The ghosts of forgotten gunslingers walk the desert in southern Spain.
In the 1960s filmmakers shot hundreds of low-budget "spaghetti" Westerns in Spain's southeastern Almeria region, drawn by its Arizona-like wastes, constant sunlight and low costs.Scenes from classic movies such as David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in the West" were also filmed here. Some productions have left permanent mementoes of their passage: complete Wild West towns nestling among the rocks and red sand.
One of them, "Mini-Hollywood," also called Yucca City, near Tabernas, is now run as a tourist attraction, offering staged saloon brawls and high-noon shoot-outs on weekends and holidays.
"They don't make too many Westerns these days," manager Jose Gomez Adanez said. "We run it more for tourists, and companies who want to make videos."
Twanging Western theme music booms from hidden loudspeakers as the visitor treads the black cinders along the main street.
There is a bank, a Chinese laundry and a hardware store that doubles as the mortuary. In the main square is the gallows.
Out of season, few visitors come, although a small party of Spanish schoolchildren seen here recently were gleefully trying the noose around one anothers' necks.
The town was built for the films "A Fistful of Dollars" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" that launched Clint Eastwood to fame in the 1960s as a cheroot-chomping gunslinger.
At the saloon some visitors give in to the temptation to stride meanly out through the swinging doors for an imaginary showdown.
To complete its authenticity, Yucca City has its own "Boot Hill" cemetery set slightly back from the main street.
The illusion is spoiled only by walking behind the buildings, where the supports for the facades come into view.
Local people say their lives became entangled with the bustle of the film world.
Antonio Ortiz Garcia, a former driver with a film company, remembers how he was pressed into service on "Lawrence of Arabia."
"They dressed me up as an English soldier and made me pretend to drive up in a rush, haul on the breaks and skid to a halt," he said. "They made me up really heavily, with a blond wig and moustache, so I wouldn't appear too Spanish."
He said the scene was shot in slow motion, with the car pulled slowly forward on a rope, then speeded up.
In the passenger seat was Peter O'Toole, in the role that would make him famous as the British scholar turned army officer who led a revolt of Arab tribesmen against the Turks during World War I.
Ortiz has seen his brief performance on the big screen.
"But you wouldn't recognize me," he said. "I didn't recognize myself."
The vogue for Almeria's desert may have passed, although a Western spoof, "Rustlers' Rhapsody," was shot nearby in 1984 and Steven Spielberg filmed parts of his "Empire of the Sun" in southern Spain two years ago.
The filmmakers were welcome because they brought money and work as well as the occasional chance to appear as an extra.
One Almeria man became so enamoured of Westerns that he used to turn up for auditions wearing his own cowboy outfit, Ortiz recalled.
"He appeared in hundreds. He has photos with all the stars."
And the spirit of the Wild West lives on, it seems, even on Almeria's city streets.
"You can still see him cycling around in his outfit. I think he even has the guns," Ortiz said.