 11, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

THE RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD

 

March 14, 2012

 

This man’s story has long haunted me, not just because of its poignancy but because of its applicability in today’s world.  Today, where the richest person in the world is Carlos Slim of Mexico, with $69 billion; second, the erstwhile richest person in the world, Bill Gates, with $61 billion; and third, Warren Buffet, with $33 billion.

 

* * * * *

 

In the ancient world, one man stands out against the ages, Croesus, last King of Lydia (560 – 546 B.C,).  After defeating his half-brother, he conquered Ionia (including Ephesus and Miletus, allied himself with Sparta, and extended the Lydian empire as far as the Halys.  His wealth, due to trade, was proverbial.  In truth, Alexander the Great’s wealth was greater, but it was just as ephemeral as that of Croesus.

 

According to legend, adulation from all across the ancient world resulted in Croesus becoming as proud as his wealth.  So much so that when Solon (Athenian statesman and visionary, reputed to be one of the wisest men in antiquity) visited Croesus’s impressive royal court, Croesus did his utmost to astonish Solon with his magnificence, and make him acknowledge that no man on earth could possibly be happier than the mighty Lydian king.  But Solon, unlike the king’s other flattering visitors, merely listened and watched in relative silence.  At the end, when his silence was all too obvious, he declared that every man must wait until the end of his life, and see what fortune would finally bring him, before deciding whether he could be justified in calling himself happy or not.  After that verbal cold water, Croesus could hardly wait to get rid of his now unwelcome visitor.  In fact, never again did he even mention Solon’s name; with one glaring exception: some years later, Cyrus, emperor of the vast Medo-Persian empire, hearing about the wealth of Croesus, concluded it would be wise to appropriate it for himself, so he invaded Lydia.  After Croesus was defeated, he was condemned to be burned alive in the presence of his conqueror.

 

But just as the sentence was about to be executed, Croesus, remembering Solon’s counsel, broke his long Solon-related silence, and loudly called out the name of Solon three times.  Cyrus, wondering what this outburst meant, stopped the execution long enough to have Croesus explain what it was all about.  Croesus then told Cyrus the story of Solon’s visit and Solon’s counsel, the validity of which was now tragically confirmed.  Cyrus was deeply impressed by the story, and by Croesus’s awareness of his own miserable end; so much so that he released Croesus, and thereafter kept him as an honored member of his court.  Croesus lived on even into the reign of Cyrus’s successor, Cambyses.

 

Nevertheless, during those long years of luxurious semi-captivity, Croesus must have replayed in his mind again and again those timeless words from Solon: Never assume that happiness can be anything more than a temporary condition.

 

As for the application of this story, in today’s world, I leave that to the readers of this blog.  What thoughts come to you as the result of listening to Croesus’s story?

           

SOURCES

 

E. H. House’s “Bright Sides of History,” St. Nicholas, December 1898; 146-7.

Will Durant, The Life of Greece (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1939, 1966), 18-19.

Encyclopedia Britannica

 

 

 

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IT’S NOT OVER UNTIL IT’S OVER

BLOG #10, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

IT’S NOT OVER UNTIL IT’S OVER

March 7, 2012

 

 

            What a difference a year or two makes!  Four years ago, Colorado towns such as Aspen and Vail appeared to have it all: multimillion dollar homes perched on the hillsides, the middle class and the poor driven far away because the norm for buying a house in those glitzy resort towns had skyrocketed into the tens of millions.  Most owners were absentee (only residing in these palaces for a few weeks out of the year); in other words, these were generally trophy homes, scattered around the world.  The owners, being rarely in town to vote or attend schoolboard meetings or support a church or give to those who struggled just to survive, made little impact on the towns where they supposedly lived.

 

            Nearer to Denver, there are entire hillsides of vacant multilmillion dollar mansions which never got purchased at all.  And the fortunes of those who built them (developers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, masons, home decorators, landscapers, etc.) are today still reeling.  Many of the homes have had to be discounted 30 – 60%.

 

            Though things are not as bad in Colorado as in states such as California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, etc., and conditions continue to slowly improve, the reality is that an era of affluence is over, replaced by stark reality.  Those who flourished by “flipping” one property after another are most likely bankrupt.  And today over 40% of all American “homeowners” are said to owe more for their homes than they can sell them for.

 

            This staggering collapse is no respecter of persons for it has affected billionaires along with minimum wage earners.  A whole generation of college graduates are remaining home with their parents, unable to find good enough jobs to enable them to pay for separate lodging or pay off their school loans.

 

            Next Wednesday, I’ll share with you the story of what happened to the richest man in the world–a king who had it all–a long time ago.

 

HAD

 

            His story has reverberated down through history ever since, but its retelling has never been more timely than now.