Thursday, September 30, 2010

The World of "The Stanton Line"

A New Map of the Southwest!

Did anybody read the first three chapters of my novel that I posted a few months ago? (Kinda dropped that one, eh?)  Anyway, if you did read them, or want to read them, I'd like to ask you a few questions afterward.

But first, I want to show you a map...because what's better than a novel that comes with a map?!

Nope, that's not the southwestern USA that you're used to.  A current map is underlaid but there would be many differences in land use.  It's the early 1970s and my own world does not have an interstate highway system, though high-speed rail is coming in along similar routes.

You see, I just wanted to pretend to build a railroad through the Grand Canyon and then write a novel about it.  But how exactly would that happen?  The railroad, I mean.  What events would transpire to make it possible?  And why is it important for my characters?  These are questions a writer must ponder!

While action of the novel is mostly limited to the Grand Canyon Railroad between Moab and Las Vegas, developing my characters and their backstories necessitated other changes to the political backdrop and development of the west.  Here's a run from a few threads of history I tugged upon...

Utah Territory:  Fiercely independent since the resolution of the Mormon-Indian Wars at the turn of the 19th/20th century.  Utah claims all land west of (then north of) the Green and Colorado Rivers, and finally claiming land east of the Virgin River to its junction with the surveyed border of the Nevada Territory.  Unhappy with the resolution, Utah refuses to hold a referendum for statehood and so remains a territory.  Many rural areas, especially in the south, remain essentially un-governed for much of the 20th century.

Pueblo:  Skirmishes between Mormon settlers and various tribes of Indians come to a boiling point in both Utah and Arizona.  US soldiers enforce a "bloody ceasefire" campaign to stop the fighting while Roosevelt negotiates a surprising resolution and establishes the Indian State of Pueblo (with congressional representation but only a single non-voting senator).  Discovery of uranium in Pueblo and a push toward nuclear energy after WWII makes Pueblo a rich and powerful state at the time of the novel.  The boundaries of Pueblo are defined by the Rio Grande River, the watershed of the San Juan River, the Colorado River, and the Little Colorado...with a bit of straight-edge to get it back to the Rio Grande.

Gadsden Territory:  Pretty much as it was purchased, except, I took the angle out and got for Gadsden that great port he wanted on the Sea of Cortez.  Pissed off Mexico, I'm sure, but I'm probably not going to mention that.  I probably won't mention either that Baja California (sans Sur) gets snagged by the USA.  A couple of reasons I did this...I wanted the great port also, and I wanted to call it Rio Colorado, aka "Rio." (North America gets one too...besides, a little village with that name really is there.)  It's also the place that my main character is planning to run away to.  At the time of the story, Rio is a rough harbor city with a population near one million.  Lots of crime but also lots of opportunity.  Tucson is the territorial capital, a relatively quiet city of 30,000 or so.

Arizona:  I'm sorry, Arizona...I really messed you up!  But after cutting out some for Utah, a big hunk for Pueblo, and lopping off Gadsden, there just wasn't a lot left.  I also moved your capital to Flagstaff and made it the center of the hippy movement.  But, hey, I gave you some of New Mexico!

New Mexico:  ...just lost everything west of the Rio Grande. *ducks and runs away*

Colorado:  Well, here we have a winner...sort of.  A gain in territory at Utah's expense; and hard fought for by Colorado militia troops during the war.  Pueblo gets some land in the southwest corner.

Nevada Territory:  It's like the state of Nevada, on territorial steroids!

Republic of Texas:  As in independent.  Yeah.  Uh, I got no clue how that happened...but it sounds cool.  Looks like they got the Oklahoma panhandle too.

So, that's some of the setting of my novel.  But novels are about characters, the setting just helps get them where they're going.  So if I have whetted your curiosity, I will now link you back to those first three chapters in which I introduce my three main characters.

Chapter 1 - Running the Falls
Chapter Two - Moab Station
Chapter Three - Gaganga Chain

On the advice of a local author and mentor, I will probably not be publishing future chapters of my novel here on my blog.  But he was kind enough to read everything I had written and had many thoughtful questions, especially in regard to character development.  And so that is my question to you, what are your thoughts about these characters as you are introduced to them?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bluelining: My Explorations of North America

One of my quirky habits is to document my travels.  No, I don't mean a journal...I mean a line on a map.  On almost every road map I own is highlighted, always in blue, every highway, bi-way and backroad I've ever driven on.  This has led me on an endless journey to find new roads to drive to me, anyway.  When I'm exploring a new road, I call it "bluelining," and I can't imagine how many thousands of miles I've covered.  Last week I picked up another 15 miles of blue just an hour from seems there is always a new scenic route to explore.

