2015 Pikes Peak Writers Conference: What a Blast!

Two days after conference I am finally getting my bearings again. I go to a writers conference to learn and to connect like most everyone else. Like most everyone else I work my ass off doing it. 14 hours of workshops, 7 hours of connecting and schmoozing whilst having a meal and several more cocktail hours of connecting and schmoozing. All this over the course of a three-day weekend (there is a fourth, optional day on Thursday that I didn’t participate in). By Sunday morning I am usually hiding behind copious amounts of coffee, overstimulated, exhausted, and walking around in a bit of a fog.  At the same time I am content and happy to be among my people all weekend and thrilled with the learning experience. I noticed several others in the same condition. I tell people it’s like going to Hogwarts. Well, I think there is a clear correlation anyway.

Conference Experience

The Pikes Peak Writers Conference (PPWC) is known as the friendliest conference in the country and ranks as one of the top ten writers conferences in the U.S. This year the conference earned attendees from as far away as Ireland. So is it true? Is PPWC the friendliest writers conference in the nation? You betcha! This was my second year at conference. I was so overwhelmed my first year I kept to my workshops and didn’t talk with much of anybody. That was not for lack of trying on the staff’s part. PPWC staff made me feel so welcome and comfortable that first year that when I returned this year I made nearly two dozen connections including authors, publishers, and editors in several different genres. I practically felt like an old pro at this conference stuff.

Registration is a breeze, swag bags are awesome (this year included a free book!), and if you even think that you might be feeling lost or overwhelmed there is always someone nearby to help you out. In fact, they may know you need help before you do. Most likely they have been there and done that.

How friendly are these people. Well, I walked up to a keynote speaker’s table and asked if a seat was taken. Staff members piped up trying to gently tell me the table was reserved when I saw the sign. I played it off with some clever comment (at least I hoped it was clever) and ended up being complimented on my “radio voice” (I was a little hoarse that day). No snooty upturned noses, no rude comments or questioning of my cranial fortitude. No, instead I was complimented.

 Speakers

Holy cow, the speakers! Move over Tony Robbins. Get out of the way Zig Zigler. Find a new gig Mike Dooley. Meet the 2015 PPWC speakers, Mary Kay Andrews, Andrew Gross, R.L. Stine (I call him Bob), and Seanan McGuire! All wonderful authors, highly inspiring, with impressive histories, and individual flair and styles all their own. If you’re not motivated about your writing by the time these people are done with you, you need to find something else to do with yourself. You should have heard some of Bob’s fan letters, hysterical!

 Workshops

There are up to six workshops going on at any given time between breakfast and dinner. Open and closed critique groups and speaker panels round out this portion of the conference. Authors, editors, agents, and specialists present workshops on everything from craft to the business of writing. Tough stuff like plotting, keeping the pages turning, query letters, what agents are really looking for, platform building, how the process of writing a book and getting published works and many more. My best advice, fork over the cash for a recording so you can get all the fabulous workshops you’re going to miss while attending to your priorities or stuff that’s not recorded. So many talented people including Barbara (Samuel) O’Neal, Josh Vogt, Robert Spiller, Angie Hodapp, Cara Lopez Lee, Kevin IkenberryLaura DiSilverio, Liz Pelletier, and many more! Once again, if you’re not on fire about your writing after these people are done with you, you need to find something else to do. Maybe even check to see if you still have a pulse. Just sayin’. No, there is not Kool Aid.

 The Zebulon

The Zebulon is a comprehensive writing contest that includes a rounded list of genres and mimics the process of submitting a story for publication…only much faster. You can purchase a critique of your story and you will receive a scorecard so you can identify your strong points and work on the areas you’re not so strong in, including your query letter. So worth the small investment.

 Start Saving Up Now

So much more is available including query 1-on-1 and professional headshots as well as a book store. Then there’s the friends, comradery, and priceless moments to be had at every turn. This year there was even a ghost hunt. I save up all year just to go to this conference. I suggest you do the same and I’ll see you next year! There is a payment plan, so there’s not much of an excuse. I met writers of all kinds from erotica to nonfiction and everything between.

