I may have grown up in the Midwest but my favorite place in the whole world is Arizona. Hubby and I are recent empty nesters living in Phoenix and we like to take off and explore the Grand Canyon State every chance we get. I’ve been writing contemporary western romances since 2004 for Harlequin and also write contemporary romance for Tule Publishing Group in addition to romantic women's fiction for Berkley-Penguin Random House. When I’m not writing I like to spend my free time junk hunting, researching ghost tours and exploring Route 66. I invite you to visit www.marinthomas.com to learn more about my books and where I hang out on social media.
This will be my last blog for Petticoats and Pistols but instead of goodbye, I’ll say “see you down the road!”
I want to thank all of you for taking the time to read and comment on the travel adventures I’ve shared with you over the past year. It’s been a lot of fun getting to know you and learning about your travels, too!
I’ve recently begun working as a caregiver for the elderly and have taken on more responsibility for my eighty-one-year-old father—the handsome high school jock in the plaid shorts!
These new obligations require that I scale back my writing commitments, but I still plan to carve out time in the coming months to work on a story that I plotted this past spring. Once a writer—always a writer!
I’d love to stay in touch with you and continue to share my travels, news about my books and future giveaways.
If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to subscribe to my Newsletter.
This month I’m celebrating the release of Lone Star Father—the final book in my Cowboys of Stampede, Texas series from Harlequin Western Romance. The stories revolve around three brothers who are doing their best to look after the family ranch and their grandfather, the mayor of Stampede. When Grandpa Emmett’s former high-school flame, Amelia Rinehart, sets her sights on renovating the old pueblo, Grandpa digs his boot heels in. Amelia enlists the help of her great nieces from Wisconsin and suddenly the Hardell brothers are having second thoughts about assisting their grandfather in derailing the town matriarch’s plans.
Reid Hardell never imagined he’d become a single dad or that he’d ever return to his family’s ranch in Stampede, Texas. But for his newfound daughter’s sake, Reid is coming home, hoping his estranged brothers can help him master fatherhood. Life in Stampede has an unexpected perk—reconnecting with gorgeous Scarlett Johnson. Until Reid discovers she’s the new social worker on his custody case.
In working with Reid and his daughter, Scarlett finds a connection she thought was impossible. She wants more than anything to be part of their family, but a relationship could jeopardize their case and her job. How can she turn away from having everything she’s ever wanted—even if it’s the right thing to do?
I’ve written lots of contemporary westerns using different locations for my stories and Texas Hill Country remains my favorite. Even though I love Texas, my roots are planted deep in my blue-collar hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin. When I create towns for my stories, I always include bits and pieces of my old stomping grounds. More often than not you’ll find an old Woolworth building in my stories. I have fond memories of shopping at Woolworth with my grandmother and eating hotdogs at the lunch counter. The basement of the old Woolworth store in Janesville sold goldfish and pet supplies. The main floor sold clothing, shoes, health and beauty products along with household goods and gadgets. The third floor sold fabric and sewing supplies.
The fictitious Woolworth store in Stampede, Texas, closed its doors decades ago and now the basement houses the town library. You’ll find other tidbits of my childhood in this series like traveling carnivals, petting zoos, wheel barrow rides, tree houses, and a beautiful Victorian home much like the one I grew up down the block from. And what would a series be without a vintage motel in it?
For a chance to win a signed copy of the first book in my Cowboys of Stampede series, The Cowboy’s Accidental Baby, share something you enjoyed doing as a child with a grandparent or parent. ***The winner will be named in the comment section of this blog post on Sunday June tenth!