With the advent of GPS and topographic software many years ago, I was able to put my travels in more of a master file, as it were.  I certainly have gotten around:

These are my travels in the southwestern USA since I was 20 years old, when I moved to Arizona.  It must include a year's worth of camping days as well.

The four lines off the top of the map all make their way to Calgary with a cluster of exploration in the southern Alberta-B.C.-Montana area.  The stomping grounds of my youth with our annual summer round-robin of camping trips:  Banff, Jasper, Waterton, and Glacier National Parks; then toss in Dinosaur Provincial Park with our notorious expeditions into the Restricted Area (I'll have to blog about that), and a remote outpost on Bitteroot Lake in northwestern Montana (where I caught my first fish).  From Victoria Day to Labor Day.  Six weekends, done every other.  Every summer.  Thanks, Dad...that was one of the cool things about growing up.

Every August also included a two-week vacation, usually a tour somewhere in the western US.  I'd been to Arizona a half dozen times before I moved here.  The two exceptions were a trip up the Alaska Highway in 1969 and out to Cape Cod in 1972.  I was five years old on our trip to Alaska...I remember seeing Mount McKinley.  Also in that memory log is camping at Wonder Lake; I woke up needing to pee, then went about playing in the rocks since the sun was up.  Dad laughed and said it was 3:00 in the morning.  I was so confused.  Cape Cod was the only trip my Dad took us to see his family. (They did come to visit us a few times.)  We spent a few days in Jamestown, New York in the house where my Dad grew up.  I remember my Grandmother "Ganga" going on about Leif Ericson being an ancestor of the family, along with ties to the Mayflower.  Both claims have proven mythical at best, though we have a potential cousin relationship with Mayflower descendants in Salem.  Later in the trip, we toured New England and finally spent a few days in a cabin on the beach in Cape Cod.  The tide would go out for hundreds of yards there and we had a great time playing with hermit crabs.

In later years, my Dad became enamored with Mexico and made several springtime trips (driving from Calgary).  I missed a couple of weeks of grade nine for our trip down the west coast. there's a memory!!  We're camped right next to the beach in Manzanillo and I'm sitting on the sand looking at the stars and watching the surf when I kinda figure out...hey, how can I be watching the surf?  There's nothing around to light it up.  Whut?  So I run back to get my Dad...across some wet sand and...YOWZA!!  The sand sparkles under my feet!!  WTF??  Comes Dad with the answer...phosphorescent algae!  Ah...very cool.  So we sparkle-stomp on the wet sand for a while and watch them light up the crashing surf.  We also stayed in Guadalajara for a few days; easily my favorite city in Mexico...despite this incident which occured outside our rather well-fortified trailer park. (It was like a little rich-Gringo enclave with high walls, broken-bottle capstones, barbed wire above that, all grown over by very dense hedge.)  So we come out one morning and there's a small puddle of blood on the sidewalk, really more like a big collection drops.  Somebody got cut pretty badly (from the bottles?).  From that point, a trail of blood drops goes along the sidewalk and around the corner.  We know from a stroll the previous day that there is a medical clinic down that street.

The next year was Dad's most ambitious trip ever.  Five weeks...ten thousand miles.  We made it as far as Belize City (Tikal, in Guatemala, had been the goal).  Toured the whole of the Mayan ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula and we sweated a whole lot.  Oh yeah, me and Malcolm played Spin the Bottle with some cute local girls in Veracruz.  None of us spoke the other language well, but we still had fun.  Isabel, Nieva and her boyfriend Gustavo...which didn't stop her from making out with me when he was out of sight.  (And damn Dad that he wouldn't take the time to visit their home village the next day!)  The best part?  I missed FOUR WEEKS of grade ten for that trip!  Not that my teachers didn't give me all the necessary assignments to complete as homework.  My social studies teacher said go as far as you the end of the trip I was a month ahead of the class.  Even better, that year the teachers went on strike a month before the end of the school year...and didn't go back until October!  That resulted in only a single math test (in trigonometry) counting for the quarter, and I got 100%!  Woohoo, the only time I ever saw that on my report card!  (Though first quarter English I got 16%...whoops!)

I'm digressing again.

Outside of Arizona, my densest concentrations of activity are in southern California, the Denver area, and southern Utah.  The former two are a direct result of marriage, as my in-laws are in San Diego, L.A., and Santa Barbara.  However, Kirsteen grew up in Boulder and has a lot of family that area.  All of them are close enough to drive to in a day, or to take a week with some four-wheeling in the San Juan mountains of Southwest Colorado.  As for southern Utah, well, do I really need an excuse to be such a fan of that incredible landscape?

And then there's Arizona.  There must be people that have seen more of it than I have, but I've never met them.  There isn't a time of year that you can't explore some part of this dynamic state.  From the western deserts in winter, to the mile-high chaparrels of spring and fall, to the summer sky islands of the southeast and the rim country, spanning central and eastern Arizona with America's largest stand of ponderosa pine.  Just pick your elevation and drive...there's always someplace to explore.

