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When I was not even four years old, a new branch of my family inserted themselves into my life: my aunt, uncle, and cousins, recently returned from El Paso, TX, where my uncle, who was with the military, had spent one of the multiple, several-year-long stints at Fort Bliss that were spread throughout his career. With them, they brought not only Native American pottery, rugs, silverware, turquoise jewelry and other art work, but also stories of the old and new West, of Indians (of whose mere existence I had, until then, been blissfully ignorant), of a different lifestyle than the city life I knew – simpler and more attuned to nature – and of horses, gold diggers, cowboys, settlers, gunfights, honor, and bravery. For my next birthday, they gave me an almost life-sized teepee which instantly became my most prized possession … and gave me a leverage over the neighborhood kids that didn’t go down too well with some of the local boys.
Thus began a fascination with the American West that has never left me since.
(For those who have read my “About” pages, where I speak, inter alia, about my life-long passion for Greek Mythology and Shakespeare’s works, I pause here to leave room for your imagination to picture the likes of Tecumseh, Geronimo, Perseus, Odysseus, Hamlet, Macbeth, and German western writer Karl May’s heroes Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, all duking it out with each other for my attention [alright, so Hamlet ain’t duking anything out with anybody, he’s just driving ’em all nuts with his neverending questions and brooding] … but, yes, after all these years, all in all it’s still a draw. Yet, I digress.)
By the time I set foot in the West for the first time as a teenager – my uncle and family were back in El Paso – I had learned to ride, had acquired a solid knowledge base of Western legends, lore, literature, movies and history, had survived my first few camping trips, and was familiar enough with the places to be seen to occasionally reroute the tour that my relatives had put together for me, and to drag them to places even they had never heard of. In other words, I thought, I was ready for the real thing.
Except that I wasn’t. All the books, pictures, and movies in the world couldn’t have prepared me for the sheer magnitude of the Western landscape; for the momentous, age-old dignity of its mountains and woods, the sun-drenched, spellbinding and unexpectedly animated expanse of its deserts, the forever-unprobed mysteries of its canyons and prehistoric civilizations, and perhaps most of all, the limitless vastness of its skies. Sure, all of these are clichés – but I suppose I’m resorting to them because even now, I am still unable to come up with something better; other than the recognition that, even in the age of mass tourism, growing ecological sensitivities, and newly-discovered empathy for the Red Man’s plight, the American West simply has to be seen and experienced to be believed.
This section of my blog and the pages and blog posts collected here thus are my little tribute to a region that, although I currently don’t even live anywhere near it, has had a profound impact on my way of thinking ever since I was a child, and will stay with me forever.
Grand Canyon: South Rim vistas (photos mine)
The First Nations
- The National Congress of American Indians
- The American Indian Heritage Foundation
- The National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, D.C. / New York)
- The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (Santa Fe, NM)
- Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
- The Southwest Indian Foundation
- Bahti Indian Arts
- Wikipedia Portal: Indigenous peoples of North America
- Wikipedia Article: Ancestral Puebloans (= Anasazi)
- Wikipedia Article: Native Americans in the United States
- Index of Native American Organizations on the Internet
Mesa Verde National Park: Cliff Palace / Santa Fe, Palace of the Governors: Indian Market (photos mine)
Writers from the American West
Monument Valley: The Mittens and North Window (photos mine)
- John Steinbeck: Novels 1942 – 1952 (Library of America)
- Wallace Stegner: Remembering Laughter
- John Nichols: A Fragile Beauty
- Sherman Alexie: The Toughest Indian in the World
- Tony Hillerman: Sacred Clowns
- Rina Swentzell / Luci Tapahonso / Tony Chavarria (eds.): Here, Now, and Always – Voices of the First Peoples of the Southwest
- Tom Bahti / Mark Bahti / Bruce Hucko: Southwestern Indian Arts and Crafts
- David Dary: The Santa Fe Trail – Its History, Legends and Lore
Yosemite National Park: Half Dome (photo mine)
- The United States National Parks Service
- California: Channel Islands, Death Valley, Golden Gate, Joshua Tree, Lassen Volcanic, Mojave, Redwood, Santa Monica Mountains, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks / Cabrillo, César E. Chávez, and Muir Woods National Monuments / California, Old Spanish, and Pony Express Trails / Eugene O’Neill and John Muir Homes / Alcatraz Island, Presidio of San Francisco, et al.
- Arizona: Grand Canyon, Glen Canyon, Lake Mead, Petrified Forest, and Saguaro National Parks and Recreation Areas / Canyon de Chelly, Coronado, Montezuma Castle, Navajo, Organ Pipe Cactus, Sunset Crater Volcano, and Wupatki National Monuments / Old Spanish Trail, et al.
- New Mexico: Carlsbad Caverns National Park / Chaco Culture National Historic Site / Bandelier, Capulin Volcano, El Morro, Gila Cliff Dwellings, Petroglyph, and White Sands National Monuments / Old Spanish and Santa Fe Trails, et al.
- Utah: Arches NP, Bryce Canyon NP, California Trail, Canyonlands NP, Capitol Reef NP, Dinosaur NM, Glen Canyon, Hovenweep NM, Mormon Pioneer Trail, Natural Bridges NM, Old Spanish Trail, Pony Express Trail, Rainbow Bridge NM, Zion NP, et al.
- Colorado: Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and Rocky Mountain National Parks / Dinosaur and Hovenweep National Monuments / California, Old Spanis, Pony Express, and Santa Fe Trails, et al.
- Wyoming: Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks / Fossil Butte National Monument / California, Mormon Pioneer, Oregon, and Pony Express Trails / Fort Laramie, et al.
- Montana: Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks / Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument / Lewis & Clark Trail / Fort Union Trading Post, et al.
- Texas: Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks / Fort Davis, LBJ Ranch, Palo Alto Battlefield, Rio Grande, San Antonio Missions, et al.
- The American Southwest – comprehensive guide
- Themis-Athena’s select annotated John Steinbeck biblio- and filmography
- Themis-Athena’s select annotated Wallace Stegner bibliography
- Themis-Athena’s annotated Leaphorn and Chee biblio- and filmography
- Themis-Athena’s select annotated Western filmography
- Themis-Athena’s select annotated West and nature-related Robert Redford biblio- and filmography
- Themis-Athena’s select annotated bibliography of nonfiction books and memoirs