Bronc rider Gunner Hardell never plans past the next stop on the rodeo. When he’s home in Stampede, Texas, he’s part-time manager of the run-down Moonlight Motel, to get his crotchety grandpa off his back. Then he meets interior designer Lydia Canter—hired to renovate the motel—and suddenly the gig gets a whole lot more appealing…
Lydia is looking for love, but there’s nothing wrong with some Mr. Right Now while she waits for Mr. Right. But one steamy night with Gunner has unexpected consequences. And she would rather raise their baby alone than give the good-time cowboy a chance to break her heart. When Gunner learns he’s going to be a daddy, he’s determined to prove to Lydia he really is her Mr. Right!
Visiting the Wigwam Motel in Holbrookthis past summer was another item on my bucket list that I was able to cross off during our Route 66 travels along northern Arizona. I was really surprised the teepees looked exactly like what I’d seen in photographs.
There were once seven Wigwam Villages in the United States but today only three are open to the public—Cave Creek, Kentucky, Holbrook, Arizona, which is listed on the National Register of Historical Places, and Rialto, California.
The “village” concept for the motel was designed by Frank A. Redford and the first motel was opened in 1937. Chester Lewis, an Arizona motel owner, bought the rights to the wigwam design from Redford and built four more “villages”, including the one in Holbrook. Each teepee is 25 feet wide at the base and 28 feet high. Vintage automobiles decorate the parking lot and you won’t find an ice machine on the property or a telephone inside a teepee, but the rooms all have air conditioners and cable TV.
The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook closed in 1982, and shortly after in 1986 Chester Lewis died. After restoring the Holbrook Motel, Chester’s widow and children reopened the rooms in 1988. The 15 teepees are spread out in a semi-circle around the main office, which operates a museum open to the public and includes Mr. Lewis’s Indian artifacts and Civil War memorabilia along with his petrified wood collection.
While my husband browsed through the museum I struck up a conversation with another tourist and the lady had asked me if I had seen the remains of the Bucket of Blood saloon across town. I hadn’t, and as luck would have it, my husband and I were on a tight schedule and didn’t have time that day to see the remains of the saloon. But I did wonder if any historical western romance authors had ever referenced the saloon or Holbrook, Arizona, in their stories.
I found the following images and history of Holbrook and the Bucket of Blood Saloon HERE.
In the mid-1880s, Holbrook was known as a place “too tough for women and churches.” At the time there was little law enforcement when several cow punchers from the Aztec Cattle Company moved into the area. They called themselves the Hashknife Outfit, and they rustled livestock from other cattle companies. They also played a major role in the Pleasant Valley Feud, one of the longest and bloodiest land and cattle feuds in the history of the United States.
In 1886 there were 26 shooting deaths in Holbrook, which at the time only had a population of around 250. Many of the shootings were attributed directly or indirectly to the Hashknife Outfit. The Bucket of Blood Saloon got its nickname after a gunfight between the Hashknife Outfit and a group of cowboys who accused them of stealing cattle. The gun battle ended in so much death that the floors were said to be slick with a “bucket of blood.”
Years later the street that runs in front of the old saloon in Holbrook was renamed from “Central” to “Bucket of Blood St”. The new name landed on several top ten lists citing the most unusual street names.
For fun…have you ever lived on a street with an unusual name?
Arizona’s historic Salt River Canyon is also called the Mini Grand Canyon. Last year in August on this blog I mentioned visiting Globe, Arizona, where I was lucky enough to take a tour of the haunted Drift Inn Saloon. When we left Globe that afternoon to return to Phoenix we took the scenic route through the canyon.
The drive offers breathtaking views from your car window. The route has several pull-offs along the way and I recommend stopping at every one. The drive is full of hairpin turns that take you down one wall of the canyon to the valley floor before crossing a scenic bridge and then climbing up the other side of the canyon. The area contains prehistoric petroglyphs and the Salt River is one of few rivers that flow through the saguaro cactus forests of the Sonoran Desert and offers over 200 species of wildlife.
There are no maintained trails in the canyon and about half of the outdoor enthusiasts who visit the area each year are skilled white-water navigators and ride the turbulent waters from March to May.
