New Mexico

New Mexico Book Settings: Abiquiú

As you near Abiquiú you enter a landscape rich with vast vistas, multicolored sandstone canyons with towering red and yellow cliffs that soar to fifteen hundred feet, and rocky, table-topped mesas in sharp contrast to the lush grasslands and the waters of the Rio Chama, a major tributary of the Rio Grande. It’s no wonder famous artist Georgia O’Keeffe fell in love with the land. The village will make its debut appearance in CLON-X  book four in the Darcy McClain and Bullet Thriller Series.

I first set foot in Abiquiú in 1986 and was instantly captivated with the desert landscape, and my love for the region has never waned. The town is located eighteen miles north of Española on a terraced, rocky mesa at an elevation of over six thousand feet and overlooks the Rio Chama. The Abiquiú Genízaro Land Grant was given to the Spaniards and the genízaros (Native American slaves) jointly, and is one of the last Spanish-American community grants still functioning and owned by the residents. Photo: Bed and Breakfast in Abiquiú.

Abiquiú was the gateway for pioneers headed west on the Old Spanish Trail, the historic trade route that connected the northern New Mexico settlements of Santa Fe to those of Los Angeles and southern California: seven hundred miles of high mountains, arid deserts, and deep canyons, and one of the most arduous pack-train routes in the entire United States—an exhausting eighty-six-day trek. In the 1750s a new church, Santo Tomas El Apostal Church, and a convent were begun. Upon completion in the 1770s, the community was placed under the spiritual ministry of the Franciscan friars.

Santo Tomas El Apostal Church on the Abiquiu Plaza,

In and around Abiquiú are several interesting attractions, something for almost everyone. Abiquiú Lake, a reservoir, was created by damming the waters of the Rio Chama. The recreation area is managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the activities include camping, hiking, swimming, boating, and fishing.

Prefer seclusion? Then head for the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine monastery set amid miles of undisturbed wilderness. Their guesthouses and ranch houses are available for a two-day, two-night minimum stay with a suggested donation of ninety dollars per night. Meals are simple and mostly vegetarian fare, and are shared with the monks in the refectory. All meals are enjoyed in silence, except during table readings by the monks.

Since water sports and solitude weren’t on my agenda for the day, but photography certainly was, I drove to the Echo amphitheater, about four miles up the road from Ghost Ranch, only to discover that the natural amphitheater was closed due to filming of Hostiles, a frontier epic. Disappointed, I motored back to Ghost Ranch where the film crew had set up camp, but the ranch was open to tourism, so we stopped to take photos and enjoy the scenery.

Ghost Ranch was part of the Piedra Lumbre Land Grant given to Pedro Martin Serrano from the King of Spain in 1766. When cattle rustlers started hiding their stolen cattle in the box canyons, they discouraged nosy neighbors by spreading rumors that the land was haunted by evil spirits. Rancho de los Brujos (Ranch of the Witches) evolved into Ghost Ranch. In 1936, Arthur Pack, publisher of Nature magazine, bought the ranch. Today, most people associate it with Georgia O’Keeffe.


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New Mexico Book Settings: Taos


This post is dedicated to artist and musician George Chacón who left us too soon. His artwork is prominently displayed in downtown Taos. The piece is signed and his signature is shown at the end of this post.http://taosnews.com/stories/taos-artist-george-chacn-has-died,39640?

In early September 1540, the first European visitors to set foot in Taos were a small artillery detachment under the command of Hernando de Alvardo. As part of Vázquez de Coronado’s expedition, they had come in search of the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola. Alvarado’s meeting with the Tiwa Indians, who had inhabited the Taos Pueblo for centuries, was peaceful and they exchanged gifts. But over time the peaceful co-existence eroded and led to conflicts between the two cultures over religious beliefs and the treatment of the native people.

In August 1680, a revolt led by Pope, a San Juan Pueblo Indian, resulted in the expulsion of the Spanish from New Mexico. Twelve years later, in August 1692, Don Diego de Vargas led an expedition to conquer and covert souls, but he was probably more interested in locating the local silver mines than converting souls. After he conquered the land, he established Santa Fe as the capital, and the region again fell under the Spanish flag. In 1696, the proud Taos Pueblo Indians made their last stand before surrendering to the Spanish.

I’ve read several versions of how Taos came to be named. Some Spanish settlers say they heard the Picuris Indians pointing to the northeast where their relatives the “Tao” lived. Most likely, they were referring to the Taos Pueblo Indians. However, between 1796 and 1797 the Don Fernando de Taos Land Grant gave land to sixty-three Spanish settlers in the Taos valley; the town name may have originated from the grant name and was shortened to “Taos.”

I first set foot in Taos in December of 1975 during a road trip through the northern part of the state. I was mesmerized by the stark, vast landscape with its honey-brown grasslands that ran on one side of me to red mesas, and on the other, to grassy terrain that touched a turquoise-blue sky. But what really hooked me was the first time I laid eyes on the Taos Plateau, a sheet of white fractured by a massive black chasm, its jagged basalt escarpments dusted in powdery snow and falling to the icy blue waters of the Rio Grande River twisting its way through the canyons.

