My next book, releasing May 1…which isn’t THAT far away, is called Deep Trouble.
Deep Trouble begins at a cliff dwelling site which is a somewhat fictionalized Mesa Verde and travels into the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Researching this book was really interesting. I’ll talk more about The Grand Canyon next month, today I’ll tell you a few things I learned about Mesa Verde. Mesa Verde is located near the Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. The Anasazi inhabited Mesa Verde anywhere between 550 to 1300 AD.
The first record of Mesa Verde came around 1760 when Spanish explorers from California traveled through the region. Mesa Verde means Green Table and the area had a lot of lush grass for such a dry region. The explorers saw the green and named it Mesa Verde but they didn’t get close enough to see the cliff dwellings. No one would notice the cliff dwellings for another hundred years.
The existence of the cave dwellings was recorded in 1873 by John Moss, a prospector. Others had seen the cliff dwellings but Moss is the one who got the word out. He acted as guide to a photographer in 1875 and the world suddenly knew about Mesa Verde.
Two cowboys also reported the existance of the ruins in 1888. Tracking wandering cattle through a snowstorm on top of the mesa, they stopped on the edge of a steep canyon. Through the snow they could see the faint outline of the walls and towers of what looked like a huge palace of stone on the far side of the canyon.
Excited about their discovery, they made a makeshift ladder and climbed down to the deserted cliff city, exploring its ghostly network of deserted rooms, where they found such artifacts as tools and pottery. Their condition was so good that some of the items were still usable. They named the dwelling Cliff Palace, and archaeologists later determined that no one had stood in the rooms explored by the cowboys for nearly six centuries
In 1891 Gustaf Nordenskiöld, a trained mineralogist, introduced scientific methods to artifact collection, recorded locations, photographed extensively, diagrammed sites, and correlated what he observed with existing archaeological literature.
His did great work documenting the site, but then he tried to pack up as many artifacts as he could from the cliff dwellings with plans to take them back to Norway. When his plans were found out he was nearly hanged and had to abandon the area, but he wrote a book about Mesa Verde called The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde. This book put Mesa Verde on the map and unleashed a tremendous interest in the odd place. But, because there was no one protecting the cliff dwellings treasure hunters began systematically stripping the place for souvenirs. They even knocked down some of the walls to let light into the cave dwellings so they could see better to work. The site was finally named a national park in 1906.
These pictures are of several different cliff dwelling sites, including one in Africa. I used them just to show you the different ways ancient people found to make their homes in difficult areas. The one on the lower left is particularly cool and it was a site like this that ultimately was my inspiration for the beginning of the book, because we start off with my heroine being abandoned in one of the high caves when her traveling companions, whom she hired to help her search for the Seven Cities of Gold, were NOT impressed with this first city. No gold here. So they stole her map to the next city, which will lead them to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, left her in the high up cave to die and ran off. Along comes our hero who finds a woman stuck up high where he can’t reach. No ladder because the outlaws shot the one they used to get up there to smithereens.
A scene from the hero and heroine’s first meeting. Gabe Lasley, who first appeared in Cowboy Christmas, hears screaming and shots and rides to the rescue. When he gets to the place all the shooting was coming from he finds….a spooky, long abandoned city carved into stone.
Gabe got to the top of the narrow arroyo and pulled his horse to a dead stop.
He was looking at something he couldn’t believe.
A mountain carved up into— homes?
Shaking his head he looked closer, trying to make the structure in front of his eyes something created by nature. But it wasn’t. These were man made. The lowest levels had structure to them. Rock work that formed walls. There were depressions in the rocks above the structures. Cave openings, multiple levels of them. He counted four layers, one above the other, of what had to be dwellings of some kind.
And now abandoned.
Gabe had never heard of this. He was just passing through the area now, but he’d ridden with the cavalry in Texas and the Southwest for years. How could this have gone undiscovered? And who had found it now and died?
Fascinated, Gabe walked his horse into this lost valley, then swung down and tied the gelding to one of a thousand mesquite bushes. The wind whistled through the hills and canyons. It was the only sound and that moaning wind told him no one else was here. Those tracks cut in the dust were the only sign that humans had passed through here in ages. Seven horses in, seven out. Judging by the tracks, he’d say two pack horses, maybe three. So five people had come in here. How many had ridden out?
He tried to remember exactly where that sound had come from and it wasn’t hard to figure it out. He could see where people had stood, horses, supplies. A camp had been set up here and had only been torn down a few minutes ago. A chill sliced up his spine in the Arizona heat as he realized he’d barely missed whoever left this place. The folks doing all the shooting.
But who had done the screaming?
He stared at the wonder before him and studied the sign and terrain with no idea what to do next. There was nothing. No one.
The place was eerie, as if who ever had lived here before still watched, testing those who came. He heard wind whistling like a specter calling to him from those unnatural caves high overhead.
Where had the people gone who had done such work, created such a home? Who would work this hard then leave? Had they died? Had they abandoned all their labor? Had they been killed? And if so where were those that had done the killing?
His eyes went up four levels of stone homes. Gabe felt a quick chill of fear. No human hand created this. And yet what were the other possibilities? He was left with the sense that it was ancient and utterly empty of life.
He jumped, drew his gun and whirled around toward where the riders had left. Heart slamming, he looked left and right. Blinked and gasped for air and saw. . .
. . .no one.
There was no one anywhere. Could the place be haunted? He didn’t believe in such things but—
That cry echoed and bounced until Gabe was surrounded.
“Help me, please.”
This time it was stronger and even with the echo, Gabe whirled back and looked up and up and up. A woman.
Gabe almost screamed.
Her face was soaked in blood, one arm flung over the edge of the cliff as she lay on her belly, looked down.
He probably would have screamed if he hadn’t choked on spit when he drew in an involuntary breath. While he coughed he fought to get a grip on his nerves.
Spooks and haints were something he’d heard of plenty growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee. Lots of superstition in those mountains. But his ma raised them Christian and wasn’t given to such nonsense.
“I’m trapped. They left me.” Her voice was weak but it carried on the quiet of the canyon. This was no ghost. Except could ghosts fly? Because that’s the only way Gabe could see that she got up there.
The coughing ended and, with a whoosh of relief, his head cleared and he knew there was a woman up there. A real woman. A living, human being, definitely in terrible distress.
She was so high overhead, her face streaked in bright red blood. Dark hair spilling down over the edge of the cliff. He had no notion of what she looked like, only her voice and long hair told him she was female.
“Ma’am?” Gabe had no idea what to say or do.
“Help me, please.” Each word shook as if she gathered every ounce of her energy to keep talking. “Help me get down.”
“I’ll help you.” His voice didn’t exactly work. He tried again, loud enough she could hear him. “I’ll help you.”
“Promise you won’t leave me.” She sounded on the verge of pure panic.
Gabe couldn’t say he blamed her. “I’m not going to leave you. I promise.”
“Thank you.” Her voice broke, and he heard a muffled sob. “I need you to get me down.”
It wasn’t fair to ask a trapped bleeding woman how to save herself.
“I don’t know.”
Not fair at all.