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Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Spain and the Old West

For over fifty years Spain has been associated with the American Wild West. It all has to do with Almeria – a province of Andalusia – which is a place of many contrasts and definitely worth visiting. Whether you tour the capital city Almeria or the Alpujarra and Valle del Andarax, the Cabo de Gata and Nijar national parks, you’ll discover fantastic sights and views.

Reminiscent of the hanging houses of Cuenca, there are the dwellings hanging over the very lip of the barranco at Sorbas, which is a fascinating little town with steep narrow streets vying for prominence against the larger Castilian style buildings. Close by are the gypsum karst caves, a unique and unforgettable experience when visited. And Sorbas itself boasts a most informative and worthwhile visitors’ centre that resembles these caves.
Jen in Sorbas                                          Sorbas - hanging houses

Sorbas is situated on a plateau between the valleys of Vera and Almanzora and the sub-desert strip of Tabernas.

The pueblo of Tabernas dates from Roman times, when they set up a number of inns and taverns to supply their troops. The town attained its prominence under the Moors and the castle is considered to be the most important after the Alcazaba in Almeria city.

In 1989 the desert of Tabernas was declared a Nature Reserve. It’s the only real desert in Europe, with eroded hills and a sub-arid climate. Not surprisingly, nearby is Europe’s biggest solar energy centre.

This desert landscape was home to the film industry for many years, especially in the 1960s. The arid scenery and constant sunlight made it a perfect spot. Among the many films made here are: Lawrence of Arabia, A Fistful of Dollars, Cleopatra, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Apache, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Bounty Hunter and Shalako.
You can still visit the actual scene props at poblado del oeste. The Tabernas desert theme parks offer different shows, of six-gun duels and shoot-outs, representing scenes from the famous Wild West films. There are three film sets to visit – and all of them have websites. They are Mini-Hollywood (, Fort Bravo, Texas Hollywood ( and Western Leone (

The last spaghetti western was made in Spain in 1975. This coincided with the downturn in popularity of TV westerns too.

The story of western novels is similar to that in films and television. At one time many paperback publishers ran popular and prolific Wild West series, many of them actually written by Brits such as George G. Gilman and J.T. Edson. Other writers of westerns include Louis L’Amour (author of Shalako), Oliver Strange (the Sudden series), Zane Grey and Max Brand (creator of Dr. Kildare). By the 1980s their numbers declined and the likes of Corgi and Pan no longer printed western novels.

But the western wouldn’t simply ride off into the sunset, beaten by spy movies and cop shows. No, the western survived and returned in film time and again, with modern classics of the genre creating mythic and epic visions – such as, Dances With Wolves (1990), Unforgiven (1992), Tombstone (1993), Wyatt Earp (1994) and Open Range (2003), The Missing (2003), Bandidas (2006), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), Appaloosa (2008), True Grit (2010), Cowboys and Aliens (2011), Sweet Vengeance (2012), Django Unchained (2012), and The Homesman (2014). On television we had Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman (1993-1998) and Deadwood (2004-2006), both series starring British actors, and Hell on Wheels (2011-to present).
In books, contrary to collective wisdom, the story isn’t so bleak, either. I can recall a strong core of fellow sailors who voraciously read any and every western they could lay their hands on. I’m sure that is the case for the other Armed Services. Where did that market and those readers go? Now, it seems rare to see a new western published in the UK.
Actually, that’s the way most readers see it, but in fact the independent publisher Robert Hale, who’s been around since 1936, has been bucking against that trend for twenty years with their imprint Black Horse Westerns. Primarily aimed at libraries, these attractive and colourful hardback editions maintain the action and myth of the Old West yet also recognise modern story ingredients such as psychological drama, domestic violence, betrayal, mystery, horror, romance and of course heroism.

Gone are the days when the man in the white hat shot the bad guy in the black hat. The fascinating details of the Old West are brought to life again by gifted writers such as Gillian F Taylor, Ben Bridges, Chuck Tyrell and IJ Parnham. Yes, there are indeed several women writers in Hale’s stable. Strong women characters are featured too, not least the entertaining Misfit Lil series by Chap O’Keefe. These writers come from around the world, whether that’s Australia, Scotland, the United States - or Spain.

Writing as Ross Morton – using my mother’s maiden name, Ross – my latest, sixth Black Horse Western has now been published by Robert Hale: The Magnificent Mendozas.
Purchased through Amazon UK here
Purchased through Amazon here
Purchased post-free worldwide from the book depository here

If you’re interested in the Old West – whether as a line dancer, film buff, or perhaps as a reader who thought they were not publishing westerns any more – then try a few Black Horse Westerns and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. You can also order them on Robert Hale’s website, many with discounts: There are at least 230 from which to choose. Spoilt for choice, in fact. [There have sprung up in recent years a good number of new independent publishers of westerns, mainly in e-book format, in the UK and the US; this is a healthy sign for the genre.]

For a fascinating overview of westerns in the movies, try





Jan Warburton said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating account, Nik!

Nik said...

Many thanks for commenting, Jan. Glad you enjoyed it. :)

Keith Souter said...

Good post, Nik. My wife and I walked from San Jose to Las Negras a couple of years ago. We saw several of the film locations. Indeed, I plotted a novel while I was there, as it was so atmospheric. It comes out this month.

Nik said...

Thanks, Keith. Good to know you've got another book due out!

Gill James said...

Really interesting article, Nik, especially as I know the area.
I have to admit I was never a great Western fan but oddly miss them now that you don't see them so much.
Maybe I need to read more of your books ...

Nik said...

Thanks, Gill. If you liked The Magnificent Seven movie, you might like my latest foray, The Magnificent Mendozas... But I would say that, wouldn't I?