Thursday, August 29, 2013

Soaring Above the Rio Grande Gorge…With a Little Action Thrown In

Last week we took a trip up the Rio Grande as BJ flies to Taos in pursuit of an orange Porsche Boxter owned by one of the men the PI is looking for. This week, we’ll pick up things while flying over the magnificent Taos Gorge. We’ll not only glimpse some beautiful country but also catch a little of the action. The following scene begins on Page 31, Chapter 5 of THE BISTI BUSINESS (Martin Brown Publishers).

Please forgive the paragraph formatting on the following passages. For some reason, I can't get them to behave.


Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
Taos claims a 6,000-year history based on arrowheads, potsherds, and pictographs left by nomadic hunter-gatherers. The town takes its name from the older Taos Pueblo, a massive, multi-storied, pre-history apartment complex of Tiwa-speaking Native Americans. Both the town and the Pueblo are cultural as well as tourist draws. Dozens of Hollywood films, documentaries, and television commercials have been filmed here ever since the 1940s.

Jim had radioed the tower well before touching down at the small municipal airport, and Officer Delfino met the plane, as promised. He turned out to be a police officer with more than a touch of the local blood. Standing five-foot-six in his boots with coarse black hair not quite long enough to wear in the traditional bun but shaggier than most lawmen, he projected a calm competence as we shook hands. It would not be wise to provoke this man. His hatchet face wore an air of serious determination, an impression reinforced by his extraordinarily broad shoulders and deep chest.

“Mr. Vinson, we might have a problem,” he said. “The sheriff’s people couldn’t find the Porsche in El Segundo, but a unit spotted it on the road. There’s a cruiser on its tail right now.”

“Do you know where it is at the moment?”

Not far to the west of us, as a matter of fact.” He motioned with his chin. “Headed for Agua Amargo…or in that direction, anyway.”

“That’ll take them over the gorge, right?”

“They’ll cross over in a few minutes.”

“Well,” I said, “let’s get going, unless you think the Cessna might make a good spotter for the sheriff’s people.”

He eyed the machine with evident interest. “Can’t hurt.”

He raised the Sheriff’s Department on his cruiser’s radio while I prepped Jim. Within minutes, we took off with the Taos policeman occupying the right hand seat while I crammed my carcass into the baggage storage cavity behind the two men. Delfino would have fit much more comfortably in the small space but he knew the territory, and I didn’t. He was of more value as a spotter in the front.

The countryside east of the airport is relatively flat and open, so automobile traffic was clearly visible. Almost immediately, we saw a county car, lights flashing, on the road ahead of us. Leading the sheriff’s cruiser by almost a mile was a blur of color that was undoubtedly Orlando Alfano’s orange Boxter. Both vehicles had already crossed the gorge.

“These guys aren’t fugitives, are they?” Delfino asked. “I thought we were just locating them for a family matter.”

“That’s right,” I said.

“So why’re they running?”

“I don’t know. Have two Anglo guys from California had any trouble around Taos in the last few days?”

“There’s no record of Alfano or Norville in the area, period. I checked every motel in the vicinity after the Albuquerque Police called. If they were here, they didn’t leave any tracks.”

“Then how did Alfano’s car get here?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but there it is right down there. Uh-oh,” Delfino said, “It turned off the road. Hope our guys see it.”

“They’re still back around the curve. They won’t see the maneuver unless the dust gives the Porsche away.”

Delfino asked Jim if he could buzz the cruiser and try to alert them.

“I can do better than that if you know the county frequency.” Jim reached for his radio dial.

Within seconds, Delfino was talking to his compadres. By that time, they had passed the point where the Porsche had left the main road. Before the cruiser could reverse direction, the orange car regained the highway, heading back toward Taos.

“You want me to distract them?” Jim asked.

Delfino shook his head. “No, they don’t realize we’re a spotter. Let’s let this play out.”

“Here they come.” I nodded at the county car now in hot pursuit. “But I doubt they have the muscle to overtake the Porsche.”

“Maybe not, but we can keep them in sight from up here,” Delfino replied.

The occupants of the fleeing car were obviously aware of the posse on their tail. The vehicle hugged the ground as it took off like it had been goosed in the rear by a hot-shot. The erratic way the car raced down the road made me question if an experienced driver was at the wheel.

“We got him now.”

Delfino pointed ahead of us. The Porsche rapidly approached the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge where a second sheriff’s vehicle sat in the middle of the span, blocking the fugitives’ escape. Even from this distance, we saw officers herding tourists off of the walkways and observation platforms of the bridge.

“Christ!” the pilot muttered. “Those guys better slow down.”

