It was time to see how well I could make a landscape in black and white and Arizona seemed the place to begin. These are the Superstition Mountains and high plains.
The names alone make me hear music playing and the pounding of hoofbeats.
Every time “bigness” comes up in a photography challenge, I default to the biggest thing I ever photographed and which has ever since pretty much defined “big” for me.
The Grand Canyon. I know. Not exactly an obscure subject, but it is … well … so very vast. I felt my camera was utterly inadequate to the task of showing how huge and magnificent this canyon is. Known lovingly and locally as “The Big Hole,” you’d need a fleet of cameras — preferably video — to capture it. I am not sure anything but standing and seeing with your own eyes could do it justice.
Here are my best efforts.
Western movies. You love them or hate them. Hardly anyone is neutral. I’ve always loved them, since I was a little girl, pretending to be a cross between The Lone Ranger and Jesse James.
But why? What is it about westerns that makes them so appealing to those of us that love them?
Let’s work this as a list, top to bottom. Remember, this is my list. You may have a completely different list and totally not relate to mine. That’s okay.
Why I love Western Movies
1) Horses. I love horses. The more horses, the better. You could leave out the riders and I would sit there and watch the horses, no problem.
2) Scenery. The deserts, the mountains, the plains. The dusty trail as the wagon train rolls westward. The Rocky Mountains looming, challenging. Sunsets over Monument Valley. Some of the most incredible cinematography has been done for westerns. From Ride the High Country to almost anything ever filmed by John Ford. To the dusty streets of Tombstone … the big sky hangs over everything, a huge blue dome. Everything is bigger, brighter, younger. The beauty is hard to match and it goes so well with the eye of the camera.
3) Simple ethics, simple philosophy. There is something terribly appealing about a world where the excuse “He needed killing” is an actual defense at trial. You can put a lot of violence into a western and it’s just fine. The bad guys wear black hats, figuratively or literally. The good guys are the ones with the nice horses, better clothing … and white hats. No ambivalence. No confusion. Not at all like the real world made up of endless shades of gray. It’s a black and white world, black and white morality. “He needed killing. So I killed him.” I get that.
4) Heroes. This is really a continuation of the previous, but Wyatt Earp kills a lot of people and it’s okay. I can cheer him on as he and Doc Holliday rampage through the west. “Yes!!” I cry, waving my fist in the air. I could never kill anyone, but I can be really grateful that someone else is doing it for me. In real life, I favor gun control. In westerns? Blast away!
If the movie also has a good plot, terrific sound track, great cinematography? Some wit, cleverness and even a few laughs? Bonus material.
That’s it. Pretty simple, eh? Horses, gorgeous scenery, good guys being good, bad guys being bad. Add music, dim the lights and pass the popcorn.
I’m afraid of spiders. Not because they are dangerous, though some are. Not because of the potential toxicity. I’m afraid of spiders because they are creepy, make my skin crawl, and make me scream like a little girl.
EEK, I shriek and jump straight out of my chair with my heart pounding like a trip hammer. The loudness of my EEK and the hysterical pounding in my chest is in direct proportion to the blackness and largeness of the spider. Bigger is scarier. Big, black and hairy might actually kill me from sheer panic and irrational terror.
A friend of mine was attacked by a wolf spider while sun bathing on her patio in Arizona. The thing was the size of a small dinner plate (dessert plate?) and landed on her breast, then proceeded to take a chunk out of her. The pain was one thing. The fear was so intense she promptly sold her house and moved to a place where there are no wolf spiders. I’m with her.
But today, I am a warrior. I am a woman of power and pride.
I went into my bedroom to change my clothing this afternoon. There, in the middle of my white blanketed bed was a medium-sized black garden spider. Did I scream in panic? Did I even go EEK?
No, I rallied my womanly strength, balled up my clean pink tee-shirt that I had just taken from my cupboard and squished it. Kept squashing it until it was nothing but a black smear of used-to-be-a-spider. Then, I put the tee-shirt on.
I went and told my husband. He gave me a proud thumb’s up.
I wear dead spider proudly. I am woman. Hear me roar.
