Monument Valley is a place of magic, and that's exactly the way it seemed for good friend Nick Nixon when he saw it for the first time. He wrote this essay about his experience, and Cactus Country published it in Volume III this past summer. Sadly, Nick passed away just a few weeks after the book's release. But he got to see his essay in print and it made him happy. You can find Cactus Country as a Kindle on Amazon, and it is soon to be released at your favorite bookstore in a hardcover edition. But here's a glimpse of what kind of stories you'll find between the book's covers.
West of the Mississippi, west of the Ozarks, and west of the endless prairie flats of Kansas, there lies the mythical mountain land of imagination where the legends of my childhood once lived and roamed. Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Kit Carson, and Billy the Kid were some that traveled there.
Many other legendary outlaws rode out of the wide open border state of Missouri, both before and after the Civil War. Folks remember their names, and some say they still ride today up there in the hilly pines. Every cave in Missouri has been a hideout for the infamous train robbers Frank and Jesse James. Many of the initials scratched on their limestone walls are an alias to confuse the wily Pinkertons.
Tell me what kid kept a dry eye when Johnny Mac Brown rode off into the lonesome sunset. And how many of us scurried all week finding new ways to make the dime entry fee into the Saturday matinee to see if the Durango Kid survived the explosion while tied up deep inside a mountain.
If I could count them, I’ll bet I yelled “Come back Shane” more times than Tonto said “kee-mo sah-bee.”
As a boy, I wanted to climb right into the radio, jump aboard a black stallion and ride with the Lone Ranger through the valley of the Cotton-Wood. Make camp on the creek that runs down from the snow-capped mountains. Eat a supper of bacon and beans warmed over a camp fire and go to sleep to the sound of a lone wolf howling mournfully from a high ridge.
I longed to watch a stag elk ease down a point on a frosty morning blowing mushrooms of steam from his nostrils with his huge antlers rolling elegantly along his back.
These thoughts have been with me throughout my long life, and I’ve been there. I’ve seen the great forest in all its pride and glory. I’ve seen mountain streams running clear as the sky after an early snow storm. I’ve seen two Grizzlies play in a high meadow. Yes, I’ve seen it, but sadly through the years, I’ve seen some of it go away.
I’ve stood on a rock big enough to jump an Indian from if one rode by unexpectedly. I’ve been on cliffs that I could have lain concealed with a spy glass monitoring movements of the outlaw gang what rustled my paw’s cattle.
But the mountains and mystic hills of the West with huge boulders, high cliffs and creeks shimmering with “there for the taking” gold dust, were a hundred times easier for me to envision through the big picture window of my imagination. The cathedral of western fable lies in America’s southwest, known as the mystifying Monument Valley, where every pebble is a souvenir of the greatest of all western heroes, John Wayne. If you look across the valley long enough you can see “the Duke” atop a dusty stage coach picking off painted Indians that came too close to his one-of-a-kind Winchester. You can see him checking the time on his retirement watch lest we forget she wore a yellow ribbon.
You would think actually being there and walking on the same hallowed ground as my legendary idols would’ve dampened my fascination. That’ll be the day.
Somehow it has only fanned the flames of a long burning passion for the great, but fading American West. Sometimes my heart sinks when I see a picture of the great rock towers, and my only hope is that it lasts, at least as long as there’s one young person as enchanted with its magic as I have been.
Cactus Country Volume III