Delfino grabbed the radio mike and shouted warnings to the sheriffs’ deputies. Belatedly, the Porsche tried to stop, but it was traveling too fast. Skidding sideways, the car almost went over. Then it left the roadway short of the bridge, careening through a vacant rest area and sideswiping a stone picnic shelter. Now totally out of control, the Porsche crashed through the fenced area at the brink of the gorge. We let out a collective groan as it hurtled out into space.

Jim banked over the canyon to watch the automobile take flight. It free-fell a couple hundred feet before striking the side of the gorge, tearing out a sizeable chunk of the wall. From our perspective, it looked as if the car dropped in slow motion, tumbling over and over before smashing into the bottom of the gorge. There was no dramatic explosion, merely an awful finality as the machine appeared to disintegrate like a toy automobile smashed beneath a child’s heel.

Delfino and the pilot crossed themselves and muttered a “Hail Mary,” bringing home the awful, tragic reality of the last few moments. This was no movie stunt. Someone had just died.


I really get caught up in these word paintings of some of our natural wonders. Hope you don’t get tired of me fawning over the Great State of New Mexico.

Next week: The Muse hasn’t spoken.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Rio Grande at Albuquerque
During Balloon Fielst
This week let’s get back to THE BISTI BUSINESS (Brown Martin Publishers). The last time we took a look at the book, our Investigator, BJ Vinson, was looking for two young graduate students touring the state in an orange Porsche Boxter. Let’s pick up the action on Page on Page 30 in Chapter 5. I picked this scene because it gives us a glimpse of the amazing changes that take place in the Rio Grande between Albuquerque and Taos, and what better way to see it than from the air. The Jim who is speaking to BJ is the pilot of the chartered Cessna.


We encountered turbulence as the little plane lifted off from the Double Eagle Airport on the west side of town and headed straight up the Rio Grande. The browns and reds and grays of the desert terrain turned a monotonous dun as we gained altitude, broken only by darker wrinkles of dry washes known as arroyos, the double black ribbons of Interstate-25, and the dull sheen of the river—itself somewhat brown. The Rio is classified as a “dirty river,” meaning it carries high concentrations of silt on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. The green-shrouded slopes of the Jemez Mountains to the west provided a splash of color, as did the Sangre de Cristos to the north.
With a maximum range of 470 nautical miles plus a thirty-minute reserve fuel supply, the Cessna would not need to set down before reaching our destination. Taos is a 132-mile trip by car, and at a cruising speed of 129 mph, we would arrive in something under an hour.
“Quite a view, huh?” Jim asked. “I never get tired of it.”
Feeling a kinship with a soaring eagle, I took in the panorama. “Is that weather off to the west going to cause us any heartburn?” Bright bolts of lightning strobed the black sky on the distant horizon.
“I checked before we lifted off. It’s moving north-northeast, so I doubt we’ll be bothered.”
“Feel free to put down somewhere if we are.” I glanced down at the river again. “It’s really amazing how the Rio Grande changes character. Around Albuquerque, it roams around in a broad channel made for a bigger river.”
“You can blame that on the dams,” Jim observed. “When the Rio Grande was declared a wild Bosque are paying the price. They’re both slowly dying.” The Bosque was a two hundred-mile swath of cottonwood forest lining both banks of the Rio.
Rio Grande Near Taos
and scenic river, it flooded regularly. Then they put in all the dams. The way I look at it, they put an end to the flooding all right, but the river and the
Above Santa Fe, the water flowing beneath the plane picked up energy, shimmering in the sunlight as it rushed over rocks on its fall from the high country. The farther north we traveled; the wilder the river became. Soon it was white-water rafting country. A few miles below Taos, the true might and determination of the river become apparent as it raced down long boulder gardens to spill out of the black volcanic canyons of the Taos Box. From above, the river appeared to sink, but in reality, the terrain rose on its climb north toward Colorado.
Over the eons, gravity and friction and the sheer power of water molecules had carved a deep crevasse through the hard basalt of the Taos Plateau. The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge spanned that spectacular canyon ten miles west-northwest of Taos. We circled over the awesome, 500-foot cantilevered steel and concrete marvel of modern engineering as we lined up for a landing at the town’s small strip.


I hope you enjoyed the tour. If you haven’t caught on yet…I love my adopted state. New Mexico is truly The Land of Enchantment.

Next week: Soaring over the Rio Grande Gorge

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

On the Loss of a Treasured and Gifted Friend: A Quick and Unexpected Post this Week

Digby Henry
We have all faced it before. And as we grow older, the more familiar and unwelcome the experience will be. The loss of a friend or relative or life partner. Please indulge me this week as I grieve the loss of a friend and pay homage to his memory.

