Wednesday, January 26, 2011

We'll Be Coming Round The Mountain

Since I was a little kid, I loved to gaze out of train windows and tell myself stories about the landscape, the tall buildings and the people who lived in every part of the country. One summer on a visit to Arizona, My husband and I heard about The Verde Canyon Railroad in Clarkdale, Arizona and being train buffs decided to board. We passed places that ignited my imagination.
The Verde Canyon Railroad, a standard gauge railroad built to haul copper ore, operates today as an excursion train. Our narrated journey took us up, down, around and through a rich geological hub; a natural habitat for raptors and mule deer, javelina (a pig-like animal), antelope, fox, coyote, elk and the occasional mountain lion. Foliage, trees, flowers and the Verde River contrast with pinnacles of red rocks and nature’s carvings of limestone and basalt.
We saw the mining town of Jerome, dubbed The City in the Sky and The Wickedest Town in the West, planted halfway up the side of the mountain on Cleopatra Hill above a vast deposit of copper.
Beneath the tracks, the Verde River, 160-miles long, plays host to carp, catfish, bass, bluegill and the Great Blue Heron. A river where we observed a Heron enjoying his aquatic lunch.
Cameras at the ready, we scanned the cliffs for dwellings inhabited by Pre-Columbian Sinaqua Indians between 100 and 1125 A.D. A cave outlined with soot from cooking fires is pointed out.
From a tent city to a prosperous company town to abandoned shops, homes and streets inhabited by lonesome ghosts-Jerome was restored to life fifty years later, in 1972, by flower children with a flair for the artistic. Today, about 500 residents, artists, writers, artisans and musicians, call the town home and welcome tourists who wander its streets, patronize boutiques and trendy restaurants and catch a glimpse of yesteryear in Jerome’s Historical Society Mine Museum.
Claims on Mingus Mountain were registered as early as 1876. Rough terrain hindered efforts to reach the closest railroad station in Pueblo, Colorado; a near impossible task. Completed in 1882, The Atlantic and Pacific narrow gauge railroad connected Jerome to the town of Ashfork (originally a stage depot) and eventually extended to Jerome Junction.
Close to the depot are the remains of The United Verde Copper Company purchased by Senator William A. Clark in 1888, the Senator reaped a windfall of $1 million per month in a seven year period. Clark learned the largest lode lay beneath the Jerome smelter; the smelter led to the birth of the town of Clarkdale named after the Senator who built the 38-mile United Verde and Pacific Railroad. Two hundred and fifty men, two hundred mules, picks and shovels and black powder explosives built the line in one year’s time, in 1895, at the cost of $1.3 million equal to $40 million in present day dollars. The coal-fired railroad soon switched to oil after embers from the coal-fire kept burning down the trestle above the town of Jerome.
The first Verde Canyon excursion train, powered by one diesel locomotive, pulled out of the Clarksdale yard with 180 passengers on November 23, 1993 – destination Perkinsville, Today, the forty-mile round trip to the Pekinsville Station takes about four hours at ten to twelve miles per hour.
We passed a hard, gray slag heap that covers about forty acres; waste material from the smelter poured in a molten state. Old timers tell tales of red-hot ribbons glowing through the night. The slag heap has been purchased for the purpose of extracting millions of dollars in gold and copper. The job will, it is estimated, take twenty years.
Beneath the tracks, the Verde River, 160-miles long, flows; it stems from a natural spring northwest of the canyon near Ashfork; eight major creeks supply the riparian river where carp, catfish, bass and bluegill thrive. The water plays host to the Great Blue Heron; the bluish-gray wading bird, who measures three to four feet tall, enjoys fishing. Unfortunately, the heron has taken the day off but we were able to observe an eagle enjoying his aquatic lunch.
The Verde Valley has been with us since prehistoric times; sediments deposited in what was once a great but shallow lake created layers of limestone throughout the valley. To the left of the lake bed, a red sandstone formation circles the towering volcanic Black Mountain (1,000 feet above the other rocks); its soil rich with plant life.
