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California Desert Trails [Paperback]

J. Smeaton Chase

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Price: 18.76 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

20 July 2004
Imagine all the soft places of the world, the green valleys, the soft beaches, the tranquil islands, the cool mountains. Now imagine you are on horseback in one of the harshest deserts in the world – riding alone for two years!  That is what famed British naturalist J. Smeaton Chase did. He mounted up and rode into the Mojave Desert to undertake the longest equestrian study of its kind in modern history. Chase was no newcomer to equestrian travel.  In 1910 he rode from the Mexican border to Oregon, then penned a delightful book called ‘California Coast Trails,’ which recorded his impressions of the pristine beauty observed during that ocean-front ride. Then in 1916 the amateur naturalist headed his horse inland in search of the secrets of a sun-drenched landscape few had explored. The resulting book, “California Desert Trails,” is one man’s love affair with the Mojave Desert. For Chase possessed the rare talent of seeing beauty where others perceived only serpents and sand. He found wisdom in unconventional places, with crazy hermits, wise Indians, and fellow wanderers adrift in the desert. Traveling slowly as he did on horseback, Chase was also able to observe the animals and plants that inhabited this dangerous, but delightful, world. The result is a book unlike any other in the history of equestrian travel. Amply illustrated with stunning black and white photographs which Chase took during his long ride, this poetic travel tale concludes with a special appendix, wherein Chase gives “Hints on Desert Traveling” to a new generation of Long Riders and desert travelers.

