Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Sidewinder races? Really?

I hope you enjoyed my April Fool's Day story! (Some of you may remember it from last year.) It sounds like a few people fell for it, others were amused by it, and some wanted to know how much "truth" the story contained. So, just for the record ...

Panamint Springs Resort, the Death Valley Natural History Association, Furnace Creek Resort, and the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe are all real organizations. I hope they don't object to my using their names. Bakersfield is a real place, too, or so I've heard.

All of the historical figures I mentioned are real people. Death Valley Scotty was a well-known con man who I like to imagine would have staged a sidewinder race if he had thought of it. Albert Johnson was a Chicago millionaire who continued to fund Scotty's extravagant lifestyle long after realizing he'd been conned. His vacation home in Grapevine Canyon, which he called Death Valley Ranch, is now known as Scotty's Castle. Shorty Harris and Pete Aguereberry were prospecting partners, until Shorty took credit for Pete's gold discovery and named the resulting town Harrisburg (it's now called Aguereberry Camp). Father John Crowley was a priest whose parish covered 30,000 square miles from Bishop to Barstow. He was well known to Death Valley's prospectors.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) really does have an anti-fur campaign called "I'd rather go naked." I don't know how often, if ever, their protests have been stopped by a shortage of sunscreen.

The Yosemite Firefall was a real event. Each evening during the summer tourist season, employees of the Glacier Point Hotel would build a bonfire and shove the glowing embers over the cliff after dark. By current standards it sounds like a pretty crazy thing to do in a national park - almost as crazy as holding a snake race in Death Valley.

Turtle races, rattlesnake roundups, and other cruel forms of "entertainment" really do exist, and various people have tried to shut them down. I hope they succeed.

I can't be absolutely positive, but I'm pretty confident that the following two sentences are true: "The Mark Twain Archive at the University of California has no record of the invitation," and "If you travel to Death Valley next spring looking for the sidewinder races, you're not likely to find them."

On the other hand, you really can buy a t-shirt or mug as a souvenir of the fictional race.

As for the photos - well, as Paul Simon might say, "Mama, don't take my Photoshop away!"

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