Friday, July 22, 2011

Where the Buffalo Roam: Catalina Island

There are several hundred head of buffalo grazing the brown hills of Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California.

I meant to say more about Santa Catalina Island--but I got caught up in the exhausting drive home to avoid the expected I-405 traffic catastrophe. I almost forgot. Goes to show how living one's life by the snarls of freeway traffic can be far too distracting.

So, back we go to Catalina ... 
 ... where one of the more interesting of the odd things about the island is its herd of buffalo. The beasts are not native. They were brought to Catalina in 1924 for the filming of The Vanishing American, a silent movie based on a book by Zane Grey.

Zane Grey was a prolific author who is best remembered for his many westerns. Considered a pulp author in his day, his books have gained in reputation since his death in 1939. (Remember the scene in The Third Man in which Holly Martins says, to polite guffaws, that his favorite writer is "Grey. Zane Grey"?)

Anyway, Grey had a house on Catalina and liked it there because he couldn't easily be interrupted by fans, agents, mistresses (of which he had a number) and telephone calls (he refused to have a phone installed) thus enabling him to get more writing done.

The film company shooting The Vanishing American brought less than two dozen head of bison (some reports say 14: a guide told us there were 17) and when the shoot was over they just left the huge animals there. Which makes sense. One imagines it was difficult enough to get them over there on a boat!

Now there are two or three hundred buffalo on Catalina, including Wilson, who makes a habit of visiting the lodge where we were staying at Two Harbors, on the island's rural isthmus.

 Wilson the Buffalo, as seen from our porch at Banning House Lodge, Two Harbors, Catalina Island. He visits, said the staff, "because we water him."

They certainly add drama to the dry California landscape on Catalina, these buffalo, and they are well-cared for by the Catalina Island Conservancy, which now runs a large portion of the island.

I wasn't sure just how close I should get to Wilson, so I kept a respectful distance. An adult bison can weigh about a ton.

Zane Grey's large house, meanwhile, has now become the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel, where guests discover there are still no distractions like telephones.  Don't know about the mistresses--that would be an individual preference, I suspect.

Zane Grey's Catalina house, now the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel. Those hills surrounding Avalon harbor, are now, alas, covered with homes. But the island is not, thanks to the Catalina Island Conservancy.

Except for the buffalo, which were added by the movies, what you can find on Catalina, outside its main town of Avalon, is a view of what Southern California must have looked like before all the people. It is a dry, dusty, golden place full of prickly pear cactus and scrubby manzanita. Beautiful to us Californians.  And vanished, like the Vanishing American, from the Los Angeles of today.

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1 comment:

Mark Greenwood said...

This is an older blog, however I found it looking for the location of Buffalo herds on Catalina Island. My son and I were planning on a bike tour there and we were wondering where the best camps are. If you have some ideas I would love to hear them. Thanks for your blog.
Mark Greenwood