This is the year this film gets made or put it to rest. I am approaching funding ideas and crafts people whom I have worked with and respect. I have entrusted Costa Botes as my film maker. I love his work and his attitude. Annie Collins has also offered to be a consultant. Thank you both. I love you both
From December 2003 to December 2005 I went exploring the American West. I went searching for Zane Grey’s America.
Growing up in New Zealand I guess I would be safe in calling myself a ‘bookworm’. It’s certainly the label my family branded me with.
Zane Grey was referred to as “a then-unborn hack writer named Zane Grey” by Wallace Stegner.
I discovered Zane Grey in the Western section of the local Public Library and found, as a teenager, that his adventurous romantic novels appealed to my view of life. Today I own a very large collection of Zane Grey novels. Almost complete. I read and re-read them over and over. Each time I learn something new, I ‘see’ or experience his characters with my own evolving maturity. I have learned that much of his writing was based on historical fact. In 2004, I sat with Dr. Loren Grey, son of the so called “hack writer” and we talked about the underlying philosophy of his father. Over a couple of glasses of Rose and a very large serving of Strawberries and Cream he shared openly of his troubled relationship with his father and I gathered that Loren never forgave his father, very much like myself in that regard. And when I suggested to him, “you appear to have followed in your fathers footsteps” he was at first dismissive and then somewhat reflective. Dr. Loren Grey was Emeritus Professor of Psychology at UC Riverside in Los Angeles.
He wrote the definitive book on Alfred Adler, another American Psychologist. We followed that line of thinking for a while and, much to my surprise he finally nodded his head and admitted that he had never looked at his father’s writing in that way. But yes, there was that possibility. He appeared rather bemused. Of course I looked at him thinking he was kidding me but the more time I spent with him the more I came to see that what I read in Zane Grey’s writing had a large element of truth. As a somewhat naive and troubled teenager, I simply went to the rear of the book and if the guy got the gal and it all ended happily ever after, then I was hooked and I signed the book out the library.
I read Max Brand and other Western writers but none stuck like Grey. I became addicted I guess. It was not challenging writing but the romance of the West stuck with me and I guess guided aspects of my life.
In 2003, 5 days after graciously hosting my 60th Birthday at Hal’s Bar & Grill in Venice Beach, my wife, a Psychotherapist, comes home and calmly informs me, as we sit over coffee and pastries,
“I have rented an apartment in the Marina and I am moving out next week”.
Bloody hell! A 15 year marriage and now this.
After I picked myself up off the floor, I sat in my studio, phoned a close friend and poured my guts out, “tell her to leave” he suggested. I went back inside only to find she had already left the house. I phoned her cell phone and suggested she not come back and I was changing the locks! Wow, that seems pretty dramatic today. Maybe it was a bit over the top. It certainly closed any door to us continuing our marriage. But then again, I thought her pronouncement was pretty ‘over the top’. I had sensed issues, on both sides, but to be told so bluntly, whew! It hurt in ways I had never, ever experienced. We had enjoyed fun, adventure, challenges and more. I was prepared to seek help. But it was not to be and as time went by the pain only increased. I was done, I could do no more. And then one night, sitting propped on pillows in bed one evening, looking at a road map of the United States, Canada & Mexico, I was writing a list of places I would love to see as in a giant road trip that I could do before retiring wounded to my homeland, New Zealand. The idea of doing the Grand Tour really excited me. The possibility of lifting me out of my despair. Now that is interesting, spelling despair had me go from dispear to dispeare, to disspear without getting out of my chair and grabbing my Oxford English Dictionary that is my Bible. I guess I had better intrude on the story line to state that I was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease some 6 months ago and so I am more comfortable sitting that walking. The period I am writing about is 2003. The year of my 60th birthday which I was going to hold as a self funded surprise party for friends. It became known and I gave up on the idea but my wife graciously took over and we held a great gathering at Hal’s Bar & Grill in Venice Beach. It was on a Sunday. My sister Jennifer flew in from New Zealand. My friend Dan had a stroke so couldn’t attend but the turn out was awesome. I had a ball. The following Friday, my wife dropped the bombshell “and I am moving out next Saturday”. Expect the unexpected I hear often. Life on Life’s terms. It’s still bloody painful when it happens in reality. And so there I sat, propped by pillows, feeling somewhat sorry for myself and in a great deal of pain. I actually phone a doctor friend and told him what was going on because, you never know, “could it be a heart attack?” Nope he said. You are experiencing what is known as Broken heart Syndrome. Bugger! As the list of places grew and grew and I looked at the map I experienced a sudden “aha!” moment and leapt out of bed, I could in those days and went to my library of books and grabbed a couple of my favorite Zane Grey novels. To the Last Man. Shepherd of Guadaloupe. Light of Western Stars. And there I sat, pondering. Searching for America became Searching for ‘Zane Grey’s’ America. Yes! I possibly did yell it out aloud. A project. An idea for a trip.
