Issue 16: In Search of the Secret West

Inside the Summer 2021 edition of Alta Journal.

alta journal, cover, summer 2021, issue 16, in search of the secret west
Michael Schwab



volker eisele family estate, grapevines
Marissa Leshnov

Defending the Lifeblood of Napa

As fire season becomes concurrent with harvest in wine country, what is the future of farming—and of cabernet? By Heather John Fogarty • Photos by Jason Henry

jane lathrop stanford
Stanford University Libraries

A Horrible Death to Die

Behind the origin myth of Stanford University lies a century-old murder. The victim: the school’s chief founder and benefactor. By Julia Flynn Siler

phil ross
Penni Gladstone

The Mushroom Man’s Magic

Artist Phil Ross built sculptures, furniture, and houses with fungi. Now, his mycelium material is being used in Hermès bags, and his company is worth millions. The unlikely entrepreneur’s next idea: lederhosen, made from the fleshy plants. By Adam Fisher

Special Section:
In Search of the Secret West

paul saffo

Hidden in Plain Sight

The West is full of secret places with secret histories. Alta Journal editor and publisher Will Hearst and wilderness-loving futurist Paul Saffo share their favorites. Will Hearst in conversation with Paul Saffo

noc provisions, binoculars
Nocs Provisions

Alta Picks: Roam If You Want To

Recommendations for the best of California and the West. By Nasim Ghasemiyeh and Sarah Stodder

highway 50, nevada, americas loneliest road
Lee Rentz/Alamy

Across Nevada on the Loneliest Road

Its western neighbors have their wild edges, but the Silver State is wild clear across. Because it’s forgotten. And nobody cares. By Doug Robinson

dorothea lange 1932 photograph white angel breadline, san francisco reveals the desperation of those lois jordan helped
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

Mother of the White Angel Jungle

During the Great Depression, Lois Jordan single-handedly served hot meals to more than one million people. Her work filled their bellies and inspired an iconic photograph. By Gary Kamiya • Photos by Dorothea Lange

mark hylkema, franklin point
Penni Gladstone

She Was Buried Facedown

A young woman sailing to San Francisco in the late 1860s was one of the unknown travelers in the vast African diaspora. By Lydia Lee

fort benson marker
Christina Gandolfo

Biddy Mason and Hannah Embers Were Here

The Fort Benson historical marker memorializes an incomplete version of events that took place at the site. By Susan Straight • Illustration by James Ransome

george gore
Mark Smith

The Confounding Case of Sir St. George Gore

An effort to rename a Colorado mountain range takes historical revisionism into uncharted territory. By Martin J. Smith • Illustrations by Mark Smith

hamlin garland
Steve Carroll

Hamlin Garland’s Mad Quest for the “Buried Crosses”

In the 1930s, one of America’s most distinguished writers scoured the California desert hunting for mysterious Indigenous artifacts that allegedly predated Cortés. He found 16 of them. By Abby M. Gibson • Illustrations by Steve Carroll

melody ranch motion picture studio, deadwood
Renaud Veluzat

No Assembly Required

For more than a century, filmmakers seeking the Wild West have found it in L.A.’s Santa Clarita Valley. By Louise Farr • Photos by Tod Seelie

ambrose bierce
John Mattos

An Occurrence at Sierra Mojada

The imagined last moments of Ambrose Bierce as a human comedy replete with unrequited love, gunfire, and a bitter, twisted ending. By Geoffrey Gray • Illustrations by John Mattos

california bear
Michael Schwab

Alta California Guides


    thuy nguyen

    Medicine Without Borders

    A Berkeley acupuncturist expands access to traditional Chinese medicine in the Navajo Nation. By Constance Hale

    shelly covert
    Max Whittaker

    A Tribal History “Brighter Than Gold”

    Spurred by the disappearance of a historic drum, Shelly Covert fights to restore the Nisenan’s culture and federal recognition. By Christian Kiefer

    sarina jepsen
    Celeste Noche

    Trailblazer: Sarina Jepsen

    Standing up for invertebrates. By Jessica Klein


    andy warhol, last supper
    Andy Warhol

    Poetry: “Cancel Culture (The Bardo)” • “(Water/Places/A Time)

    By Cedar Sigo

    james darrah
    Christina Gandolfo

    Opera in Service of Its Audience

    Director James Darrah has a cinematic vision for the future of live performance. By Catherine Womack

    jennifer lewis
    Cayce Clifford

    Let’s Talk About Sex

    Red Light Lit’s reading series, journal, and books deliver a pleasing, emotional experience. By Anita Felicelli

    oreo arroyo, vanessa hua
    Victor Juhasz

    Fiction: “Oreo Arroyo”

    By Vanessa Hua • Illustrations by Victor Juhasz

    terminator 2 judgment day, arnold schwarzenegger
    Paramount Pictures

    Sitting on a Powder Keg

    Revisiting three landmark movies that offered prophetic takes on Los Angeles 30 years ago. By Tim Greiving


    Poetry: [to the voice of the age][trance poem with the gray stone]

    By Brenda Hillman


    matt mahurin, denis johnson, john freeman
    Matt Mahurin


    The resonant grace of Denis Johnson’s poetry springs from how he saw his world—and it influences how I see mine. By John Freeman • Illustrations by Matt Mahurin

    william finnegan
    Idris Solomon

    Everything’s Fine Until It’s Not

    William Finnegan reflects on his Pulitzer Prize–winning memoir, Barbarian Days. By David L. Ulin

    dana johnson
    Gregg Segal

    The California I Know

    Dana Johnson discusses her novel, Elsewhere, California, and its relationship to place. By Danzy Senna

    rebecca solnit
    John Lee

    We Are Already Indivisible

    In A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit rethinks disaster and community. By John Freeman

    In Every Issue

    Publisher’s Note: The End of Hibernation

    By Will Hearst

    • Contributors



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