Digby Henry was neither a companion of my childhood nor a long-time personal or professional acquaintance. I met him only four years ago when I joined the Bear Canyon Writing Class. My first reaction to him was…he’s a foreigner. My second was…he’s got his name roundabout. Shouldn’t he be Henry Digby? Yes to the first; no to the second. Digby still retained the charming Irish brogue he brought from the Mother Country years ago, although he was a proud naturalized citizen of the United States. But according to him, there was no mistake on his birth certificate. His family name was Henry.

Digby was clearly a poet. Not just because he wrote poetry, but because he had the soul of a poet (even though he wrote prose equally as well). His wit could be sharp and pointed or enigmatic and gentle. He wrote as he spoke, softly and in all shades of the rainbow, heavily laced with humor. Plainspoken at times, yet making you probe for his meaning at others. He loved to experiment with words, with grammar, with sentence structures. I know he was a poet because I had to struggle to understand his writing. I’m so pedestrian that if I comprehend a poem on the first reading, it must not be poetry.

Part of the shock of his loss was its sudden nature. Connie, his wife, said that he was in pain on Monday, but they could determine no cause (and they were both health care professionals). It continued to increase to the point where she took him to the emergency room at Presbyterian Hospital at eleven that night. The doctors diagnosed him with MRSA, the “flesh eating” bacteria (although the exact culprit has not yet been identified), and by one-thirty Tuesday, he had passed. Twenty-four hours…and he was gone.

Gone. Missed. Mourned. Honored. God bless, Digby Henry. I know the Good Lord will appreciate the endless hours of laughter you’ll give Him. That may be why He took you so quickly.
If I know Digby, at this point his eyes would twinkle and he would say, "Lighten up. Celebrate me, not mourn me." And so we shall. Even so, deepest sympathy to Connie and the rest of Digby's family.

Next week: I never know what it will be…until it happens.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

We Meet Jazz Penrod Again

In the post of July 11, I introduced you to the delightful teenager Jazz Penrod in THE BISTI BUSINESS (Martin Brown Publishers). Today, as I rummaged around for something to write about, I came upon a passage that sort of showcases his sassy, aggressive side while demonstrating he has a serious nature, too. After all, he’s doing his best to help BJ solve a murder. This begins on Page 128 of BISTI.



Jazz Penrod phoned early the next morning asking for a meet. When I picked him up on the sidewalk in front of his mom’s house, he was dressed in denim cut-offs so tight he’d had to split the seam up the outside of the thigh in order to sit down. A thin T-shirt with straps—what my mom had called an undershirt—exposed his broad, red-brown shoulders and sheathed his torso like original skin. He wore open sandals, more like shower clogs than shoes, without socks. He grinned and shoved a black-billed cap with a red Captain Morgan logo back on his head.

“Mr. Vinson,” he said.

I popped the lock, and he flowed into the passenger’s seat like liquid mercury. “Morning, Jazz. What can I do for you?”

“Maybe it’s what I can do for you,” he countered, and then laughed aloud at my quick frown. “No, not that. I picked up a rumor. Thought you’d want to know.”

“Fine. How about some breakfast?”

“Okay by me.”

After we gave our order to a waiter in a nearby café, Jazz threw a long arm over the back of the chair next to him. As a trained investigator, I believe I notice things others do not, but I would have erroneously described him as skinny. Not so. He was slender, yes, but buffed with defined muscles—corded muscles. That thin shirt stretching over his torso clearly outlined a six-pack.

“Okay, now tell me about that rumor.”

“My brother—you know, Henry Secatero—he called me last night. He was over at the Chapter House to meet this girl. I’d told him about those missing guys and one turning up dead, so when he heard there’d been outsiders on the rez where they didn’t have any business, he thought of Lando and Dana.”

“Did he get any details?”

“Well, there’s a car, somebody said. Supposed to have been parked out on the rim of Black Hole Canyon. Been there a few days.”

“Where is Black Hole Canyon?”

“Sort of a rugged area not too far off the highway. It’s not really a canyon, just a big-assed arroyo. But Henry said the car’s not in it, just pulled up under an overhang where it’s kinda out of sight.”

My coffee and French toast and Jazz’s bacon and eggs and hash browns with a side of ham arrived. He stopped talking and dug in, eating rapidly while I munched and mulled over what he had told me. I was tempted to dismiss the incident; there was nothing to directly tie this to Lando, but I was looking for a car, and Henry had found one. It was worth checking out.

Jazz put down his knife and fork after his last bite of ham and drained his glass of orange juice. “You wanna go take a look?”

“Jazz, you’re not out to put your mark on me, are you?” I felt like a fool; there were more attractive fish in the ocean than me, but every look, every gesture seemed to be bait—chum for the sharks.