But first I had a movie to edit, a rehash of a Dogma Lars Von Treirs style movie, American Reunion and so for 3 months I edited this film and buried myself in what I love, story telling. Out of the material shot and material I suggested they shoot the producers, Director and me created a pretty damned good little indie Film and it saved my arse, big time.
Did I say there were no mistakes in Life?
Well, believe me, there aren’t, not in my book. Life on life’s terms.
Christmas 2003 approached and I decided to wet my feet by taking a couple of weeks to see what the West was. So, with my good mate Kiri as in te Kanawa, a Chocolate Lab/Whippet cross, my Landrover, named PAKEHA, my camping gear, a tiny Sony still camera and a tiny Sony Video camera I set out on a large loop. Basically I went looking for the Valley where ‘To The Last Man’ was set. Pleasant valley in Central Arizona.
I left Los Angeles feeling very nervous. I had not done a road trip in America by myself. In Australia, in the outback, yes. In New Zealand, on various visits, yes. But this is America, Land of the Free, Guns, Religion and Crazies. I was introduced to Steinbeck and William Least heat Moon, Blue Highways and Travels with Charlie. The first, far too long, Steinbeck I wanted more.
Leaving Venice Beach, hitting the 405 North, past Santa Monica, the 405 becoming the 5. Santa Clarita, exit to the 14, Palmdale to Mojave and onto my first night under the stars at Red Rock Canyon, home to many Hollywood films.
You know, it fascinating writing about my journey. Up till now I have been working on the Video of the Journey. That was going to be the be all and end all. Visions of Academy Awards plucked my egoistical strings. A full blown Symphony But! My health, the universe, my daimon, my guardian angels, whatever, they knew more that I. They had better plans. More exciting and, damn it, challenging plans. And so here I am, writing the book to go with the film to go with the images that will pepper this book.
One thing I have done for years that worked well for me on this journey was the ability to drive and have a dialogue with myself. No, I never talked back. I guess I was talking to what I consider g*od, my higher power, whoever! I did it on trips back to visit my Mother in New Zealand. I loved being able to express myself as I drove. I would even burst into song or prose, words just popping out of me, seemingly making sense. And so, Red Rock canyon, standing before the stove, my camp light running out of fuel and the darkness, black as black could be.
Sunrise inspired me to begin filming and talking and tripping, no drugs, I simply didn’t tie my shoe laces. And where was I actually camped? Ricardo Ranger Station, as I said, there are no mistakes.
The 14 became the 395 with the Sierra Nevada rising on my left, covered in a light first dusting of snow. I love California. An explorers paradise. Wilderness Reserves, National Parks with names that teased me with an allure as a kid. Westerns were my favorite movies. Saturday afternoon matinees with Zorro, the Lone Ranger and on and on. I was hooked and very rarely missed the next episode. Played cowboys and indians and even then, I preferred dressing as an Indian, the Noble Savage. Little did I know. I grew up in the British Empire. Stiff Upper Lip. Battle of Britain. Winston Churchill and a world map we gloated over with all the Red countries that were “OURS!” We ruled the World. Or so we believed.
At Olancha I paused and turned right toward Death Valley. The light was magical, the landscape, moonlike. It wasn’t until recently that I realized I could have driven North a few miles to Lone Pine and Mt Whitney. Missed opportunities. But I did buy a copy of Bad Day at Black Rock, shot at Lone Pine way back when, a favorite movie of mine.