Late that afternoon I caught sight of Taos Mountain, rising majestically from the desert floor, snow-capped peaks brushing a cloudless sky. Behind me, undulating evergreen hills rose to the ridge top of the Picuris Mountains, the tips of the trees capped in white and dropping to a glowing copper-orange valley under a fiery red-and-violet sunset. I’ve visited the state often since 1975 and fall deeper in love with the land each time I visit, so it was a delight to set two thrillers in northern New Mexico—Brainwash in Taos and Los Alamos and Gadgets in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Darcy will return to New Mexico in CLON-X and will add Arroyo Seco and Abiquiú to her travel list.

Besides some history of Taos, my main purpose for this post is photographic—to give you a sense of place. In Brainwash, Darcy catches her first glimpse of the historic San Francisco de Asis Mission Church when she meets Elena in Ranchos de Taos to discuss Andrew’s mysterious disappearance.

Front of the church and the back with its massive, mud and straw buttresses.

Two breakfast hangouts of ours: Michael’s Kitchen and Bent Street Café. Bullet loves the patio.

Out and about, shopping, gallery browsing, and enjoying all the “color.”









  Photos: Russian Sage and the Taos Plaza.

Photos: Moby Dickens Bookshop (permanently closed). Now, Op. Cit. Books. Outside the bookstore there is a bulletin board. Notice my postings: Brainwash and Gadgets postcards top right.

And I will close as I opened—Rest in Peace, George. Gone, but not forgotten.


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New Mexico Book Settings: Santa Fe and Canyon Road

Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A Darcy McClain fan once asked me if I knew that Canyon Road was in Santa Fe? Yes, I certainly do, but I see the long, narrow, one-way road as an artistic subculture, a haven onto itself, so in my mind I’ve always separated the two. 

Santa Fe

Although Santa Fe was inhabited in 1607, it wasn’t truly a settlement until 1609 with the arrival of conquistador Don Pedro de Peralta. The city was the capital of the “Kingdom of New Mexico” (what is today Arizona and New Mexico) and remains the capital of New Mexico. The “Kingdom” was first claimed by the Spanish Crown in 1540 by Vásquez de Coronado, sixty-seven years before the founding of Santa Fe.

In 1680, the Pueblo Indians revolted against their Spanish colonists, killing four hundred and driving the rest back into Mexico. The Pueblo Indians sacked Santa Fe and burned most of the buildings but spared the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building in America. In 1692, the Spanish returned with reinforcement under the leadership of Don Diego de Vargas and reconquered the region in a bloodless siege.

From 1692 to 1821, Santa Fe prospered, despite constant raids by nomadic Native Americans: Comanches, Apaches, and Navajos who had forged an alliance with the Pueblo Indians. After Mexico gained its independence from Spain in August 1821, American trappers and traders moved into the region. On August 18, 1846, early in the Mexican-American War, General Stephen Watts Kearny took Santa Fe and held it for two years, until Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ceding New Mexico and California to the United States.

With the arrival of the telegraph in 1868 and the coming of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad in 1880, Santa Fe and New Mexico experienced an economic boom. However, corruption accompanied growth and President Rutherford Hayes appointed Lew Wallace to clean up the territory. He did such a good job that Billy the Kid threatened to kill him. Billy failed and Wallace went on to finish his novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

St. Francis Hotel, mentioned in Gadgets.

New Mexico gained statehood in 1912, and people flocked to Santa Fe’s dry climate to cure their tuberculosis. In 1926, Santa Fe vowed to preserve and maintain its ancient landmarks, historical sites, and its rich cultural heritage, making it one of the most intriguing and unique cities in the nation.

The Palace of the Governors appears in Gadgets and will appear again in CLON-X when Darcy stops at the Palace of the Governors to peruse the fine handmade jewelry, mostly silver and turquoise, sold by Native Americans. In such pieces all stones are certified as genuine and there is something for everyone: necklaces, rings, belt buckles, earrings, etc. All are displayed on a blanket on the ground in front of the creator. Take note, most designers selling their wares take cash only. In one instance, I ran around the corner to a nearby ATM, only to return and find my kachina had been sold to another customer. I learned my lesson and when I found a bracelet I really wanted, I asked the seller to hold it for me while I visited the closest ATM. We had bargained on the price, but he was not willing to come down and I was short ten dollars. It is one of my most prized pieces of jewelry. The craftsmanship is superb. I look for him every time I visit Santa Fe, which is often, but I’ve never seen him again.

Ore House at Milagro was a bar and restaurant located on the upper floor of this building. It was a favorite spot of mine, until I read recently that it had closed. So, it will not be appearing in CLON-X. I was pleased to see that the Plaza Cafe on the lower floor is still going strong.

Canyon Road

Canyon Road, which runs parallel to the Acequia Madre (“mother ditch”), an irritation ditch dating back to 1680, is an art district in Santa Fe and has been called the art lover’s mecca. I’ve seen handmade belts from $80 to life-size bronze works selling for $80,000. But the visual feast begins with the street itself. Many of the art galleries are housed in historic adobe buildings, the exteriors dressed up in vibrant floral arrangements, and it is common to see art installations showcased outside. The air is filled with the spicy odor of chile peppers, the tantalizing scent wafting from top-notch eateries like Geronimo and The Compound.

Geronimo Restaurant

In the fall, stroll from one gallery to the next with a glass of wine and enjoy the studio tours. In winter, the cold evenings warm to the soft yellow glow of thousands of luminaries, signaling that Christmas can’t be too far away.  

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