The waters of the Verde Valley

Clear Creek Verde Valley Arizona

Clear Creek at flood stage

Although Arizona has a desert climate, much of the Verde Valley is a riparian zone with creeks such as Oak, Sycamore, Clear, Wet and Dry Beaver Creeks and even a river, The Verde.

Blood in Tavasci Marsh

 

 

The Verde Valley has also marshes. I used Tavasci Marsh as the setting of my second mystery, Blood in Tavasci Marsh.

It has lakes and ponds. Montezuma’s Well became the location of Fire in Broken Water.

 

 

Water is valued in Arizona, and especially in the Verde Valley because it is so precious and life giving. But it can come in floods and sheets of downpour that tax the ability of the red, sandy soil to absorb it.

On a walk in the aftermath of a particularly heavy rainstorm, the damp clung to my shoulders. Chain saws cut down swathes of broken limbs and the city street sweepers made the roads passable—at least until that afternoon when the storms were predicted to roll in again.

The neighbors were out kibitzing about the storm damage. “I like the rain, but not so much,” said one. Another groused, “You ought to see my backyard—it’s a mess!” “It just whooshed down, all at once!” said a third.

A friend of mine likes to do his own bit terraforming with this gift from nature. Each morning after a good storm he is out with his pickup truck “harvesting” the red dirt drying in rippled patches across the hillside roads. In this way he both keeps the roads passable for others and is gradually building up his hillside in terraced plots bathed in sunset colors of ochre and terra cotta.

I once knew a man who lived on the edge of Wet Beaver Creek near Rimrock. He came into a bit of money and decided to improve a property at the edge of the creek. For weeks the ‘dozers plowed and shifted and mounded the soil just so, building a fine peninsula in the creek for his house to rest upon.

It was lovely little cottage, really, with wonderful sweeping 360 degree views. But it was an unusually wet season that year, and each storm undercut the newly formed bank a little more. Finally one day the mother of all storms hit, with two inches of rain in less than an hour.

The last I saw of that house, it was sailing merrily down a flood-swollen torrent of red muddy water. He never did rebuild, and the last I heard, the land was up for auction to another unsuspecting tourist wanting a piece of red rock country.

Bell Rock Sedona ArizonaThose same sunset colors of pink and red and orange give depth and movement to the rock formations in rainy weather. After a storm, the Bell Rock sandstone formation is transformed by the water. The rock turns ominously dark, soaking up the moisture. When the storm is over, the rock releases the moisture in a cascade of short-term waterfalls that reflect the turquoise blue of the rain-washed skies overhead.

The trees also look cleaner after a storm, more green. A texture of pine cones and gray-green juniper berries drop after the rains to form windrows on the road surface. They skitter under the tires of passing cars and make walking uncertain at best.

Rocks wash down on the road, softball-sized pieces of rock that roll across the roads in crests of storm-driven water.

The drive up Oak Creek, from Pump House Wash to the canyon rim can be particularly treacherous as boulders as big as washing machines are undercut by the rains, and drop suddenly down on the road. They create sudden roadblocks to unwary drivers, cracking windshields and crushing fenders.

In red rock country, weather warrants our close attention. It is a shift of energy, a reminder of our human helplessness in the face of chaos. We can try to stand up against it, but water has its own way.

 

The setting of FIRE IN BROKEN WATER: Montezuma’s Well

Montezuma's Well

When I chose the setting for the third Pegasus Quincy Mystery novel, Fire in Broken Water, which centers around the ongoing Water Wars in Arizona, I knew parts of it had to be located at Montezuma’s Well.

The Well is surrounded with mystery and magic. Who expects to see this blue-green water in the midst of the high desert terrain of the upper Verde Valley? As you climb up 500 feet to the summit of the limestone sink, white-gray limestone cliffs are peopled with spare junipers struggling for survival, along with some spindly creosote and scrub oak.

In the spring, and later in the fall after the monsoon rains you’ll find a colorful display of desert wildflowers including yellow prickly-pear cactus, blue lupine, and orange globemallow. There’s  also a variety of birds: raptors such as the kestril and red tailed hawk, scrub blue jays, the black crested phainopepla, and tiny bushtit.

Once you reach the top, look over the edge into a blue-green lake. Montezuma’s Well was originally an underground basin, fed by freshwater springs. When the top collapsed, the Well was formed. It has Indian ruins around the inner edge and another cave down at the bottom, near the flow-through channel to Oak Creek below.

Perhaps because of the warm spring water (a constant high 70-degrees in temperature), the Well is home to five species of critter found nowhere else in North America, including a unique type of water scorpion. No fish, though, because the water is too high is carbonation–over 80 times the level of normal freshwater–and contains arsenic leached from the surrounding rock formations.

The depths of the Well have been explored by scuba teams recently, and their findings are fascinating!

 

The Well was named by early settlers, but was never seen by the Aztec leader Montezuma. However, it is held sacred by the surrounding Indian tribes. The Hopi call it “sun spring,” the Yavapai, ʼHakthkyayva or, “broken water,” and the Western Apache, “Water Breaks Open.” The last two refer to an unusual feature of the well, an underground tunnel, or swallet about 150 feet long that acts like the safety drain on your sink, allowing the overflow water from the well to pour out of solid rock into an irrigation ditch on the outside of the formation.