An old telegraph line is pointed out as the train begins to descend into the canyon; the crew carried a transmitter and would tap into the line, the only means of communication in the early days. On the left side of the train is a basalt cliff, a 300 million-year-old formation composed of huge blocks of sandstone with irregular deposits of fine-grained shale that decomposes into mud when exposed to the atmosphere. On the far side of the river is a circle of stones; the long ago dwelling of Hohokam Indians. Seams and scraps of calcium carbonate in the cliff’s fissures are a legacy of the water that covered the area before it evaporated.
The natives chased wild game into an arroyo (a deep gully) where hunters trapped the animals. The area is home to mule deer, javelina (a pig-like animal), antelope, fox, coyote, elk and the occasional mountain lion. We searched the Red Rocks but a lonesome cow was the only animal in view. Meat would supplement the Sinaqua’s diet of corn, squash, beans and peas. Cactus (Ocotillo and Prickly Pear used for jellies and hand creams) and Banana Yucca (Native Americans ate the fruit, made soap and braided the fibers for sandals) as well as wild-flowers decorate the scene. The Sinaqua left the area around 1400; some archeologists believe they moved to northeastern Arizona and were absorbed by another tribe of Native Americans.
The train passed Sycamore Canyon -known as The Little Grand Canyon-. Beyond Sycamore, the lands on both sides of the river are part of the Coconnino or Prescott National Forests. Red-tailed hawks, black hawks, owls and ravens make their home along the Verde River and several pairs of bald eagles-the birds mate for life- migrate to the North Verde Canyon each year while at least thirty-five bald and golden eagles winter from December through March. Black and Decker, a pair of resident Bald Eagles, fledged an eaglet in 1993 and have hatched progeny including twins ever since.
The Sycamore Creek and the Verde River meet and our train entered Verde River Canyon. Beliefs, yarns and secrets thrive in the Sycamore Wilderness Area. The tin roof of an old ranch house came into view and we heard the story of Mr. and Mrs. Packard who homesteaded 60 acres between 1890 and 95. Mr. Packard lacked moral restraint; Mrs. Packard forged his name on a quick claim deed, sold the property for $1,800, bought a rifle and two horses and disappeared. A 19th Century version of the television show Without a Trace. Then there’s the saga of a lost Spanish goldmine, discovered in the 1760s, with a rich vein of gold, five to ten miles east of Perkinsville. All but two of the conquistadors were killed by Apaches but the mine has never been found.
A purplish-brown rock called Tapeats Sandstone came into view as we left Sycamore Canyon. Above the sandstone is Martin Limestone with some layers that contain materials that have an oil-like odor that are thought to date back to the Age of Fishes 416 million to 358 million years ago when bizarre, diverse and abundant lobe-framed fish swam in the Devonian Seas. Redwall Limestone, a mixed reddish-pink called Mottled, tops the Martin. A majority of the caves are in the Redwall.
Trees to the right of the train are plentiful: white-barked sycamores, cottonwoods, willows with their heart-shaped leaves and walnut and box elder, ashes and oaks fraternize with juniper and mesquite and add a wealth of cool, verdant green to parts of the region providing shade for the water.
The Red Rocks, sculpt into fantastic shapes by nature are given fanciful names by whimsical residents of Sedona. Cameras are aimed at Elephant Rock, Turtle Rock, Whistler’s Mother, Balancing Rock and The Budweiser Frogs. Clouds streak across the sky and hover over the cliff; a screen of watercress tries to hide a stream of cold water, called Big String, spilling over rocks into the Verde River.
We removed our sunglasses as we pass through a man-made 680 ft. curved tunnel carved out of solid limestone; we emerge and cross a steel bridge. The walls on both sides of the track have dropped away and we were now in the Perkinsville Valley. In 1912, the railroad placed a station on a ranch owned by A.M. Perkins. The buildings are all old structures: a bunkhouse, the base of a water tower, the old depot and a house originally occupied by the Santa Fe station master. The stop became a ghost town in the early 1950s. An additional eighteen miles of track, still used for hauling freight by the Clarkdale Arizona Central Railroad, runs to the town of Drake and meets the Santa Fe Line.
The engines on our train reversed and our return trip to Clarkdale began. An opportunity to see sights missed, moments to be captured on film and in memory and a chance to watch an eagle, as we did, glide high above the rocks, wheel, salute, and bid us farewell then soar higher and higher into the sapphire sky.



