The Desert is Yours by Erle Stanley Gardner

The Desert Is Yours by Erle Stanley Gardner

Book Review by Bob Jaussaud

It was most likely Neal Johns who gave me The Desert Is Yours by Erle Stanley Gardner. He used to give away the duplicates he ended up with in his desert collection. I expect he gave me this book in the hopes that I might become more literate and thus be better company around the campfire. Sorry Neal. I should have read it sooner.

Anyway, The Desert Is Yours is still a fun read. It transports one back in time to the desert as it was pre-Desert Bill, back when we were able to explore the interesting back roads and follow Neal to who-knew-where.

The Desert Is Yours was copyrighted in 1963, but Gardner started exploring the desert much earlier. It was uniquely interesting for me to learn that in the 1920s he was in the Mojave Desert with a Chevrolet “camp wagon”, one very similar to Sue’s 1924 Chevrolet house car, “Lulu” (which was discussed in a past DE Newsletter). Quoting Gardner regarding his “camp wagon” travels -“In those days the maximum speed limit was thirty-five miles an hour, there were few paved roads, and my vehicle couldn’t be operated at a greater speed than twenty-five miles an hour without burning out a connecting rod bearing. Nevertheless, poking along at twenty-five miles an hour with a compound transmission, I penetrated many wild parts of the desert.”

Gardner’s book is loaded with gems of information. Most of us have been to 

Sunflower Springs but I didn’t know that in the 1950s there was a man named Tom Farley living there with only his dog and cat for company. Included in the book were several pictures of Farley and his cabin, including a unique wind chime he made from a pipe and a pan.

Many old time desert dwellers were friends of Gardner and through his writing one gets to know them a little bit. These were folks like Jack Black who invented the “Pak-Jak” (an original backroad scooter), the Wilhelm brothers and their unique car, the “Prowler” and a desert-wise pilot known as “Pinky” Brier. Gardner reached out to and traveled with folks that, like him, loved the desert.

After Erle Stanley Gardner died in March of 1970, Jack Pepper wrote a fine tribute to him that was published in the May, 1970 Desert Magazine. Pepper said, “To his intimate friends and back country associates, he was “Uncle Erle.” Uncle Erle’s greatest pleasure was sitting around an open camp fire at night, telling stories and listening to others and then falling asleep under the stars.” It would have been great fun if we all could have shared a campfire with Gardner (and/or Pepper) as fellow Desert Explorers.

The Desert Is Yours is long out of print, although as I write this it is still available online for around $25. ~ Joeso


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