Return to the Grand Canyon

In May, my youngest child celebrated her 20th birthday. As a geology student at Northern Arizona University, she asked for a trip to the Grand Canyon as her present. Unfortunately, all the campsites and hotel rooms were already booked when she made her request, so we booked a date at the earliest chance we could get a campsite for three nights in a row. That proved to be the second half of July, which is often the hottest time of the year to visit the canyon. However it proved to be much nicer than the heat wave we’ve been enduring in Las Cruces, New Mexico. We stayed at the Desert View campground on the eastern side of the park on the south rim of the canyon. As with all of the canyon, it’s quite a picturesque location. A notable feature is the Watchtower, a building designed by architect Mary Colter in 1932. Unfortunately, climbing to the top of the Watchtower has been prohibited since the beginning of the 2020 pandemic, but the area around it is still wonderful.

Desert View Watchtower at the Grand Canyon

The Watchtower has a gift shop and rangers are available for questions. Early in our stay, we consulted with the rangers about some good trail options for our abilities and gear. As the title implies, this wasn’t my first visit to the Grand Canyon. I’ve visited five times before and hiked into the canyon most of those times. I even hiked all the way to the Colorado River along the Tanner trail in July 1983. That was a challenging hike that took three days in very hot, dry conditions. We certainly weren’t up for that challenge on this trip, but the rangers did make some very good suggestions. We took two of them.

The first of our hikes took us out to Shoshone Point. This hike takes you through a pleasant, wooded trail up to a large picnic area on the rim of the Grand Canyon. According to the National Park Service website, this is the one place at the Canyon you can reserve for a private event, such as a wedding. The area provided great views. I enjoyed hiking out to a nearby hoodoo and taking some photos from there.

Hoodoo at Shoshone Point

Just before we left for the Grand Canyon, I received an email inviting me to submit to a steampunk anthology. I don’t want to share too many details yet, partly because I don’t think believe this is a completely open call and partly not to jinx my own chances. What I will share is that ravens need to be part of the story. At first, I was a little uncertain what I would do with ravens. While camping, I remembered that in Owl Dance, Professor Maravilla set up an outpost at the Grand Canyon to test his ornithopters. We then revisit this outpost at the beginning of Lightning Wolves. What’s more, ravens are all over the place at the Grand Canyon. So the trip actually helped me get the ball rolling on thoughts for a story proposal.

Raven visiting our campsite

The steampunk/historical vibe helped us choose our other hike. We decided to try the Grandview Trail to Coconino Saddle. This is one of the older trails and back in the nineteenth century was used by miners who worked at the Last Chance Mine on Horseshoe Mesa. The first part of the trail takes you 1000 feet down into the canyon over the course of a mile. If you do the math, that tells you that the trail averages a 20% grade in that section. Talk about an intense work commute! The mine at Horseshoe Mesa actually produced rather pure copper ore. However, it was so difficult to get out of the canyon, that the mine was never all that profitable. So the owner build Grandview Lodge up on the rim. This was one of the earliest tourist destinations. Soon after it was built, though, the Grand Canyon Railroad went in to carry visitors from Williams, Arizona to the El Tovar Lodge on the rim. Unfortunately, the El Tovar Lodge is a good 27 miles from Grandview! In the end, the Grandview Lodge closed and no longer exists.

The steepness of the Grandview Trail actually helped give us a nice view of the canyon’s geology. It also proved to be a nice trail in that not many people hiked it. We started about 8:30am and we out by 11:00am, at which point, the day was getting very hot. Still, it was a nice way to experience both some spectacular views and some of the canyon’s history. The photo below shows me just a little beyond Coconino Saddle with the canyon behind me.

Hiking Grandview Trail

Time will tell whether the inspiration I took from this trip to the Grand Canyon will result in the sale of a new story. If you want to see how the Grand Canyon has inspired other steampunk stories I’ve written, don’t miss the first two volumes of my Clockwork Legion series, which are available in print, ebook, and audio! Get the details at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

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.

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.