A is for Arizona, with Big Skies and deep canyons …
B is for Boston, a great city in every season …
C is for Coney Island. Chills, thrills and a beach too.
D is for diner … the best place to eat on the road …
E is for elections held all over our land …
F is for Florida, where traffic flows across the causeway …
G is for Gettysburg, where a big battle was fought and tourists are always welcome.
H is for home, where most journeys begin.
I is for Ireland and the Isle of Innisfree.
J is for jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
K is for kitchen, where food is prepared. Or not.
L is for Lone Ranger, my childhood hero who roamed the early west with Tonto, his faithful companion.
M is for marina, where the boats wait and the sea calls.
N is for Nathan’s where the best hot dogs await you!
O is for Ogunquit, the Maine beach of sunrise over the Atlantic.
P is for the Painted Desert where storm clouds gather but do not break.
Q is for Quaker, the meeting-house down the road where peace reigns and songs of Thanksgiving are sung.
R is for railroad, disappearing but still alive, if you search for them.
S is for Symphony Hall where music fills the air.
T is for Tombstone, where the Earps and Doc Holliday’s ghosts still linger.
U is for unicorn. I’m sure they exist. They merely are hiding … so let’s go and hunt!
V is for vintage, old things that remember the roads.
W is for Williamsburg, an old town brought back to life.
X marks the spot and a cross-road of life and of roads.
Y is for yellow, the color of summer wildflowers by every roadside.
Z is for Zeus, pretending to be a swan. Poor Leda, did her parents believe her?
The dust rose from the desiccated, dusty road that is Main Street in Tombstone. The horses looked hot and tired. They had every right to be. It was godawful hot. In the sun, more than 125 degrees and I don’t care, dry or not, that’s like sitting in an oven. Add basting and soon, you could be Thanksgiving dinner somewhere.
I think when it isn’t so hot, you can ride the stage, but when the temps are that high, it’s not good to stress the horses more than they are already doing just by pulling the coach. It’s a pretty big carriage, though they are also big horses.
Still, heat kills. It’s bad enough to make horses pull the stage in such weather, but to add the weight of passengers might be too much. Those big horses come dear, you know. And the interior of the stage is not likely to too comfortable either.
As we wandered around the town, we bought souvenir tee shirts. One for me, one for Garry. Of course we did. Wouldn’t you? They were pretty pricey, so we bought only two. We also bought some books. And a calendar. I think we would have bought the coach, the horses and maybe the saloon if we could have. We really liked Tombstone.
Garry’s tee-shirt says: “You tell ‘em I’m coming!“
My tee-shirt says “Hell’s coming with me!“
Before I put on weight and mine got too tight, we used to wear them at the same time. You had to read both of us to get the entire quote. I liked that.
Real carriage. Fake horse. A small lane in the middle of the old part of Gettysburg. This is one of the many things I love about tourist towns. I know people are always turning their noses up at “tourist traps,” but towns set up for the tourist trades may be heavily commercialized, but they also have places to eat, plenty of motels, things to do. They are also, unlike many out of the way and off the track locations, glad to see you. No matter what your color or nationality, your money is good. It’s a safe haven for people who sometimes get harassed in little insular destinations where tourists are uncommon.
There’s always a good reason a town becomes a tourist mecca. Usually, it holds attractions or is very near to them. Nice beaches. Historic sites. Skiing. Roller coasters. Gambling. Fabulous food.Terrific views. Wonderful weather. Amazing shopping.
A town doesn’t draw crowds without a draw. The down sides to popular destinations are obvious: higher prices, crowds and traffic. If you want to go someplace everyone else also wants to visit, try to find a time at least slightly off-season. Even a few days before or after high season can make a huge difference in crowds and costs. But do you homework. Some spots pretty much close down after Labor Day or have almost nothing open except during peak vacation times.
Martha’s Vineyard, for example, bustles with life on Labor Day. The next day, more than half the restaurants and shops are closed. A few stay open; there are some places open all year round but they may not be the places in which you are interested.
Just make sure the stuff you really want to do and see is available before you book that bargain vacation.
A modern photograph with a hint of the old west. The wheels of the stage leave tracks in the dusty main street of Tombstone, Arizona. The ghosts of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday linger nearby, watching.