The Interior West of North America

So blame it on the Range Rider. It was a western from Gene Autry’s then brand-new stable of television shows, starring Jock Mahoney. It was forgettable with two caveats.

The first has to do with the fact the the Rider would often end up a bloody pulp about halfway through the show. Even as a 9 year-old I realized there was something odd about plot lines that led to the invetiable ass-kicking before the just as inevitable end-of-script redemption. It wasn’t till later that I learned the word sado-masochist and what it meant and that Mahoney may have been some sort of stand-in for kinky wish-casting.

The second has stayed with me longer. It’s the locations where the show was filmed. As a kid growing up in New England I got the same yearning that infected everyone who came within eye-shot of those now iconicĀ  images, the deep gorges and the slot canyons, the mesas and distant mountain ranges, the open desert plains and the grasslands. It’s an amazing thing, the way those Western landscapes became part of everyone’s mental map almost overnight. A lot of us who grew up reading that map have always felt the romantic pull of these places. Less than a hundred years ago, that map didn’t exist unless you lived in that country.

Along came John Ford and the other western movie-makers with their TV brethren. Those images were the virus and broadcast television the vector, one that quickly spread the meme of the West and its red-rock country far and wide. It’s long since gone global.