If you’re a writer and wondering if a conference is something you should do, let me save you the trouble. As the Nike ad says “Just Do It”. It could be one of the best decisions you could make about your writing career. Until Next year, adieu, magical PPWC. Back to the muggle world for now.

As always, feel free to drop comments or questions below and discuss. Love to see what you think.

Road Trip Photo Essay: Colorado Springs, CO to Points West…and South, Part II

As promised, this is part two of our trip to the four corners area. So without further ado, Part II.

Mesa Verde Park covers 81.39 miles of mesas and valleys in the southwest corner of Colorado. The park includes over 5,000 archaeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings. These were the ancestral lands of the Pueblo Indians who later moved further south to join the Pueblo people of Arizona and New Mexico. No one knows for sure, but droughts were probably the main reason for the move. Knowing where they could go, and that the people further south were friendly probably helped make the decision to move a little easier. These people inhabited the Mesa Verde area for 700 years building their apartments in the caves and learning to live and farm the top of the mesas. They are called the Anasazi in the language of the modern Pueblo, meaning “ancient ones” and consisted of Navajo and Zuni people. Oh, by the way, Mesa Verde is Spanish for green table.

Outside the visitors center you will be greeted by the Pueblo Potter, a 2009 limestone sculpture by Adrian Wall.
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But the first thing you see besides the building is The Ancient Ones, a breathtaking statue by Edward J. Fraughton. My picture here doesn’t do it justice, the light was not in my favor. It depicts a scene out of everyday life for these people. A man climbing a cliff face with nothing but small hand and footholds carved out of the rock to hold on to with firewood on his back.
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Here’s a closer peek.
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The next thing we did was plan our visit with info and maps provided by the visitors center. We already knew we were not going to see the Cliff Palace and we wanted to do our own, self-guided tour which left us one clear choice that would take us to Spruce Tree House and Mesa Top Loop Road.

Spruce Tree House is one of the few cliff dwellings you can visit without a guide. To get there you must descend to the valley floor via a half mile of switchback trail (you’re going to climb back up this trail to get out so make sure you are physically ready to do it in the heat and sun) then cross the valley floor and take a short path up to the cave. There are also petroglyphs to see here if you have time to take the two mile, round-trip hike to see them.
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The dwellings reach deep into the cave making use of every nook and cranny.

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Corn grinding stones
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More of Spruce Tree House
20140912_123203 Open Kiva. Kiva’s were underground structures with wooden roofs believed to be used for spiritual and community gatherings. Normally all you would see from these angles would be a small, square hole with a ladder sticking out of it.20140912_123240

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Looking down at Spruce Tree House as we finished climbing back up out of the valley. You can see a couple of the switchbacks here.
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Once we were done gawking at Spruce Tree House, it was time to take on the next leg of our Mesa Verde Adventure, which was actually several rolled into one.

Mesa Top Loop Road is a six-mile driving tour with twelve sites along the way. Some are seen from a distance such as Cliff Palace, the largest dwelling in the park which can be seen from Sun Point and Sun Temple stops.
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Others sites, can be visited during the drive on top of the mesa including an old, man-made reservoir and surface dwellings like these.

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There’s a lot more to see on this drive. Including, a 365 degree view from South Point View (also where the fire watchtower is located).

Speaking of fires…don’t be discouraged by some of the views that you’ll see on the Mesa Top Road Drive. You’re going to see some real fire devastation, but at the same time, your going to see tremendous renewal. The fires exposed a lot of new archaeological sites and more opportunities to learn about the Anasazi people.
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Between 1934 and 2003, the Mesa Verde Park has experienced 12 major wildfires, all determined to have been started by lightning. Since 2000 alone over 24,000 acres have been scorched. But then you will also come across breathtaking views like this…
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and this…20140912_154137

and this…a short hike to South Point lookout, and 365 degrees as far as the eye can see, haze allowing…
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20140912_152128I feel so blessed to be able to travel and see the wonders and history of stuff like this and to have a smartphone with decent camera to record it! Now for some practical stuff.

