I wanted to do short reviews on a couple of books I recently enjoyed. I find inspiration in the American West. I love the beauty, the isolation and the mystery. Having lived in the West multiple times, I have feelings there I seldom have elsewhere. The West offers the absence of people and distractions, the abundance of beauty and sunsets and the palpable sense there are some aspects of those sweeping landscapes that our conventional five senses cannot fully detect.
As an example, I was once poking around the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in Otero County New Mexico just as the sun was about to dip below the horizon. My world was bathed in orange light with foreboding shadows coming from the petroglyph-covered boulders surrounding me. I had strange a sensation I was in a sacred place similar to what I experienced when visiting the Chartres Cathedral. Hard to explain unless you have experienced it. I had been there earlier on other days, and it didn’t have that feeling. It was as though the sunset “activated it.” The photo section of this site (under the New Mexico tab) has a couple of pictures I took of this place on other days.
But I digress, let’s talk books…
Let me start with Abandoned New Mexico by John M. Mulhouse. Having lived in New Mexico for three years, I explored the remote corners of this magnificent state as often as I could.
Mulhouse does an excellent job of documenting places across the state that have been largely abandoned yet still have many great stories to share. Though Mulhouse doesn’t necessarily emphasize this, it is a persistent story of the futility of man working against mother nature. Mulhouse’s main emphasis is what brought people to a place, what was built to support civilization and, typically speaking, how precious little still remains of that struggle.
The book is filled with incredible photos documenting what remains of ghost towns and near ghost towns across the state. I actually visited the above structure in 1996 and documented it myself. There used to be other buildings around this structure. There was no sign of them even in 1996 when I visited. Now, the building sits in splendid isolation out on an Eastern New Mexico prairie.
Sadly, other images of this structure in the book reveal that the building has deteriorated a great deal from the time I visited. But, I digress (again).
Mulhouse’s book does an impressive job of documenting so many forgotten places across the state.
Simply put, I loved this book. Having lived in New Mexico and having explored its backroads, this book brings back so many good memories and gives context to many of the lonely, beautiful places I visited. I loved the way Mulhouse coupled his stunning photography with just enough history to give context without overwhelming the reader. His occasional dry humor adds much as well.
Another thing I liked is that he offers explorations in parts of the state that are seldom discussed but have rich histories and interesting stories to share.
Now, I’ll provide a brief review of a second book concerning the Southwest. It is a totally different kind of book.
Desert Oracle by Ken Layne explores some of the mysterious aspects of the Southwest. It shares a number of stories, some short, some long, that describes mysteries surrounding disappearances, cults, murders, UFOs monsters and other desert mysteries. The stories are all based on accounts from several sources about these strange occurrences. Layne balances “keeping it real” and keeping it interesting quite well.
One of my favorite stories was about a mysterious Swedish fellow named John Samuelson who left his life philosophy carved on some stones now part of Joshua Tree National Park. The man led a bizarre life including selling the rights to his (possibly true) life story to Earl Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason.
The book has an old school feeling to it and is ascetically very pleasing. The stories are well written and interesting. All the content is presented in a plausible fashion and will likely hold your attention. Once finished, you will step away from the book wanting to go experience some of these mysteries of the Southwest yourself.
Cover photo: ©Matt Walter, 1 Jan 2021, Sunset over Alpine, TX