The Salt River Canyon is full of history and was used by Apache Warriors during the 1800s to hide from the U.S, Calvary troops. Today the river provides the border between the San Carlos Apache Reservation to the south and the White Mountain Apaches to the north.
The famous Battle of Salt River Canyon took place in in 1872 and was part of the Tonto Basin Campaign and Yavapai War from 1871-1875. Thirty Apache scouts led the 5th Cavalry Regiment to a Yavapai stronghold in a canyon cave.
The warriors refused to surrender and in the end seventy-six Yavapai were dead, including Chief Nanni-chaddi and several women and children. The bodies of the dead were left in the cave, which today is also known as Skeleton or Skull Cave and is believed to be haunted.
As much as I love nature and love seeing our beautiful country, I confess I’m not much of an outdoor enthusiast. I don’t mind taking a nature hike but you won’t catch me pitching a tent in a forest, riding white water rapids or climbing rocks. What about you?
Flagstaff, also known as the City of Wonders, was on our list of places to explore during our travels along Route 66 in Arizona last summer. The town is located in the heart of Coconino National Forest, the Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon, Walnut Canyon, Wupatki National Monument, Sunset Crater National Monument and the Sab Francisco Peaks.
Western author Zane Grey loved Arizona, working on many of his books in a cabin near Tonto Creek and when he visited Flagstaff, he stayed in room 210 at the historic Monte Vista Hotel on San Francisco Street.
The Monte Vista was the longest publicly held commercial hotel in the history of America until it sold to a private individual in the early 1960’s. In its first year of operation the hotel hosted Mary Costigan’s daily three-hour radio show from room 105. Mary was the first American woman to be granted a radio-broadcasting license.
The Monte Vista was a favorite gathering place among the locals who coined the phrase “Meet me at the Monte V”. During prohibition the Monte Vista was Flagstaff’s most popular speakeasy. Then in the 1940’s and 50’s western movies became popular and over 100 movies were filmed in nearby Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon and a scene from Casablanca was filmed in one of the rooms. Many movie stars stayed at the Monte Vista during filming and the hotel began naming rooms after the actors.
As with many historic buildings, the Monte Vista is believed to be haunted. Zane Grey’s room was said to be haunted by the infamous phantom bellboy. John Wayne reported seeing a friendly spirit in his room in the hotel in late 1950’s.
My husband and I stayed the night in the Anthony Hopkins Suite. As you can see by the photo of our room it wasn’t much of a suite. The shower was so narrow that your elbows hit the walls when you tried to wash your hair. Sadly we did not encounter any ghosts in our room. See more stories about the ghosts who haunt the Monte Vista Hotel HERE.
I should mention the other historical hotel in Flagstaff—the Weatherford Hotel, which is said to be one of Wyatt Earp’s favorite hangouts while in Flagstaff. Hubby and I stopped at the hotel for a drink after dinner and learned from the bartender that Zane Grey would frequently work on his books in the Weatherford Ballroom attached to the bar on the second floor.
If you ever have the chance to visit Flagstaff be sure to take a peek inside both hotels and if you’re the adventurous type you may want to try one of these barcycles or pedal pubs!
I’d love to know if you’ve ever stayed the night in a famous hotel and where it was.
During our Route 66 travels through Arizona last summer I visited the famous Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert. These two wonders have been on my bucket list for years and they’re definitely worth seeing. The Petrified Forest is the only national park in our country that protects a section of Route 66.
The Petrified Forest National Park, which has one of the world’s largest deposits of petrified wood, encompasses the badlands of the Painted Desert, archeological sites and 200-million-year-old fossils. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation creating the Petrified Forest National Monument, and it became a national park in 1952. The park averages about 645,000 visitors each year.
The Petrified Forest is known for its fallen trees (coniferous, ferns, and gingkoes) from the Late Triassic Period 225 million years ago. It’s believed some of the trees reached 200 feet high when they were alive. The park has one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the world. Other places with petrified wood are North Dakota, Argentina, and Egypt.
