Thursday, September 12, 2019

Inspiration coming from the land and an author

by Rain Trueax

Zane Grey with one of his guides-- painting inside the lodge at Kohl's Ranch
Most writers have authors who inspired them. For me, one of the earliest, was Zane Grey for his mix of action, romance, and nature. His books made me want to be in the places he described because I knew he'd written of what was real. I loved how he depicted the land having the power to change lives.

Alongside my desk is one of his books. It originally came out as To the Last Man, inspired by a real feud in the Tonto Basin-- [The Pleasant Valley War]. Years after the censored version, the book came out as he had originally intended-- Tonto Basin. Even back then but more so today, Zane Grey is criticized for not being politically correct. He had his prejudices and was a product of his time. He wrote his stories when the West wasn't that far removed from its wild and woolly days. Remember Arizona was denied statehood until 1912-- some say because the rest of the states thought it was still too violent. There was some conflict over it not wanting to be one state with New Mexico for possible racist reasons. Add to it that it seemed barren without water. Whatever the reasons, it was the last of the contiguous states to be admitted.

Much as I loved Grey's heroes and heroines, his descriptions of nature inspired me the most and probably contributed to my own love of it for my writing. He brought the land alive as a real character in his stories. As a hunter and fisherman, he walked the trails about which he wrote.

As an example of what I loved, the following is a snippet typed from the book. It was worth the work as I am still inspired to remember to bring to my books the nature that I always found in his.
 "Early in July the hot weather came. Down in the red ridges of the Tonto it was hot desert. The nights were cool, the early mornings were pleasant, but the day was something to endure. When the white cumulus clouds rolled up out of the southwest, growing larger and thicker and darker, here and there coalescing into a black thunderhead, Jean welcomed them. He liked to see the gray streamers of rain hanging down low from a canopy of black, and the roar of rain on the trees as it approached like a trampling army was always welcome. The grassy flats, the rocky slopes, the thickets of manzanita and scrub oak and cactus were dusty, glaring, throat-parching places under the hot summer sun."

As I typed the snippet, I was tempted to put in the commas that I am dinged for missing; but no, this is how it is in the book and how he wrote when you knew he'd experienced that kind of day.
We have been on the Rim many times but just one time through the valley where the feud happened. It is out of the way and required some gravel roads to leave it to the south.  It's a small place, very pretty with homes and business spread apart-- at least when we were there. Grey changed the names; but in an interview, he said there was still fear and anger from those he spoke to about that bloody time-- when it came down to the last man.

This photo above is not in Paradise Valley; but from 2011, near where Grey had a cabin under the Rim from where he hunted, fished, hiked, and wrote his Arizona books. 

My first time at his cabin came out of my desire to find his hunting and writing cabin. It was 1974. We had camped several miles below. It turned out the road to the cabin was closed due to storm damage. I had to see it, and we began walking. I think it was just over two miles.

Part way, some young rangers stopped and asked if we wanted a ride. We rode in the back of their pickup to the turnoff to the cabin. We were lucky that day that the caretakers were there. The cabin was one room with no bedrooms. Inside was a desk where he wrote. His guests and Grey slept in cabin tents. On that first visit, there were books for sale, and I bought three paperbacks even though I already owned them. 

In 1979, we had a second visit where the road to it was open. We parked in the parking area, but the caretaker was not there. We though could be on the porch and look in the windows.

My third time was 2011, after the monster Dude Fire had come though the rim country, and despite all efforts to save it, burned the cabin. A few mementos were saved. When we drove up anyway, the property was gated off by the association that apparently owned it.

Today there is a replica of Grey's cabin in Payson, a nearby town. I chose not to go into it as although it resembles the cabin, it's not the same for energy as when it was possible to see inside the walls that inspired a writer to create stories that still live on. 

When I wrote this, it reminded me of wanting to watch again the most recent movie (I read there were 112) based on one of Grey's books-- Riders of the Purple Sage. It's on Amazon, but I own it-- some movies I know I'll want to see again and again.  

Grey had a prejudice against Mormons and used some words that are not okay today, but this film avoids that and goes to the real problem with some groups using religion-- greed, search for power, and fundamentalism. Ed Harris and his wife, Amy Madigan, starred and kept it true to the energy of the book. It was filmed in gorgeous, red rock country, which is not on the Rim but to the north. Arizona is a state of diversity, which is why I've loved having a home there for over twenty years now and where I have placed so many of my books. 


  1. It's a shame that fire took his cabin. A writer's energy is really only understood by another creative person.

  2. Wow, I enjoyed reading this post, it is so very interesting and I enjoyed looking at the photos! Thank you so very much for posting this article and sharing it with us. I don't blame you for not wanting to step in the new cabin, I understand how it would not be the same at all anymore. So sad the fire destroyed his cabin. Have a great rest of the week. God Bless you.

  3. I feel so lucky that I got to be in it the first time we went up. It's a shame they block off access now to even the land as he used it for writing but had cabin tents outside to sleep. That fire was a monster.

  4. Louis L'Amour's books do for me what Zane Grey's do for you. I have read all his western books and reread so many that I loved. He was a great storyteller.

  5. I was also inspired by L'Amour. His stories were not as romantic though. They made one into a movie, Crossfire Trail. The book doesn't have nearly the power for the heroine that the movie did with Tom Selleck. One I highly recommend.


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