Alas, I have only been to four countries in this great world and have only one off-continent jaunt to Hawaii.  But I haven't done too bad...four of the Canadian provinces and the Yukon Territory.  36 of the US states, and 28 of the 33 Mexican states.  Dad used to count counties...I haven't got quite that anal about it.

Topping my off-continent bucket list would be Florence, Italy and New Zealand...though I'm still partial to an Alaskan cruise/train/Denali Lodge adventure thingy or a thorough tour of the Hawaiian Islands.  I promised Kirsteen Hawaii, but Alaska is the honeymoon we should have taken.  Alas, any of them would require a loan on my life insurance.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Palm Desert, Joshua Tree Sunset, and an Arizona Sunrise

I begin this large gallery with a few photos from my aforementioned jaunt to Palm Springs, to see an old friend and lubricate my anxieties.  Kim and Anji invited me to their client-furnished condo in the Palm Valley Country Club.  Nice digs...ended up staying for two nights and could have stayed a week.  Alas, I still have some responsibilities (and appointments, sigh) back home.

With old buddy, Kim...

...and new buddy, Anji.  Can I call her your fiance?  Whut's that, Kim?

The extent of the day's physical activities.

It's amazing what you can do with a desert when you add water.

Venus and the moon set among the palms.

Checking in back home, I got permission to stretch my time another night on the road.  Saturday afternoon I headed into Joshua Tree National Monument via the Berdoo Canyon 4-wheel drive road.  I didn't find the canyon to be particularly scenic though it was a surprisingly quick journey into the heart of the area.

These whimsical plants provide a variety of photo-ops.

It's just parched bushes on a rocky hillside of basalt.

The road to Keys View passes through a dense and mature stand of Joshua trees.

Keys View rises almost a mile over the Palm Springs Valley.  This evening there are some two dozen folks waiting for the sunset.  This composition is a voyueristic theme of mine; photos of family photos.  I don't know who any of them are but the two young women are with a group of 20-year olds...their conversation indicates some disadain for freshmen and they do a light-hearted rendition of "America the Beautiful."  The two women also played model for the designated photographer of their group, a lucky young man given the combination of pretty faces and golden light.

It's a bit disconcerting to realize that the cloud bank on the horizon is actually a blanket of smog blowing over from Los Angeles.  But, hey, you take what you get.

Dramatic 'mares tails' fly in the sky above.

It's only a few moments from this photo to the next...a dramatic storm cell has developed far to the south.  The Salton Sea can be seen in the basin below.

Not bad for a hand-held shot.

That's it for Joshua morning, and after a couple of rest stops, I was 300 miles east waiting for the morning light of an Arizona sunrise.

Arizona did not disappoint.

Morning glory (sacred datura) grows by the wayside.
It's said to be a potent narcotic, but also a deadly one.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Gallery: Labor Day in the Peloncillo Mountains

Note:  This entry is the update to my Photo Buzz post.  You'll find some more images of that awesome rainbow down below.

All of the long weekend we'd been planning to visit Apple Annie's out in Wilcox, pick peaches and pick up on some sweet corn and roasted chiles.  Alas, Brendan doesn't like any of those things and wasn't hot on the idea...and chemo kept me bagged out until Monday.  That morning everyone was waffling on the trip and in the end I set out on my own...with Apple Annie's now relegated to a pit-stop on my way to New Mexico to stock up on some more fireworks. (The neighbors have kindly put up with our moderate backyard pyrotechnics; colored smoke balls during the day and sparkling fountains by night....but we're going to have to find a remote and denuded location to set off the good stuff.)  After the fireworks shopping, my plan is to explore some backroads around the Peloncillo Mountains, a low but rugged mountain range running along the southern Arizona-New Mexico borderlands.

U-pickers go for tomatoes while a thunderstorm cell hits the Winchester Mountains.

It was a bit stormy on my way into the Peloncillo Mountains, heading north of Interstate 10 from San Simon.  Such days can provide surprise photo opportunities; alas, much of this day was looking to be bleak and shadowless.

This fork off the backroad ends at a ranch, as many of them turn out to.

The owners of this ranch don't seem too friendly, but I'm always respectful of private property.

Cows on a hillside...okay, that's creative, Eric.

Then how about a little mule deer spied through the creosote bush?

I followed this road for several miles...

...on my way to the last outpost of photo opportunity for the day: Orange Butte.
I'm not kidding, and the photo-buzz tingle had begun.

I come around to the northside of Orange Butte!

The sun's last light upon the blazing volcanic cliff face of Orange Butte.

Now, back to that rainbow.

It appeared as if sheets of rain were emerging from the bow itself.

Pure magic!