Death Valley. Romantic, scary, life threatening and a magnet to loners as Zane Grey found in his research. Wander of the Wasteland is a great place to read in depth of the characters this part of the Planet attracts.
Panamint Butte at 6585’ overlooking Death Valley. I parked and stood with my jaw dropped. The names say it all. Emigrant. Stovepipe Wells, Tramway. Chloride. Furnace Creek. Echo Canyon. Greenwater. Dantes View. Hole in the Wall. Artists Palette. Zabriskie Point. From -282’ below seal level to over 11000’ of Telescope Peak, Death valley is a place of extremes. Romantic and Deadly.
Setting up my tiny camera on my cars mudguard, I shot a rambling interview about life, love, death and dying. Then drove on to Stovepipe Wells and camped in my small alpine tent for a couple of days while I caught my breath after 6 months of living in chaos.
I look at the film footage today and accept that I had no plan, no idea for a book, a photographic collection or a film. I simply needed to get out of LA, get out of my head and get back to the great Nurturer, nature. It works every time for me. As a child I wandered the hills, I ran cross country rode my bike with camping gear, I was a born gypsy I guess, my fathers genes but my curiosity and hunger for knowledge I guess.
Death Valley Junction, left or right? It’s great having choices, as I have said, there are no mistakes. If I turned right my life would be different from what it is today. Not better, not worse. Different. I turned left toward the I95 and Las Vegas but with no desire to drive thru Las Vegas. I visited once, from New York I attended the 1988 NAB Convention, film and video geeks, I spent 50 buck gambling and asked myself what the hell was I doing. Gave the other 50 bucks to a Vietnam vet I believe and went back to my sleazy Motel and wrote my thoughts, my first published piece.
Over the Nevada Line into Clark County and on toward Valley of Fire. December is winter. Winter in the desert is magical, the Mojave especially. Wherever there were mountains there was a fine layer of white, nothing heavy, no skiing, simply beautiful to observe as I drove and drove. Red Rock Canyon. What can I say. America is amazing. I have heard it said in New Zealand that around every corner is a drop dead view. Well I am here to say that America is huge and it is this hugeness that encompasses so many varied and magical landscapes. Death Valley was my introduction. Mind blowing. Mind you, many people I have talked to simply look at me when I talk about about the majesty and mystery. I love the isolation and the sheer drama of these grand places. You have to be prepared to get off the beaten track, they do not find you. And so I drove, down into the mysteriously named Valley of Fire with no expectation, which is how I love to travel. A general outline with no research. Late afternoon, raining, cold and a wind gathering steam. I pitched tend beneath this huge overhang of desert rock. Cooked simply and went to bed. Kiri, my pal, my traveling buddy, tried to get into my sleeping bag but I was having no way of that. Sharp claws and not totally cuddly. The wind grew in pitch, I lay dozing, dreaming, wondering if the overhang would break of during the night. I could see the headlines “Crushed Kiwi” yeah right. The wind would die and I would doze and then, sounding like an approaching freight train the wind would build and come barreling down the canyon and simply clobber the tent and then a few seconds later would come the rain to lash the tent and have me grateful once more for good gear. It was then that kiri really made her presence known and her intentions clear, let me in the sleeping bag or else. She won. Early the next morning, as I often do, I was up really early video camera at the ready for the first rays of sun. Nothing at all had prepared me for the spectacle. Valley of Fire is named because the sun hits the red rock and explodes with brilliant a red, orange glow that I have never previously experienced. Overwhelming. I simply let the camera run. Then, as I walked down the canyon, I discovered a fully assembled two man camping tent tangled in the mesquite. I managed to set it free and took it back to camp just as a couple of young tourist came looking. They had got up in the middle of the night, scared and prepared to abandon their tent. The tent beat them to it as it sailed away. They spent the night in their car. Alls well that ends well I guess. We certainly had a good laugh around it.
