Monday, April 27, 2015

Review: Western Treasure Tales by Choral Pepper

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. 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.

Western Treasure Tales
Choral Pepper
Publisher: Univ Pr of Colorado, 1998
Pages: 130
ISBN-13: 978-0870814891
Paperback: under $10 used

The Jameson books I've reviewed have generally had dozens of treasures listed, told in the voice of an outside storyteller. Choral Pepper’s book is more personal. She describes only eight adventures, but she goes into them at length. In most, she recounts some personal experience seeking the treasure.

The eight stories cover seven states: Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, and New Mexico (twice). One tale shares the curious tale of the three men named Pegleg Smith who each found black gold – not oil, but gold with a small amount of copper which oxidizes to turn the nuggets black.

Another story covers the search for an Aztec treasure, known as Montezuma's Treasure. Was the Aztec homeland really in Utah, perhaps on an island in the Great Salt Lake? Historians make a case for that. However, it is less certain that Aztecs carried their treasure back north in order to protect it from Spanish invaders. Still, an entire town joined in the hunt. (Spoiler: They failed to find the treasure.)

The author's imagination adds to the stories. When hunting Montezuma's Treasure, she writes, "I sat on the edge of the rock-strewn ravine below the cave and imagined an endless file of Aztec tamenes clothed in loincloths, stooped under fifty-pound loads of gold in leather bags supported against their backs as they plodded through the valley below. Marsh grass then would have curled against the gentle wind and the guttural commands of Aztec cacique guards, their jeweled and feathered helmets glittering in sunlight, would have echoed up to where I sat."

She also assumes thoughts and feelings for some of the historical subjects, as in, "Tossing restlessly on his palette, Lebreau thanked the good Lord he had secreted most of the gold…. In his mind's eye he reviewed once again his map…." Pierre Lebreau did write about his frustrating and devastating travels – he was the only one of his large French contingent to survive and the treasure remains hidden in Colorado. However, it's likely Pepper took some artistic liberty in recounting the history.

Sometimes Pepper’s more recent personal tales are as fascinating as the old legends. She joined Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the popular Perry Mason mysteries, on a treasure hunt in the Oregon desert. Who wouldn't want to be in on that camping trip?

This is an entertaining book, both for the historical legends and the insight into a mid-20th century treasure hunter. It even includes a translation of Spanish directions to a great treasure possibly hidden in Tumacacori, Arizona, should the reader wish to brave "one of the roughest, most cut-up regions in North America."

Photos from Choral Pepper’s adventures, some with Erle Stanley Gardner

This online issue of Desert Magazine, from when Pepper was the editor, contains the story of her adventure in Baja California on a blimp along with Gardner. And here's another of Pepper’s Baja stories with Gardner. The text is very faint and hard to read online, but I was able to select, copy, and paste it into a text box for easier reading.

Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance with outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. In The Dead Man’s Treasure, estranged relatives compete to reach a buried treasure by following a series of complex clues. In The Skeleton Canyon Treasure, sparks fly when reader favorites Camie and Tiger help a mysterious man track down his missing uncle. Whispers in the Dark features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. Read excerpts at or visit her Amazon page

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Deming Rockhound Roundup, with Ellen Rippel

Decades ago an astrologer studied my natal chart and observed that it was utterly devoid of earth. She told me I had to find ways to “get grounded” to balance out my other elements: air, fire and water. So I began a quest for “earthy” endeavors, and, happily, New Mexico has been the ideal place for me to contemplate subjects like archaeology, paleontology, cemeteries, pottery, rock hounding and rock collecting. 

A favorite rock-related pursuit for me has been attending the annual Rockhound Roundup, celebrating its 50th anniversary earlier this year. Sponsored by the Deming Gem and Mineral Society (DGMS), the Roundup is held on several acres at the Southwestern New Mexico State Fair Grounds in Deming. With free admission, free parking, over 100 indoor and outdoor vendors, and near-perfect weather, it’s easy to see why thousands of visitors attend the four-day show.

One of the more popular areas at the Roundup is the geode-cutting booth. Geodes are volcanic, spherical (usually) hollow rocks, and many contain multi-colored crystals in their interiors. The regions around Deming, with dormant volcanoes silhouetting the four compass points, are peppered with thousands of geodes.  There’s a genuine sense of treasure-hunting involved in trying to choose the “right” geode (on the outside they’re bumpy and drab) from a box of 40 or 50, and then watching it be cut open, exposing material formed eons ago. 