“I wouldn’t mind,” he admitted, “but I heard you when you said you were taken. Look, I liked Dana and respected Lando. If I can help them out, I’d like to do it.”

“Fair enough. If you’re finished, let’s go.”

“Let’s rumble, but first I gotta go home and change. I’d burn up out there in the sun dressed like this.”


So there he is, Jasper (Jazz) Penrod, aggressively showing off his natural assets, flirting, yet quite practical when he’s about to go out into the brilliant high desert sun to make what will be a vital breakthrough on the case. Go, Jazz!

Next week: Yep, one day we’ll get to the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness?

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sundogs, Moondogs, Mock Suns, and Sun Halos; the 22 Degree Phenomena

A discussion in my Bear Canyon Writing Class last Monday diverted my intent to write about something in THE BISTI BUSINESS (Martin Brown Publishers) highlighting points of interest in New Mexico.

We were reading a piece that mentioned a Sun Dog (also spelled Sundog). That was when I learned my wise old grandfather had mislead me about these critters way…way…back when I was a child. All these years, a Sun Dog to me has been a bright ring around the sun, sometime with some color to it, but sometimes not. Someone else described it as a rainbow ring around a very watery appearing sun. But most of the class considered a Sun Dog to occur when two suns appeared side-by-side (one being the actual sun; the other, the dog). I was challenged by the class to look up the phenomenon. So I did.

It seems that all three versions have some elements of truth.

A Sun Halo
First, my grandfather’s version. The Huffington Post Science section posted a piece on the most common event of this nature called a 22Áo halo…or, more commonly the 22 Degree halo. Ergo, a SUN HALO. Citing the US Department of the Interior, they term this a type of Sun Dog.


Next, the watery appearing or shimmery sun with a ring around it.
A Mock Sun
Page 119 of the Fourth Edition of the DESCRIPTIONARY, A Thematic Dictionary, describes a MOCK SUN as “a false image of the sun, often watery in appearance formed by the refraction or bending of light by hexagonal crystals of ice in the air. Also known as a sun dog.”


Sun Dog over South Dakota
Finally, what appears to be the more commonly held understanding of a SUN DOG, a double (but it can be a triple) image of the sun appearing at approximately 22 degrees of separation on either side of the sun (or on both sides in the case of a triple) when the proper kind of ice crystals are present and aligned properly to refract the light.


Sun Dogs are technically called parhelia (meaning “with the sun). The plural for the event is parhelion. Note the following diagram:
Diagram of a Sun Dog
 These parhelion form at the lowest solar altitudes, but as the sun climbs in the sky, the sun dogs slowly move away from the 22 degree separation, although the remain on a parallel with the sun. At a 45 degree altitude, the sun dogs are fainter. They vanish altogether above 61 degree solar altitude. Over two millennia ago, the Greeks believed haloes and sun dogs foretold rain. Today scientists believe this is often a valid prediction because of the presence of ice crystals that form the cirrus clouds, which often precede a warm front.

Sun Dogs can be seen anywhere in the world at any time of the year, but they are most common in fall, winter, and early spring when there are the proper climactic conditions with “diamond dust,” as a certain kind of ice crystal is called, is in the air. The same conditions can produce MOON DOGS (paraselenae), but these are less commonly observed as they most often occur when the majority of us are sleeping

Sun Dogs in History:

Aristotle noted that “two mock suns rose with the sun and followed it all through the day until sunset.”

The Greek didactic poet, Aratus (ca 315-240 BC) mentions parhelia as a part of his catalogue of Weather Signs, claiming they can indicate rain or warn of approaching storms.

The Roman philosopher Cicero referred to sun dogs and similar events in his Republic (54-51 BC).

Seneca, the Roman Stoic, speaks of them in the first book of his Naturales Quaestiones.

Sun dogs are said to have had an effect on England’s War of the Roses. Three such suns appeared before the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in Herefordshire, England in 1461. The future King Edward IV supposedly convinced his frightened troops that this represented the Holy Trinity. Edward’s troops won a decisive victory. The depiction of this event appears in William’s Shakespeare’s King Henry VI.

A set of powerful parhelia in Rome in the summer of 1624 caused René Descartes to interrupt his metaphysical studies and led to his work of natural philosophy called The World.

American nature-essayist Hal Borland’s Sundial of the Seasons had this to say about them: “Sun dogs and moon dogs are beautiful accents to a winter day or night as the rainbow is to a showery summer day.”

There it is: more than you ever wanted to know about Sun Dogs…and a partial vindication of my grandfather.

Next week: Will we ever get to the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness?

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

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