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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

BECKONING DESERT

BOOK REVIEW

BECKONING DESERT: IMPRESSIONS OF THE SUNLIT LAND, ITS PEOPLE, ITS MIRACLES OLD AND NEW
BY EDWARD MADDIN AINSWORTH
PRENTICE HALL

  Have you ever had the experience of reading an old book and realizing like, half way through, that it is meant for school children, not adults?  I read this entire book about the Colorado Desert (it's in Southern California, named after the river, not the state.) without really getting that it was written for children, so I'll hold off on some of the gibes I was considering making.

   The fact is that it is hard to find books written about the Colorado Desert.  The Colorado is a portion of the larger Sonoran Desert, which encompasses much of Mexico and Southern Arizona.  The Colorado Desert is separate from the Mojave Desert, which is located to the north and encompasses the area traditionally known as "Death Valley."

  The author of this book is what you call an "old fashioned newspaper man" and it's quite obvious from his constant mentioning of the fact that he owned a vacation house in the city of Mecca on the North End of the Salton Sea in the 50s and 60s, and that he decided to write this book, probably earning himself a well deserved tax deduction for all the money he spent at his vacation house.  I especially enjoyed the chapter called "shit in my backyard."

 The Anecdotal style does not detract from the over-all merit of this book for being a font of information about a place that seems condemned to perpetual obscurity.  I'm not sure why, it's got all the elements: post-apocalyptic waste land, international border intrigue, interesting regional cuisine, a yearly music festival and plenty of nice spots to live, and yet it seems all we read about the area of the Colorado desert is how poor Imperial County is.  Boo on that.

Scotty's Castle in Death Valley, California

Scotty's Castle in Death Valley, California

  So my favorite chapter in this book actually concerned Scotty's Castle in Death Valley (Mojave desert)- it is pictured above.  Basically there was this eccentric mid Western millionaire who thought it would be fun to "create" this character of Death Valley Scotty who did wacky things like gamble with gold nuggets and hire a train to take him from LA to Chicago as fast as possible.  This millionaire guy built this mansion for himself, but led everyone to believe it was for this guy Scotty, but really Scotty lived in a shack out in back.  It's kind of a cool story, set in the desert.

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