In addition to other events, the DGMS also schedules two auctions during the show, one of them silent.  The “silent” auction tends to be just the opposite – exceptionally noisy – with over 100 people darting around long tables covered with varying sizes and qualities of rocks. Every piece being auctioned has paper and pen nearby so participants can write down a bid in list format. Each bid must be an increase over the previous one. Normally participants move around the tables quickly, bidding on numerous items. The process reminds me a little of musical chairs – minus the chairs and music. If, for some reason, you’ve found the rock of your dreams and don’t want to lose it, you stand your ground right next to it, glaring at anyone who attempts to outbid you.  After a few minutes of controlled chaos an official shouts, “Time’s up!”  The results are tallied and a new round begins. 

Events aside, my favorite activity at the Rockhound Roundup is simply walking around, absorbing the ambiance, and talking with enthusiastic vendors and other rock collectors. It gives me that “grounded” feeling I was told to grab on to many years ago. Purchasing a few more rocks to add to my collection doesn’t hurt either.

For more information about the annual Rockhound Roundup visit the Deming Gem and Mineral Society:

Ellen Rippel is the author of Outlaws & Outcasts:  The Lost Cemetery of Las Vegas, New Mexico. For those who love history, archaeology, or quirky stories from the Land of Enchantment, the book is an intriguing summary of the unearthing of an unknown century-old graveyard in Las Vegas, New Mexico in 1972. Outlaws & Outcasts is filled with stories of early outlaws and fascinating historical insights, including discussion of historical burial practices and customs, and a search through the scarce literature on events specific to the existence of the cemetery.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Huevos Rancheros

Huevos Rancheros by Elchavobee
Creative Commons License
I write novels of adventure and romance set in the Southwestern United States. The novels touch on local culture, including food. For my most recent romantic suspense, The Dead Man’s Treasure, I put together a recipe booklet of foods mentioned in the book, including this delightful breakfast (or any time of day) classic. (See also my posts Red or Green: The New Mexico Chile, Homemade Green Chile Sauce, Breakfast Burrito, and Enchilada Casserole.)

Huevos Rancheros
serves 4-6

One bag frozen, shredded hash browns (about 1/2 cup per person)
8-12 corn tortillas (2 per person)
One can refried beans
Shredded or sliced cheddar (about 1/4 cup per person)
4-6 eggs (2 per person)
One bottle or can of enchilada sauce (available in the Mexican section of most groceries)

  1. Sauté the hash browns in a little oil until nicely cooked. Set aside.
  2. Lightly brush a skillet with oil. Fry the tortillas until warm and turning golden, 30-60 seconds per side.
  3. Place the tortillas in stacks of two on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Spread refried beans over the top tortilla in each pair.
  4. Divide the hash browns among the servings, spreading them on top of the beans.
  5. Sprinkle shredded cheese or lay a slice of cheese on each serving.
  6. Put the baking sheet in a toaster oven or oven at about 300°, so the beans heat and the cheese melts.
  7. Meanwhile, fry the eggs to the hardness of your choosing. Warm the enchilada sauce on the stove or in the microwave.
  8. Move the tortillas to individual plates. Add two eggs to the top of each. Pour enchilada sauce over it all. Serve immediately.
Heuvos Rancheros by Plateoftheday
Creative Commons License
  • For a lower-calorie version, use only one tortilla and one egg, and eliminate the hash browns.
  • Try whole pinto beans or black beans instead of refried beans. Experiment with different cheeses, such as Monterey Jack or queso fresco.
  • Use green chile sauce, salsa, or hot sauce instead of, or in addition to, enchilada sauce.
  • Use fresh or canned tomatoes, chopped avocado, jalapenos, diced yellow onion, lettuce, or cilantro to garnish.

The Dead Man’s Treasure

Rebecca Westin is shocked to learn the grandfather she never knew has left her a bona fide buried treasure – but only if she can decipher a complex series of clues leading to it. The hunt would be challenging enough without interference from her half-siblings, who are determined to find the treasure first and keep it for themselves. Good thing Rebecca has recruited some help.