Painted Desert Inn
The National Park also contains the historic Painted Desert Inn, which sits on a mesa overlooking the Painted Desert. The Inn was built in 1924 as a roadside hotel called the Stone Tree House by Herbert David Lore (the name came from the petrified wood used in its construction). In 1935 the National Park Service purchased it and the surrounding land. The Inn was redesigned in the Pueblo Revival style by architect Lyle E. Bennett. The Civilian Conservation Corps supplied the labor. In 1987 The Painted Desert Inn became a National Historic Landmark.
View out the back of the Painted Desert Inn
Inside the Painted Desert Inn
The Painted Desert encompasses over 93,500 acres and stretches over 160 miles. It begins about 30 miles north of Cameron, Arizona near the southeastern rim of the Grand Canyon and extends all the way to the Petrified Forest about 26 miles east of Holbrook, AZ.
Photos don’t do justice to the breathtaking scenery and the vast emptiness that stretches to the horizon in all directions. I can only imagine what early travelers thought when they came upon the apocalyptic-looking badlands that seemed more like a planet from outer space than earth.
I’m wondering how many western historical authors have mentioned or used the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert…or perhaps the Painted Desert Inn in the plot of a book. Have you read a historical romance that mentions these places?
The Yuma Territorial Prison was known as the Country Club on the Colorado. I’ve wanted to visit this prison ever since I wrote A Cowboy’s Redemption (2015, Cowboys of the Rio Grande series).I wasn’t sure how readers would react to a “contemporary” western with an ex-con hero but I soon learned romance fans love a good redemption story. A Cowboy‘s Redemption won the 2015 RT Book Reviewers’ Choice Award for best Harlequin American Romance.
Cruz Rivera is on his last second chance. He can’t afford to blow it by falling for the beautiful blonde widow who just hired him to fix up her family’s New Mexico property. If he’s going to get back on the rodeo circuit, Cruz needs to focus. Besides, a sweet single mom like Sara Mendez can do better than someone with Cruz’s troubled history.
Sara isn’t making it easy for Cruz to keep his distance. He’s a man of many secrets, but Sarah sees only good in his warm brown eyes. Though Cruz knows he should move on before Sara discovers the truth about his past, he can’t leave the closest thing to a home he’s ever known. Cruz is the only man Sara wants—can he become the one she deserves?
The Yuma Territorial Prison is located along the Colorado River on the way from Phoenix to San Diego. Last summer my husband and I toured the historical site. You’ve probably heard of the prison—it’s been the focus of several western movies—maybe the most famous being the original “3:10 to Yuma”, starring Glenn Ford and the 2007 remake, starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Below is a photo of the “country club” from yumaprison.org
A total of 3069 prisoners called the Yuma territorial Prison home, including 29 women during the 33 years of operation. $25,000 was budgeted for the construction in 1876 and the first handful of inmates moved in on July 1, 1876.
In its hay day the Territorial Yuma Prison had more modern amenities than most homes in town: electricity, forced ventilation, sanitation—two bathtubs and three showers, a library with 2,000 books, the most in the Territory at the time, and an “enlightened, progressive” administration and a Prison Band.
Prisoners feared and loathed the Yuma Territorial Prison….because of its “Insufferable heat… that made the place an “inferno,” surrounded by rivers, quick sand and desert in all directions, an inhuman “Snake Den” and Ball and Chain as standard punishment, Tuberculosis was #1 Killer. But of the 112 prisoners who died while at the Yuma Territorial Prison, very few died violently.
Eight were shot while trying to escape. Six commited suicide. Five died in work accidents, only 2 were killed by another prisoner and one was executed by Yuma County.
Yuma Territorial Prison opened in 1876. The guard tower and water reservoir were built in 1882 and electricity hooked up in 1884.