Friday, January 21, 2011

Elise Warner: January

Elise Warner: January: "The Big Apple has slush on the corners, pools of water waiting for someone to slip and rims of ice decorating the outer edges of the sidewa..."


The Big Apple has slush on the corners, pools of water waiting for someone to slip and rims of ice decorating the outer edges of the sidewalk. At times I long for spring to come quickly-in a sense wishing my life away. Usually I enjoy the four seasons but this winter is a doozy.

I dream of other countries-vacations in warm, relaxing lands. Sorrento with its orange and lemon trees, Amalfi with its homes perched high in the clouds-all dressed in summery ice cream colors. The other side of the world-Australia-the tropical rain forest with birds that are foreign to me flaunting brilliant feathers and crocodiles lifting their long, tapering snouts from the water in a phoney grin. Kangeroos of every size and shape some willing to be stroked and koala bears suffering the hugs of a tourist. Greece with its antiquities where the mind can rove back to another time and the beginnings of culture. London-just as cold as my city until you step into a theatre and marvel at the plays and actors. The applause warms the heart as well as the hands.

Until I can visit once more I settle for comfort food-tomato soup sprinkled with basil, cheese sandwiches and a hot mug of Columbian coffee.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Other Desert Cities

Lincoln Center is presenting another marvelous play. Written by Jon Robin Baitz, the play takes place over the Christmas holidays and explores love and dysfunction in a not so typical family. Became deeply involved with a cast that includes Stockard Channing and Linda Lavin. I believed, I believed and that's what theatre and writing is all about.

Indulged in heavenly food at Shun Lee afterward. One of the best restaurants in the city. Prawns, chicken with three nuts, hand-made noodles and vegetables and eggplant-just hot enough to add zip to the dish. Great food that warms the tummy and the sould during this cold, icy winter.

Today, snow, ice and rain make the streets slippery and the best place to be is in front of the computer deciding how to end an article.

Onward and upward with the arts. Who said that?



Sunday, January 16, 2011

Villa Romana Del Casale

Visit the Villa Romana del Casale, constructed on a terrace, about three and a half miles from the town of Piazza Amerina in Sicily and you’ll discover a sumptuous display of Roman mosaics. The Villa, built around 330 AD, was the heart of a great landed estate built on the remains of an older Villa; today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Though the Villa suffered damage during the time of the Vandals and Visigoths and endured through the Bysantine and Arab eras, the residents fled to Piazza Amerina, in the 12th century, when a landslide of mud covered the retreat and hunting lodge. The awesome magnitude and quality of the Villa indicate its possession by an individual of high rank and eminence, perhaps a Senator or a member of the Imperial family, perhaps the Emperor himself-the mystery of who has not been solved. A few of the spectacular mosaics and columns were found at the beginning of the 19th century and there were major excavations between 1950 and 1960 with 60 rooms excavated in 1952.
A must-see, well-preserved mosaic, created by African artists, is titled “Coronation of the Winner,” and features trim, young women exercising with balls, discus and hand weights. The winner holds a palm leaf and a crown of roses. The fashionable female athletes are dressed in the same style bikinis worn on the beach by sun worshippers today. When it comes to fashion, everything old is new again.
Enter the site and follow a walkway through the rooms including the baths – a group of dressing rooms where a tired guest could relax with a massage then indulge in a plunge bath located by the frigidairium decorated with a mosaic of sea nymphs, tritons and boats rowed by accommodating cherubs. Past the atrium is the peristyle-an open court in a Roman house-surrounded by rooms used for public and private activities. Stop to gaze at and photograph one of the most impressive, The Corridor of the Great Hunt, a mosaic of hunts for animals that pits hunters against tigers, ostriches and elephants.
Orpheus playing for the animals in the Hall of Orpheus-the Hall was once a living room-while the Room of the Dance displays a mosaic of dancing women and the Cubicle of Fruits with its geometric mosaic was used as a bedroom. From a balcony, you can gaze at a mosaic of a circus with its chariot race.
There are four levels: mosaics cover 30 rooms, 12,500 square feet of floor space. Unearthed during the excavations are a gym, dining room and an audience hall plus thermal baths where guests could frolic and a vomitorium for those who frolicked a bit too much.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I love research. Of course, it is dangerous. I'm checking a date and-all at once- there I am caught up in the events of that day, that year, that period. I hear about a man who lived long ago and I want to know more about him. I become fascinated by his family, his loves, his way of life, his country and spend hours learning more and more about him or off I go on a tangent because his younger brother or his child is pulling me away. Finally-I stop. I realize I have enough material and it's time-long past time to write.

