Monday, January 26, 2015

Review: Legend and Lore of the Guadalupe Mountains

I’ve been researching lost and buried treasures as I plot the next book in my treasure hunting romantic adventure series. The first book in the Southwest Treasure Hunters series is The Mad Monk’s Treasure. The Dead Man’s Treasure is book 2. For book 3, I need ideas….

Legend and Lore of the Guadalupe Mountains
W. C. Jameson
Publisher: University of New Mexico Press
Pages: 157
ISBN: 0826342175
Paperback $15

The Guadalupe Mountains are in West Texas (near El Paso) and southeastern New Mexico. The mountain range includes the highest peak in Texas at 8749 feet, Guadalupe Peak, as well as the dramatic El Capitan peak. Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico are within the mountain range. The range extends from desert and grasslands to forested upland, with steep, rocky trails, and stories of giant rattlers and even jaguars.

This book starts with an overview of the land, people, and history, including the Spanish, Mescalero Apache, US military, and miners. Some chapters cover general history. Others describe mysteries or paranormal episodes. Some visitors have claimed to hear strange drumming sounds and seen campfires or smoke, though no source was ever found. One legend tells of a ghost crewmember from a bomber plane that went down in the mountains the 1940s.

Rattlesnake Canyon in the Guadalupes
You will also find stories of specific treasures, hidden by bandits or by the Spanish who mined gold ore and hid it in various caves and crevices. In one case, two men stole military rifles from the US Army Calvary during the 1880s. They buried these in several places and added headstones to make the sites look like graves, believing most people would not disturb a grave. In fact, these caches remained intact until the grandson of one of the men located the graves in the 1960s.

Several of the stories are tragic. Some people wasted their lives looking for mines they never found. One chapter describes a Native American village found with everyone mysteriously dead, despite no visible wounds.

Overall, this book is lively nonfiction – or mostly nonfiction, as  the author suggests thoughts and feelings for the people in the stories. While these assumptions are reasonable, it's unlikely he had documentation as proof in all cases. The book does, after all, claim to be "legend and lore," not an academic treatise. It's fairly clear which stories are based on fact and which on less-proven material. A scattering of historic photos adds visual appeal.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is "one of the nation's most pristine wilderness areas," according to the government website, known for hiking, backpacking, and birding. The park includes a visitor center, campgrounds, The Frijole Ranch History Museum, an abandoned ranch house, white Salt Basin Dunes, and picturesque canyons. Visitors are unlikely to find treasure in the form of cached gold, but scenic treasures and adventures abound.

Each novel stands alone and is complete, with no cliffhangers. This series mixes action and adventure with "closed door" romance. The stories explore the Southwest, especially New Mexico.

The Mad Monk’s Treasure:

A legendary treasure hunt in the dramatic—and deadly—New Mexico desert....

The lost Victorio Peak treasure is the stuff of legends—a heretic Spanish priest’s gold mine, made richer by the spoils of bandits and an Apache raider.

When Erin, a quiet history professor, uncovers a clue that may pinpoint the lost treasure cave, she prepares for adventure. But when a hit and run driver nearly kills her, she realizes she’s not the only one after the treasure. And is Drew, the handsome helicopter pilot who found her bleeding in a ditch, really a hero, or one of the enemy?

Just how far will Erin go to find the treasure and discover what she’s really made of?

“The story has it all—action, romance, danger, intrigue, lost treasure, not to mention a sizzling relationship....”

Read the first three chapters at

Rebecca Westin’s grandfather left her a buried treasure – if she can decipher a complex series of clues leading to it. Her half-siblings are determined to reach the treasure first. Good thing Rebecca has help, in the form of a green-eyed charmer determined to make their desert adventure sexy and fun. But a treacherous enemy will do anything to get that treasure – and revenge.

Action and romance combine in this lively Southwestern adventure, complete with riddles the reader is invited to solve to identify historical and cultural sites around New Mexico. 

[public domain photos via National Park Service]

Monday, January 12, 2015

Hovenweep National Monument: Mystery and Archaeology

Hovenweep Castle by HJPD
In my romantic suspense Whispers in the Dark, my heroine is an archaeology Masters student working at the fictional “Lost Valley.” This site is closely based on Hovenweep National Monument.

Located on the southern border between Colorado and Utah, these ruins once housed 2500 people between A.D. 1200 and 1300. It’s one of many sites left behind by the ancestral Puebloans, also known as the Anasazi. It’s smaller and less visited than Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde, but that’s part of its charm. You can hike and camp without crowds.

Hovenweep Castle by Greg Willis
One hike takes you along a small canyon dotted with ruins, including multi-story towers and mudbrick structures balanced on boulders. The structures were built between A.D. 1200 and 1300. They may be square, circular, or D-shaped. There are many kivas, ceremonial structures. Some structures are still standing after 700 years, despite being built on the irregular surfaces of boulders. Mysteries abound. What were the towers for? Theories include celestial observatories, storage, defensive structures, homes, and civil buildings.