Spending time in Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire, exploring the rock formation had me realize once more that early man was fearful, superstitious and that the shapes I was seeing in these places would have, under the right light, scared the living hell out of them. I have seen it before in the Santa Monica Mountains while hiking the hidden canyons behind Malibu. I love it.
Next stop Moapa on the I15. An Indian Trading Post with the main goods for sale being booze, cigarettes and fireworks along with plastic nic nacs, Indian implements, Made in China. I felt quite depressed but accepted that this is simply not me and I don’t need, hard as it can be, to judge others life styles.
American Highways are awesome. Long, multi laned, full of traffic, 24 hours per day. Tractor trailers, the new Prairie Schooners.
Mile after Mile after Mile I drove. Looking left as a big rig loomed in my rear view mirror and roared on by. I was in no hurry but you cannot screw with a big rig. Give way. Period! I very rarely saw a speeding driver, this is the long haul out between LA, San Diego, Salt Lake City and on to the East Coast. A long haul.
Mesquite. Amazing. A town in the Desert. Green lawns, lakes, golf courses, casinos and churches. Billboards offering cheap meals. Steak Dinner $9.99 all you can eat. Paid for by the cash flowing through the Casino. As they say, every Cloud has a Silver Lining.
So, without stopping I cruised on by toward St George via the Virgin River Gorge. Now I have to say, here I am barreling down the highway in my bright yellow Land Rover Defender 90, living the dream, talking to my pal Kiri and video at times as I go with the I15 flow. I see mountains ahead, a range of mountains that I guess I will travel through or climb over. I really had no idea. Just going with the flow. I cross the Utah State Line from Arizona and finally the road takes a slow curve to the right and there, wham bam thank you ma’am, ahead of me is a slice into the mountain range that becomes the Virgin Rivers path from the other side. The Highway is a man made structure of epic proportions that winds through the centre of the gorge. Rising on concrete pylons it weaves along the river course while sheer granite cliff climb hundreds, thousands of feet above. It is truly magical as the traffic glides between these granite outcrops. On and on and on. One side of the Gorge are the Beaver Dam Mountains and the other side is the Paiute Wilderness Area. Two sets of continuous bridges, one coming one going. In fact it was so awe inspiring I kept my camera running the whole way and then, once through I turned around and drove through the other way to do it all over again. I am sure most people sit in their car and don’t embrace the experience. Possibly, quite possibly one of the grandest roads I have travelled on. Second time through I also videoed and was just as awed. I guess drivers of Big Rigs take it in their stride, but not this kiwi. I guess what really got to my soul was the detailed cross section of rock strata, I guess that’s what it’s called. Like watching a huge Californian surf up the Big Sur Coastline. Colors varying between brown and grey and changing constantly in the fading afternoon light. I have no idea the length of the Gorge but it seemed to take forever. The cost of building the 12 mile highway was 1 million dollars per mile and it was completed in 1973, it is considered one of the greatest engineering feats in American Highway Construction. Amazing.
Out the other side, St george and snow storms, actually more Blizzard than Storm. I crept into Hurricane late afternoon, crashed at a Motel 6 where they welcomed me and my Dog. I was not looking forward to Motels as the whole point was to tent and hike but every now and then a clean sheet, a shower and shave can lift the spirits. And it did.
Next comes Zion
Driving gives me room to spread my thoughts. Driving long distance adds to that and driving through the American West expands my thinking. It gets me going beneath the surface of every day conversations and has me rummaging around for ideas. As I drive my thoughts will go toward the environment I am passing, the environment I am in. And I have to say, these past few years I see my environment as far larger than what I used to consider my environment to be. My life, my relationships, my home, family, creativity, friends, all part and parcel of my environment. It is the outdoor environment that allows this expansion, encourages me to think outside the box. Be it driving or hiking, it is the movement of myself through the outdoors that stirs me. This trip had me talking aloud into my camera as I filmed my driving but on listening I have deleted much of what I said from the film. To drive through this magical landscape is enough. My mind going ten thousand miles an hour with words coming forth doesn’t work for me. Sounds like oral pollution. It makes me wonder what I was really thinking or was I thinking and speaking to disengage myself from being engaged in the physical environment. Entirely possible. Verbal Diarrhea I believe.