Civilization in the Desert Wilds

William S. Hart in His Living Room

At least once or twice a year, we visit the William S. Hart Museum in Newhall, California, originally home to one of the greatest cowboy stars. In December, the face of nature in Southern California can be harsh. A cold wind was blowing, contributing to some of the gigantic brush fires that still haven’t been put down. Although people who profess to love nature endow it with a cuddly aspect, which it certainly doesn’t have in the Santa Clarita Valley, it does have a certain stark beauty. The plants all look downright prickly: Even the trees look as if they did not want to be hugged under any circumstances. Even the beautiful Bird of Paradise (below) looks as if it could administer a nasty cut.

Bird of Paradise

What, then, of the Prickly Pear cacti and trapped tumbleweeds on the trail to the Hart museum? California has a reputation for being a beautiful state—and it is!—but not in the way that people unfamiliar with the state think.

Prickly Pear Cactus on the Trail

And yet the Hart Museum is like a fortress of civility in the wilds of desert California. The aging cowboy star lived there, mostly alone with his sister Mary Ellen, and whichever of his Hollywood friends trekked through miles of dusty dirt roads to get to La Loma de los Vientos, “The Hill of the Winds,” and the cozy fellowship of one of the most beautiful living rooms I have ever seen.

The Living Room in the Hart Museum