Road Trip to the Grand Canyon

This year, the Airship Ambassador’s Steampunk Hands Around the World event is going on a road trip and exploring new places. One of the things I’ve enjoyed doing when writing my Clockwork Legion books is visiting places around the world and imagining them with a steampunk twist. So, I thought it would be fun to visit some of the places that appear in the novels and share my connection to them. For this first post, I’m going to the Grand Canyon in Northern Arizona.

A lot of steampunk has a very urban and gritty feel set in places like London of the nineteenth century. However, in my novel Owl Dance, I introduced Professor M.K. Maravilla, an engineer and naturalist who builds machines to mimic the animals he studies. Because of that, you don’t tend to find him in urban environments, but out in nature. In Owl Dance, Ramon Morales and Fatemeh Karimi encounter the professor at the Grand Canyon.

The reason the professor is at the Grand Canyon is that he’s built ornithopters in the shape of owls so he can study how they fly. An ornithopter is an aircraft that flies by flapping its wings like birds. I actually had the idea for the ornithopters from a visit to canyon and seeing California Condors gliding on the canyon’s air currents. This was especially amazing to me because I grew up in California and remember a museum exhibit that discussed how California Condors were near extinction. I never figured I would ever see them in real life, yet I saw them flying and swooping over the canyon and couldn’t help but think how much fun it would be to be them, swooping and flying over the canyon.

The reason I used owls instead of condors in the story is two-fold. First off, the condors were introduced to the canyon as part of a breeding program to help increase their numbers. Even in 1877, while there likely would have been condors in the canyon, their numbers wouldn’t have been numerous. Second, Professor Maravilla develops an interest in owls from his association with Fatemeh Karimi. So, the interest had a direct narrative connection.

Back in 2015, while at Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium, artist Laura Tempest Zakroff was selling her art next to us. I admired her wonderful artwork and commissioned an illustration of Professor Maravilla’s owl ornithopter. You can see her work above. In the novels, the professor sells the ornithopters to the army and the industrialist, Captain Cisneros, also develops his own version. The owl ornithopter in Laura Givens’ cover for Owl Riders is different from Tempest’s design, but Givens’ design reflects several years of in-world development!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this steampunk road trip stop. If you would like to explore Owl Dance and all the places visited in the novel, you visit http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html to get more information and find all the places the novel is available.

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Vermilion Cliffs

This past week, my friend Charles Corson and I made a road trip to Vermilion Cliffs in Northern Arizona to see a retired co-worker from Kitt Peak named George Will. George operated telescopes until he retired about five years ago. Here I am with George on a hike we took along a ridge that paralleled the Paria River, which feeds into the Colorado River.

Dave-and-George

The Vermilion Cliffs are just north of the Grand Canyon. I love the area, as I’m sure many who have read Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves can guess. Soon after he retired, George found a place to rent adjoining the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. This is the view outside his window.

Vermillion-Cliffs

Besides going to see George, this was a great opportunity to get out and exercise. I’ve been hearing a lot recently about research that indicates exercise is necessary for healthy brain function. I certainly have found that a daily walk does a lot to make me feel better and more mentally alert. What’s more, I’ve also heard about research that indicates the necessity of getting out in nature. Our brains seem to be wired such that spending time in wild areas helps us out considerably. Here’s a photo Charles took of me walking along a small tributary canyon that feeds into the Grand Canyon.

Dave Exploring

I didn’t really go on this trip with any particular research goals for upcoming works, but I always like to keep an open mind about the history of a region. It’s hard to say what you might see that might be an idea down the road. At the point where the Paria River feeds into the Colorado Rives is Lee’s Ferry. It’s named after John D. Lee, a Mormon who ran the only ferry crossing across the Colorado River. Due to the geography of the region, it’s one of the few places where you can access the river from both banks for hundreds of miles. John D. Lee ran the ferry from 1870 until his execution in 1876, for his involvement in the Mormon Meadows Massacre. The ferry service continued until 1929 when the first bridge was built across the Colorado. Here’s the view of the Lee’s Ferry Crossing.

Lees-Ferry

Not only do I find inspiration from history, but from the land itself. Sometimes on our hikes we would wander through an area and I would think about what kinds of stories I might set there. Is this a place on Earth or on a distant world? At this point, I don’t know, but several places such as the one below are filed away in my subconscious waiting to see what it does with them.

Tributary

My only problem with a trip like this is that it has to come to an end. However, I did receive some good news on the trip. My editor is nearing the end of her second pass of The Astronomer’s Crypt and the anthology Lost Trails Volume 2: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West is in its final round of production. I hope to have more news about both of these projects soon.