Women’s cells built 1891
The women didn’t have to sleep in steel bunkbeds like the men. The steel bunkbeds were used to cut down on infestations and there were 6 steel bunkbeds to each cell.
1899 legendary stagecoach robber Pearl Hart, known as the bandit queen, was sentence to 5 years for robbing the Globe to Florence stagecoach. She became a media sensation and flirted with both prisoners and guards, leading to her early departure when pardoned after 2 years.
Library 1893 South Wall
This was the location of the library–the image on the wall is what it looked like back in the day.
Dark Cell 1894 South Wall
1909 due to overcrowding the prison closes and prisoners are moved to Florence.
Yuma Union High School occupied the buildings from 1910 to 1914.When the school’s football team played against Phoenix and unexpectedly won, the Phoenix team called the Yuma team “criminals”. Yuma High adopted the nickname with pride, sometimes shortened to the “Crims”. The school’s symbol is the face of a hardened criminal, and the student merchandise shop is called the Cell Block.
1916 famous Yuma flood and prison materials used to rebuild Yuma, destroying remains of prison
1932 depression era victims use prison for shelter.
1939 squatters evicted and 1940 museum built on site with New Deal funds.
1942 guard tower used for WWII spotting.
I hope you enjoyed touring the Yuma Territorial Prison with me and if you get the chance to see it, there’s a wonderful visitor’s center with fabulous historical photos and stories of the old prison. Just a tidbit of advice–don’t visit the prison when it’s 109 degrees out like we did~fall and winter would be the best months to walk around outside.
For a chance to win this coffee mug from the Yuma Territorial Prison gift shop tell me if you’ve ever toured a famous prison before or if there’s one you would like to see some day. I’ll announce the winner in the comment section of this blog post Sunday January 14th!
Do you or don’t you make New Year’s Resolutions? Every year I get caught up in making New Year’s resolutions.
When the month of December rolls around, I think about setting goals. The past few years I’ve shifted away from concrete goals to more general goals which are more difficult to measure but are more meaningful (to me.)
I’ve always set goals to eat better–more salads and less fast food. And I’ve always included a vacation destination on my list–because it’s fun to dream. But I also remind myself not to look too far ahead. As a writer our lives revolve around deadlines. Every day…every week…every month…we’re looking ahead to the next deadline and we forget to enjoy today.
Blame it on the wisdom of growing older but I’m learning to appreciate each day no matter how uneventful it ends up being. It’s taken years for me to learn to stop equating happiness with achieving a goal. Whether we meet our goals or not…we’re still entitled to be happy and enjoy our lives.
All of us need to get better at accepting and loving ourselves, warts and all. There’s beauty in everything and in every person.
No matter what our goals it’s not that difficult to find a reason to be happy every day. Often we get caught up…so focused on a goal, that we forget to recognize and appreciate our blessings in life. Life is short. We only get so many trips around the sun and none of us knows that number.
So this year I will count my blessings each and every day, appreciate the small stuff in my life, be kind to others and of course read more books!
Question: How have your New year’s Resolutions changed as you’ve grown older?
Decorating for the holidays in the desert Southwest can be challenging~no fluffy white stuff covering the ground and the sun shines bright and strong. In the desert when the wind blows it doesn’t whistle through bare tree limbs, it rustles palm fronds. Even though we don’t have weather that makes you want to curl up inside with a good book and cup of hot chocolate we still decorate our native landscape and get into the holiday spirit.
The Ahwatukee Foothills area which is close to my neighborhood does something special every year. For one mile against the backdrop of South Mountain trees and Saguaro cactus are decorated with over a million white lights. It’s a lovely drive and one we take often during the month of December.
As far as Christmas trees go….most people choose artificial trees but some buy real evergreens. Last year I went rogue and bought a seven-foot rusted metal saguaro Christmas tree–something I’ve wanted for a long time. I have it decorated with lights and western ornaments.