The reason people abandoned Hovenweep is also uncertain. A long drought was probably a factor, maybe combined with warfare and the depletion of resources. People throughout the area migrated into New Mexico and Arizona. Their descendents are today's Pueblo, Hopi, and Zuni people.

Hovenweep Cutthroat4 by HJPD
Despite a ranger station, campground, and trails, Hovenweep is often quiet. The lonely location allows for an almost Gothic atmosphere – mysterious lights in the canyon, spooky moaning sounds, and plenty of people hiding secrets. My heroine, Kylie, finds more than she bargains for, of course – including mystery, danger, and new love. She also falls in love with the Southwest, as I did after moving to New Mexico more 12 years ago.

Hovenweep National Monument is managed by the National Park Service.
Some lovely photos of Hovenweep by Orland Ned Eddins.
Road Scholar offers a Four Corners tour that includes Hovenweep.

Whispers in the Dark: Archaeology student Kylie Hafford craves adventure when she heads to the remote Puebloan ruins of Lost Valley, Colorado, to excavate. Romance isn’t in her plans, but she soon meets two sexy men: Danesh looks like a warrior from the Pueblo’s ancient past, and Sean is a charming, playful tourist. The summer heats up as Kylie uncovers mysteries, secrets, and terrors in the dark. She’ll need all her strength and wits to survive—and to save the man she’s come to love. 

Whispers in the Dark, romantic suspense set in the Four Corners region of the Southwest, will appeal to fans of Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels, and Terry Odell.

Read a sample on my website.
Buy or sample on Amazon

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Red or Green? The New Mexico Chile

New Mexico green chile, 
Creative Commons License
Happy New Year, from the Southwest Armchair Traveler blog!

I haven’t found many local New Year’s traditions here, though in Las Cruces, New Mexico, they started a new tradition this year – dropping a big chile in a takeoff of the New York City ball drop. Chile is hardly seasonal, though.

New Mexico is most famous, at least in culinary terms, for its green chile, which comes slathered over almost any dish. The official state question is “Red or Green?” – which version of the chile sauce do you want? Despite what spell check thinks, I’m not talking about chili, which is a stew that may contain beans and/or meat. Rather, chile refers to chopped or puréed New Mexico chile peppers, possibly cooked in broth with some onion and garlic.

Red chile is simply green chile that has ripened. It is usually dried and powdered, whereas green chile is roasted over open flames, chopped, and frozen until use. The flavor of red chile is generally sweeter and mellower, though either color can have a variety of heat levels. 

“Red or green?” is partly a personal preference, though certain dishes tend to come with one or the other. You can also order something “Christmas” style, meaning with both red and green.

Dried red New Mexico chile peppers, 
by Badagnani
Creative Commons License
People who have lived in New Mexico and then move elsewhere often go to great lengths to get New Mexican green chile. Yes, you can buy little cans of green chile in most grocery stores, but it’s mild and just… not the same. So you see people heading to the airport with suitcases and coolers packed full of green chile. Some companies will even ship frozen chiles, bought in packs of 5 or 10 pounds.

If you don’t want to go to that much trouble, or you like a milder flavor, canned chile from the grocery store may work fine for you. You can also try other fresh chile peppers – Anaheims are the closest to the Mexico green chile – and roast them yourself.

A gas grill is ideal, but for small batches I toast them in the toaster oven until the skin is starting to blacken and bubble. Seal them in a plastic container with a couple of ice cubes for at least ten minutes. This cools the chiles, and the steam also loosens the skin so it’s easier to peel. Then peel off the skin while holding the chile under running water. Use gloves if you don’t want to risk stinging hands (and eyes, if you rub them).

Learn more about the New Mexico Chile, including instructions for roasting peppers at home, from this New Mexico Chile for Dummies! page.

Learn even more about chile peppers of all kinds from The Chile Pepper Institute, an international organization “devoted to education and research related to Capsicum or chile peppers.” Should you be visiting Las Cruces, NM, the Institute’s Horticulture Center has a garden “showcasing 150 chile pepper varieties from around the world.”

Here is a recipe for Basic Green Chili Sauce from Focus New Mexico.

Please follow the blog for occasional recipes as well as travel essays, insights into Southwestern history and culture, book reviews, and guest posts from authors with books set in the Southwest. 

Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. Whispers in the Dark involves archaeology and intrigue among ancient ruins. What We Found features a young woman who stumbles on a murder victim, and Rattled follows a treasure hunt in the New Mexico desert. To learn more, check the pages on this blog, or visit or her Amazon page.