The Day I Claimed a Western Town – A Time Travel Story That’s Not to Be Believed. (But it’s great fun pretending.)
“Down in the west Texas town of El Paso, I met Katrina, a girl that I love.”
That line from the memorable Marty Robbins song, “El Paso,” has stuck with me since I was a teen—in a “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” sort of way.
Granted, the latter song, crooned by breathy singer-songwriter Paula Cole, was sung with tongue planted firmly in cheek; nonetheless, that doesn’t negate the still-begging-for-an-answer question that’s secretly on every woman’s mind: “So, where have all the cowboys gone?”
I think I wanted to be Marty’s Katrina … the girl that he loved. I wanted to be discovered in a small Texas town, doing whatever cowgirls do until the day the rodeo and its leading wranglin’ man came to town. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what a cowgirl was, and most likely never would—owing to the fact that I was a city slicker from San Francisco where cowgirls were definitely in short supply.
Ree’s Peas (Like Bee’s Knees, Only Better)
I was, and still am, at a loss to find that cowboy. But I’m quite sure it doesn’t involve cruising cowboy dating sites, hanging out at feed stores, or placing bids on bulls at a livestock auction. Even Ree Drummond, the famous blogger and star of the hit show, Pioneer Woman, never set out to corral her no frills, gen-u-ine, rootin’ tootin,’ boot-kickin, cow ropin’ cowboy. But find him she did, or rather, he found her—in a “smokey bar” in Oklahoma City, as the story goes.
Ree and her “Marlboro man” were an unlikely match. As a People Magazine article conveys: “He was a fifth-generation cowboy who lived on a remote cattle ranch, and she was fresh out of college in Los Angeles with plans to continue the big city hustle in Chicago.” To sum it up, they were incompatible, both by social standards and by ambition. The rest, as they say, is history.
Ree Drummond’s urban-sophisticate-turned-pie-making-ranch-wife story clearly has its romantic appeal, as is evidenced by the wild success of her blog and now her TV show. The problem for me is that if baking and craft-making is part of the “come hither” package for wrangling a weathered Levi-wearin’ ranchman, I might as well pack it up now and call it a day.
Lady of the Ranch
With homemaking skills clearly lacking, this leaves me with only one lady-of-the-ranch role model that I can relate to—the regal, yet no-nonsense, character of Clara Allen in everyone’s favorite Western miniseries, Lonesome Dove. Who can forget the look of the indomitable Anjelica Huston standing by the wooden gate of her Wyoming spread, duly resplendent in her super-cool cowgirl hat, oversized white puffy sleeved blouse, wide tribal belt and full-on femme prairie skirt with badass boots? It wasn’t just her attire, it was her “I own it, troubles and all” stance. It was a sight that no doubt made every cowboy west of the Mississippi take one look at her, whistle under his breath, and say to himself, “Now, that’s a fine lookin’ woman.”
But that was fantasy and this is real life. So the best I could do this Tuesday past was to grab my feisty New York friend/Pilates instructor and head on over to LA’s best imitation of the west Texas town of El Paso, channeling my inner Clara. As it turns out, it was easy to do, given the fact that my friend and I were the only ones there. Thankfully, Western Town, the faux western film town where TV shows such as Westworld (still filming), Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, M*A*S*H and others were filmed, was remarkably devoid of those dreaded tourists (who always have a way of shattering the illusion). This means that I was completely free to climb into my rocket-fueled covered wagon (the DeLorean was taken) and head back to the future, circa 1800s California.
Before leaving for Western Town, I tried as best I could to dress the part, grabbing whatever combo I could from both my daughter’s wardrobe and mine. Trouble is, I couldn’t find my quasi-cowboy boots. So deciding that anything less than the real deal would look just plain sad, I went barefoot for most of my shots. Somehow it all worked—sort of. It was boho, with a Western feel.
Back to the Future
So there I found myself, suddenly transported back to 1848, walking the dusty streets of a small Western town where life was hard, but simple. It was a time and place when the only technology was the telegraph, and the same person who shoed your horse on Monday tried to save your soul on Sunday. Where you knew whom you could trust just by the look in their eye, and you could ride for days on end under a vast blue sky … with nary a building or person in sight. Where outlaws and lawmen knew where they stood, and rough-and-tumble gold diggers played a dangerous game in stakin’ their claim. What was respectable was clear: you were either that kind or the other, and at least half the young children were lost to every father and mother. While hustlers hawked snake oil, honest men would toil. And as young mothers read the Good Book to their children by lamplight, other women were forced to make their livin’ in the night, pleasin’ the flesh of mayors and sheriffs, gun slingers and ranch hands. In the dark, every man looked the same, and every woman took the blame.
Towards the end of my Western fantasy, as the sun began to set, and I had placed my last bet at the poker table (I had to give myself at least one vice), I decided that this was my town. I owned it. The saloon, the bank, the blacksmith’s shop, the hotel, the dry goods store. I owned it all. Except the little white church at the edge of the town. That was God’s house. And it welcomed all. “Be ye saint or sinner,” the preacher would preach, “you are welcome here the same … just come as you are, and leave forever changed.”
And that, my friends, is as good a note as any on which to end this Western time travel story. Because what is travel if, along with the 10 best things to do and see, it’s not about visiting those deep recesses of our imagination where collective ancient memories become mysteriously unearthed by the primal force of our deepest longings.
When in Rome, become an ancient Roman. That’s my travel philosophy and I’m sticking to it.
About Western Town
Locale: Western Town, Paramount Ranch, Santa Monica Mountains (Agoura Hills)
What Is It: A Western-themed film set that’s part of Paramount Ranch located in the Santa Monica Mountains. The show Westworld is currently being filmed there, and formerly Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, The Mentalist, Weeds, and Hulu’s Quickdraw (2013-2014).
Owned By: Originally purchased by Paramount Studios in 1927, the ranch has changed ownership numerous times. It’s now owned by the National Parks Service.
What To Do There: Walk, hike and take photos, though a permit is required if photos are used for commercial purposes.