All across the country city zoos decorate with lights and Phoenix is no exception. It’s a tradition in our family to visit Phoenix Zoo Lights ever year. There are about 3.8 million lights and nearly 700 light sculptures at ZooLights. My favorite part is to watching the techno-synchronized music & light show that plays every half hour throughout the evening.
NEW RELEASE & GIVEAWAY!
On Tuesday December 12th YEAR’S at the GRAFF releases! This is book #3 in the all-new Holiday at the Graff series from Tule Publishing and Montana Born books.
Back cover blurb:
After being banned from celebrating the holidays with his stepfamily, San Diego businessman Lucas Kendrick arrives in Marietta, Montana, in time to attend the New Year’s Eve celebration at the Graff Hotel. The rodeo-theme party isn’t his style but he’s drawn to the pretty cowgirl running the dice table. When the clock strikes midnight and they ring in the New Year with a kiss, Lucas almost forgets he’s in Marietta on business and not pleasure. He believes he’s found the perfect property for his prized client. There’s just one problem—the pretty cowgirl has her sights set on the same piece of real estate.
Now that single mom Ava Moore has earned a business degree, she wants to help other struggling women get back on their feet by opening a co-op on Main Street. The last thing she expects is competition from the handsome city slicker whose New Year’s kiss she hasn’t been able to forget. Lucas isn’t only stealing Ava’s heart he’s bonding with her daughter. Can Ava convince Lucas that the best business deals are made with the heart and not money?
For a chance to win a digital copy of New Year’s at the Graff share your favorite holiday tradition!
***I’ll announce the winner on Sunday, December 10th in the comment section of this blog post and then send the winner their digital copy when the book releases on Tuesday! Be sure to check back here to see if you won!
Anyone who comes to visit us in Arizona gets to see Tortilla Flat–it’s one of our favorite places to see!
This past spring my daughter and her boyfriend flew to Phoenix for a short visit. The boyfriend grew up in a small town in Illinois (3,000 residents) and had never been to Arizona. We took the kids on a drive through the Tonto National Forest in the Superstition Mountain Range along the historic Apache Trail to a town called Tortilla Flat.
Tortilla Flat got its start as a stagecoach stop in 1904 and is the last surviving stop along the Apache Trail. Past fires and floods destroyed the buildings but residents have rebuilt each time. Tortilla Flat is thought to be Arizona’s smallest official “community” having a U.S. Post Office and voter’s precinct. The town has a population of 6.
There was no road to Tortilla Flat before 1904. The town became a freight camp during the construction of the Roosevelt Dam. Tortilla Flat, as well as the other camps along the road to the dam, sat on U.S. Forest Service land. After construction of the dam, the people who decided to make Tortilla Flat their permanent home had to lease the land from the U.S. government and continue to do so today. Roosevelt Dam has turned Tortilla Flat into a tourist attraction.
The drive to Tortilla Flat is a winding two-lane road of breathtaking scenic views of Canyon Lake and one-car bridges. You probably don’t want to be on this road at night.
When you reach Tortilla Flat you’ll be hungry, so stop in at the Superstition Saloon for good eats and their signature House Beers: Superstition Mule Oil and Snake Venom.
The saloon’s claim-to-fame, besides good food, are the dollars bills tourists stick to walls and the fun cowboy saddle stools at the bar.
While you’re in town you can watch a gunfight or listen to a live band outside on the quaint patio with the backdrop of the mountains. And before you leave be sure to get your picture taken in a toilet seat.
If you’re ever in the Phoenix area I highly recommend taking this day trip!
I’m offering a digital copy of a reader favorite that led to one of my best-selling series, Cowboys of the Rio Grande. The three delinquent teenagers in A Rodeo Man’s Promise eventually got their own books. (A Cowboy’s Redemption, The Surgeon’s Christmas Baby and A Cowboy’s Claim)
For a chance to win tell me where you take friends or family when they come to visit you.
I will announce the winner of this drawing on Sunday November 12th in the comment section of this post!