Sam is determined to show Rebecca that a desert adventure can be sexy and fun. But there’s a treacherous wildcard in the mix, a man willing to 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. See the DMT page of Kris Bock’s website for a printable list of the clues and recipes from the book.

The first book in the Southwest Treasure Hunters series is The Mad Monk’s Treasure. The Dead Man’s Treasure is book 2. 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.


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 features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. In The Dead Man’s Treasure, estranged relatives compete to reach a buried treasure by following a series of complex clues. Read excerpts at or visit her Amazon page

Monday, April 6, 2015

Jemez Springs, New Mexico, Sites

On 3/16, I described the Hot Springs around Jemez Springs, New Mexico. The town and the surrounding area has more to offer than simply soaking. You can also visit the ruins of an old Spanish church; Soda Dam, a cool rock formation formed from the mineralized water flowing in the river; and Battleship Rock, so named because it resembles the prow of a battleship. (Pictures on my Pinterest page.)

I’ve attended many writing retreats at a Hummingbird Music Camp north of the town, and those experiences inspired my romantic suspense novel Counterfeits. When Jenny inherits a children’s art camp, she discovers that her grandmother’s death might not have been an accident after all. Doing research at a real camp tucked away in the woods, and hiking above Battleship Rock for a scene where Jenny gets lost, helped the setting feel realistic. Here's an excerpt from when Jenny visits Battleship Rock.

She stood for a minute on the short bridge over the narrow river, watching the water bubbling over rocks. The sound was like music in the quiet air. She listened carefully but could hear no human noises except for, occasionally, the faint hiss of a car passing on the highway. The lazy insects buzzing in the bushes were louder.
Something unwound inside her, some tension she hadn’t even known she held. She had gotten used to the noise and bustle of the city – she’d thought. If asked, she might have expected the quiet and loneliness here to be difficult to bear. But it wasn’t. It was peaceful.
She retrieved her painting equipment, leaving her purse tucked underneath the front seat. It seemed silly to lock the car with no one around, but she did it anyway. She passed under the shadowy trees and set up with a clear view of Battleship Rock, the 200-foot-tall cliff that got its name because it looked like the prow of a ship, at least to some imaginative people.
At the base of the cliff, the slope continued at a gentler angle, covered with small boulders and jumbled loose rocks that made for awkward footing. She didn’t need to get that close anyway. Perched at the border between the trees and the boulder field, she had sunshine and a clear view.

Of course, in the book, the site doesn't stay so relaxing. The men who killed her grandmother are searching for stolen paintings, and they think Jenny is involved. They find her at Battleship Rock and she has to escape up the steep trail into the woods:

Her boots ate up the hard-packed dirt. She pushed past bushes and ducked under tree branches, panting as the slope got steeper. She scrambled over a series of fallen boulders, and then she was in the evergreen trees. Branches brushed her arms and caught at her hair as she plunged ahead.
Up, up, she surged. Her boots slipped in the loose dirt, dragging her back, forcing her to fight for every inch and use her hands for balance. Her lungs burned and her thighs screamed, but she kept moving. She made the forested plateau where the land flattened out and she was running, running, first through the most open path, but there they could see her, catch up with her, so she darted into thicker trees.
Her chest was on fire. She glanced back and didn’t see anyone. Hide, hide. She ducked behind a huge fallen log and tried to squat, but her legs gave out and she sat down hard. At least she was now hidden behind the nearly three-foot-high log.

Visiting real places can help a writer bring their setting to life. Book or web research has its place, but there's nothing like smelling the evergreen trees and feeling the burn in your thighs as you hike to help capture those sensory details!

Counterfeits: Painter Jenny Kinley has spent the last decade struggling in the New York art world. Her grandmother’s sudden death brings her home to New Mexico, but inheriting the children’s art camp her grandmother ran is more of a burden than a gift. How can she give up her lifelong dreams of showing her work in galleries and museums?

Rob Caruso, the camp cook and all-around handyman, would be happy to run the camp with Jenny. Dare he even dream of that, when his past holds dark secrets that he can never share? When Jenny’s father reappears after a decade-long absence, only Rob knows where he’s been and what danger he’s brought with him.

Jenny and Rob face midnight break-ins and make desperate escapes, but the biggest danger may come from the secrets that don’t want to stay buried. In the end, they must decide whether their dreams will bring them together or force them apart.