Montezuma Well swallet

 

There, the air is cool and moist–over 20 degrees cooler than on top–Columbines and wild watercress grow in the mossy waters.

 

 

 

Montezuma Well canal

 

At this point the water is diverted into an irrigation ditch over a thousand feet long, built Indian tribes centuries ago and still used today for cattle ranches downstream. The high limestone content of the water has coated the sides of the canal, similar to the sides of a swimming pool.

 

 

 

Here, take a walking tour of Montezuma’s Well to experience the stark difference between the arid land at the top of the Well and the moist-creekside environs at the bottom.

More than 90% of the springs in Northern Arizona have been lost as the result of underground pumping, too many wells depleting the ground water and periodic droughts. This sometimes sets neighbor against neighbor in the struggle between development and natural beauty. Montezuma’s Well dwells in the midst of this dispute, quiet and serene over the centuries.

 

Photo credits:
Top picture by Marine 69-71 at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0
Remaining pictures of the irrigation ditch by: Dana Hunter and Fredlyfish4 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Pegasus Quincy Novel #3 Now available for Pre-Order!

Fire in Broken Water-Pegasus Quincy Mystery #3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pegasus Quincy is at it again.

She and her partner, Shepherd Malone, are on routine patrol in Arizona’s Verde Valley when the call comes in. “Dispute in progress, lethal weapons involved.” The two deputies arrive at the Spinne horse ranch to discover the Water Wars in the Southwest are alive and well. And that’s just the start of their problems!

Fire in Broken Water, Pegasus Quincy mystery novel #3, is now available for pre-order through Amazon. Official Launch Day is February 21st!

Finding Water: The Fine Art of Persistance

Finding Water Art of Persistence Julia Cameron

 

My sister’s book club is reading one of Julia Cameron’s books, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond. I promised her I’d take a look at it. I did, and it is delightful. I recommend it highly!

In the process, though, I came across another book by Ms. Cameron, entitled Finding Water: The Art of PerseveranceI was delighted, because I’d read the first two of this trilogy when I was in art school: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and the Artist’s Way. Also highly recommended, by the way.

Julia is no novice to the challenging world of being creative. She’s been at it for 30 years and during that time has written–and had published–over 30 books! Would that I were that successful.

In many of this author’s books, she recommends a practice of three simple acts: 1) morning pages, a type of handwritten journaling, undertaken first thing in the morning; 2) making an “artist’s date” with yourself to explore some new facet of your environment; and 3) a long walk, at least once a week, to connect with nature. I’ve found all three to be richly rewarding.

In Finding Water, Julia encounters writer’s block, rejection, and discouragement as she readies a play for the New York stage. She speaks of the paralyzing effects of perfection. I can relate.

Julia’s inner critic is named Nigel, and Nigel has rules. “A critic such as Nigel has doubts, second thoughts, third thoughts. The critic analyzes everything to the point of extinction. Everything must always be groomed and manicured. Everything must measure up.”

“…an original thought may be disturbing, even dangerous. It wants to see what it has seen before. It has seen a cow, but it has never seen a zebra. Don’t try to tell it that a zebra might be interesting. Those stripes don’t look like such a good idea. Get those zebras out of here!”

I gave Julia a high five for that one. My critic and Nigel are old war buddies. Brothers-in-arms, soldiering on, unappreciated, firmly declaring that black is black, white is white, and forget about all those colors in between.

Right now I am struggling through the simultaneous editing of two works. In my writing critique group we are examining, for the umpteenth time, the first chapter of my next book in the Pegasus Quincy Mystery Series, Fire in Broken Water. 

I’ve read the last chapter of this same book so many times it is almost memorized, and yet my critic–let’s call him Clarkson–is still finding egregious errors any sixth-grader could correct in their sleep.

And when we take a break from that one, the two of us, Clarkson and I, are weaving together a new, very rough draft of the fourth novel in the series called Peril in Silver Nightshade.

Clarkson is having a field day. “You wrote what?” “Don’t you know you can never mix first and third person narratives?” “Info dump. Info dump. Info dump,” he chants.

I want to shout Shut up! in his overly large, cauliflower-shaped ears (the better to hear you with, my dear) and consign him to the upstairs, unheated garret. It is near winter here in Michigan, and that would be a fitting place for him. Although he has this loud screeching voice that would undoubtedly echo through the register.

But to be honest, I need his help. The fairy child has created these lovely works of art, and now it is time for her evil cousin to have his way. And perhaps he isn’t so evil, after all. He is persistent and perfectionistic. I must learn to accept that he is also a part of me, and appreciate what he brings to the table.

I am not sure if I believe in the left brain/right brain dichotomy. It seems much too simple an explanation of the complex workings of our mind. Yet there is a push/pull, an internal dialogue always at work. And that, too, is part of the creative process. I need both the fairy child and Clarkson, just not at the same time, in the same room, talking over each other.

What about you? What do you call your inner critic?
How does it muck about in your creative life?