Of course, sometimes the material I've found and not used is right for another piece, another story or another character. This may lead to papers saved in files, cabinets, bookcases, tables and last resort-the floor. I confess-I have a messy floor.



Monday, January 10, 2011


Sitting at my computer when I looked up at my cork board and noticed I had tacked up a strip by Charles Schulz-a Classic Peanuts strip.

Snoopy is busy writing away-a romance-when his mail arrives. A form rejection-Snoopy, every writer feels the highest degree of empathy. "Rats!," Snoopy says then has it filed with all his others. Filed on a branch of a tree keeping company with a host of other rejections.

On my board, I have lists of queries to be mailed, a list of articles to be submitted, magazines to be read and studied. books to be read and inspirational cartoons.

Do you have a cork board and what is tacked to it?



Sunday, January 9, 2011

Grandma's House

Sunday. When I was a child, we spent Sundays at grandma's house-really an apartment in upper Manhattan across from Baker's Field. If we sat on the fire escape we could see Columbia students playing football (actually half a field of football.) The fire escape afforded a restricted view but hey-it didn't cost a cent and none of had any money to spare. Don't why we called the apartment grandma's, grandpa lived there too. he had a wealth of stories and though he claimed to be an agnostic, they were almost all biblical stories.

The entire family spent Sunday at the apartment. We brought cake-a Sunday treat. One aunt would make a chicken, another a brisket and my mother would make her pea soup complete with marrow bones. While we ate each relative would try to outdo the other by making a pun. I.E. "I cod eat more than you." "The halibut you can." "Clam up." They were pretty bad.

Afternoons would be spent discussing politics and the discussion would get louder and louder. Everyone had their say including the children. The discussions kept us reading and aware of the world during our childhood and into our adult years. I miss those afternoons.



Saturday, January 8, 2011

Characters and Plots

I read obituaries. isn't age-though I'm not a kid anymore. It's just that they live such fascinating lives and you wish you knew many of the people you read about. Often their interests, the happenings in their lives become a germ that floats around in my subconscious and emerges as something that happens to one of my characters. There is often a plot to a person's life-something that happens in childhood leads to something that happens to the teen, the adult, the old lady or man who will soon leave the world as he knows it behind. Leaving, if the person is remembered, a column on the obituary page.

News also triggers ideas for plots-plots that change as the words hit the page and the characters emerge and take over with, often, no resemblance at all to the original idea or character.

Ideas emerge when you least expect to. A meeting with a little known relative, a new friend, an overheard conversation in a restaurant or subway car-if the people talking exit before the end of the conversation so much the better. I can write a new ending.



Friday, January 7, 2011

Mostly About Writing

This blog will be about my love for writing-mysteries, travel, and history plus a little bit of things that catch my interest.

Right now I'm into the first draft of a new novel-not a mystery-but murder does rear its ugly head; finished an article that's due for publication soon. Signed up for a fascinating forum on self-editing taught by the executive editor of Carina Press, need to send out a multitude of queries and research and write another article. The day really needs more than twenty-four hours.

On to the new novel.

Hope to see you tomorrow.