Product details

  • Paperback: 476 pages
  • Publisher: The Long Riders' Guild Press (20 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590481453
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590481455
  • Product Dimensions: 2.7 x 13.8 x 21.3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,254,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Overlooked Classic 25 Nov 2000
By Kent Duryee - Published on Amazon.com
California Desert Trails is a classic of nature writing from near the turn of the last century, but has remained more of a secret than the subject matter of the book. Chase, a British social worker in Los Angeles, was also a photographer who made a trip in the summer of 1918 to document the region from Palm Springs south through the Anza-Borrego area and from there east to the Imperial Valley and finally to the Colorado River and Yuma. Chase's descriptions of his adventures and the beauty he traveled through put the book in the same genre as Muir and Mary Austin, while the accuracy of his scientific descriptions predate Edmund Jaeger's classic of the same region, "California Deserts", by almost 50 years.
The reader is carried along with Chase, and his horse "Kaweah", through the deserts of Southern California before much of what we have come to know the area by existed. Pre-automobile California was much the same as it had been for thousands of years, the home of Indians, native desert animals and plants, and very little else except for breathtaking beauty and solitude. Chase captures this land in a way that few writers before or since have been able to. All this notwithstanding, Chase has been all but forgotten in the century since he wrote California Desert Trails. This is sad considering his ability to describe what he saw: "When the red flood of sunset comes on those great plains and hill slopes, where no other object breaks the far expanse, while the ancient river moves silently on to the lonely gulf and the mysterious sea, and the traveler's steps halt under that old spell of evening, then the dark, upward-pointing finger of the saguaro gives an added solemnity to that impression of the vast, unchanging, and elemental which is the eternal note of the desert."
As a chronicle of a California that no longer exists, California Desert Trails strikes me as a fossil; an incredible, poignant preservation of something that once existed but which long ago ceased to be a part of day-to-day life: "A straight white line marked on the desert proved to be a macadamized road which had lately been laid for the benefit of automobilists. This gave notice that I was approaching the settlements of Imperial. Two or three [automobiles] passed us, for there is a fair amount of traffic between San Diego and the now-born towns of the valley." Chase and Kaweah tromp and trudge through places with names that are still in use, but which have changed so much since 1918 that I wonder if the pair would recognize many of them. Here is Palm Springs of that year: "On the morning of starting I had been up since four o'clock, and we got on the move while Palm Springs was yet rubbing its eyes. As we passed the Reservation there came the chatter of orioles breakfasting with nonchalance on old Rosa's early figs at forty cents a pound. The racket, checked while the thieves listened with bored amusement to the rattle of her warning bell, -- a kerosene can with horseshoe clapper, hung high among the branches of the patriarchal tree, and operated by Rosa's foot, so as not to interfere with the fashioning of baskets or tortillas, -- went on again the moment the tattoo was ended. Not so, I guessed, the slumbers of her neighbors."
Chase's book is highly recommendable, not only as historical reading, but also as an integral part of the body of literature which continues to build on the beauty and wonder of the deserts of the world. More importantly, even though some of the prose may seem plodding to us in the high-speed information age, the crafting of the book is superb, and this is what makes it such a wonderful experience. It took me almost a month to read the book because I hung on every word, and found myself turning back and forth comparing passages and noting phrases. My copy has at least 100 colored "post-it" tabs stuck on pages at points I particularly wanted to remember. I could just as easily have placed a tab on every page. I did not mark this paragraph, only because it is the last paragraph of Chase's travels, and thus easily remembered: "What sentiment does the desert yield by which it may be linked with human emotions? What analogy exists by which we may come into touch with it? The answer must be, There is none. At every point the desert meets us with a negative. Like the Sphinx, there is no answer to its riddle. It is in the fascination of the unknowable, in the challenge of some old unbroken secret, that the charm of the desert consists. And the charm is undying, for the secret is - Secrecy."
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get to Know the Personality of the Desert 19 Dec 2006
By Lisa Wood - Published on Amazon.com
Whether you love, hate, or fear the desert, you have never experienced it as you will if you read this book. You may be amazed to find that some of the social, political, economic, and environmental issues associated with the desert were around in similar form nearly a hundred years ago. This beautifully written book will introduce you to the harshness and kindness of the desert in a personal way as you travel through it with Mr. Chase, who traveled in the heat of the summer. Having read the book and written the forward for it, I can say it has changed forever how I look at our amazing California desert.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars California Desert Trails 28 Mar 2011
By 1975 Camel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book gives a good account of Mr Chase's travels through the Colorado Desert. I first read the book back in the 1970's, and have reread it at least four times. It is a great book about the lower desert, most books tend to be written on gold mining and the higher Mojave desert.
As for the desert changing, it has built up, but land marks mentioned in the book can still be easily recognized, the sand hills north of Palm Springs, the former Southern Pacific tracks running east of the Salton Sea, the mud hills east of Indio, Chocolate Mountains, The list goes on.
The book makes a good read for those that would care to travel the lower desert and know some history, and not think of the desert as a lifeless empty space to be shunned.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read for California Desert Lovers! 17 Aug 2010
By Michael Gordon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I highly recommend this book to all California desert lovers! It's at once amusing and horrifying how much the California desert has changed in just the 90 or so years since Chase passed through. Unlike John Van Dyke's (The Desert) more poetic and lofty visions of the desert, Chase's observations are a bit more realistic and often offer dreary glimpses of a harsh landscape.

I would have given this book five stars were it not for the reproduction: "This book may have occasional imperfections such as missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. that were either part of the original artifact, or were introduced by the scanning process.". There are several pages that are outright missing from my book, and several others that I could not read due to poor scanning. If you're a desert wanderer and lover willing to deal with the imperfections, this book should be in your collection!
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed account of a remarkable man and his remarkable horse on remarkable journey 12 May 2014
By Paige Terner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It was a Corb Lund song, The Only Long Rider I Know, that ultimately turned me on to this book. Corb's song is about James Greenwood, a British long rider, who rode through parts of South America in the latter half of the 20th century. (A long rider is a person who rides his or her equine at least 1,000 miles on one trip.) BTW, James' book is another wonderful account of a long rider and his horse on a remarkable journey- but that is another review. While reading James' book, I came across his reference to this book. I had to read it book because I am fascinated by long riders and I have lived for years in the Southern California low desert. How anyone is able to ride through this desert in the summer where temperatures easily top 115 degrees and water holes are very very few is amazing. That Mr. Chase so ably documented his long ride is stunning. The book is a simple and easy to read. If you are interested in a well-done adventure, this book is a must.
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