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When I said to make sure you are physically ready to hike in Mesa Verde National Park I meant it. I saw at least one ranger have to go down the switchback path at the Spruce Tree House with oxygen and a portable defibrillator. Elevations range from 6,000ft to over 8,500ft. The guided tours require guides for a reason. Access to the Cliff Palace includes climbing down a long, narrow ladder in a sandstone crevice near the edge of the cliff. Don’t push it. Stop and take a break if you need to. Pace yourself. That means go at your OWN pace. The path to Spruce Tree House has benches and rocks to sit on along the way. There is poison ivy on this trail and it is marked. You are forewarned.

Bring plenty of water with you. We were there just two weeks ago and although the weather was mild (in the 80 degree range), the sun still gets hot in a hurry and there is not much opportunity for shade. Although some signs and websites say water is available at every stop on Mesa Top Road, it is not. Don’t take the chance. Bring your sunscreen!

Finally, if you really want to explore the wonders of Mesa Verde National Park. I would recommend making a long weekend out of it. We only saw a small fraction of what the park has to offer. There is a resort area and plenty of camp sites as well. Stay a couple of days and take some time to explore. There is also a restaurant at Far View Area. Nothing fancy. but there’s food, drink, and a gift shop. The park fee is $5 or $10 depending on what time of year it is. The guided tours are $4 unless you opt for the twilight tour and that’s $12. Make sure you get a map and a visitors guide and read them. Make sure you don’t miss and cool or important stuff!

The last leg of our journey saw us leaving our lodgings at the Ute Mountain Casino and Hotel a day early. We traveled to Pagosa Springs and stayed the night there in a really reasonable, tiny, family owned hotel by the highway called the Alpine Inn that I found on tripadvisor.com. We visited a couple of the local pubs, took a gander at the hot springs pools at The Springs hot springs and made a mental note to come back just to go there. We had dinner at the second best and more reasonably priced restaurant in town, Boss Hog’s Restaurant and Saloon. The people were very friendly and the food was decent.
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Our route home took us over Wolf Creek Pass and through the San Luis Valley, down the Cosmic Highway (Highway 17). Note to self, RV camping at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and/or at the UFO Watchtower should be in my future. I could see how the great, wide open, and sparsely populated San Luis valley could seem like a nice place to land your space craft.

The western side of Wolf Creek Pass started out beautiful beginning with Treasure Falls, about 15 miles east of Pagosa Springs. The falls are named after Treasure Mountain, which legend says, holds the secret treasure of some Frenchmen that snuck into the area and struck it rich.

It was a cool morning so the mists hung over ponds along the way and the air around the falls was crisp and heavy with the smell of deep pine forest. You can do a side trip here and take the trail to the top of the falls for about at 300ft climb. Set aside about 45 minutes if you want to make the 1/2-mile round trip.
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As we made our way further up the pass things began to get strange, then downright eerie, then just sad. Here in Colorado we’ve been battling the pine beetle for some time now. On the front range we have seen some issues, but nothing prepared me for the absolute devastation of so many old pines over such a large area. In this case, it was the spruce beetle. Tens of thousands of acres in the San Juan forest, including Wolf Creek Pass have died leaving vast swaths of dead trees interspersed with other species not affected by this particular beetle. This is a wildfire just waiting for lightning.
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The eastern side of the pass was a little better and dropped us into the San Luis Valley. From Alomosa, we found ourselves on Highway 17, The Cosmic Highway with one more mountain range, the beautiful Sangre de Cristos, to cross to get home.
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If you look closely, that barely discernable, hazy line of demarcation at the foot of the mountains is the Great Sand Dunes. A desert of sand dunes, in the middle of the Colorado Mountains with Medano Creek flowing through them. Again, you can’t make this stuff up.
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With the Sangre de Cristo mountains behind us, we started the last 45 miles of our trip, heading into Canon City, then north back to Colorado Springs.
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Back at home after a full week on the road I was glad to be back in my own bed with my own pillow (big satisfied sigh). We also missed a cold snap in the Colorado Springs area that apparently had brought a dusting of snow to some parts of the area. Temperatures were back inthe 70s and 80s by the time we got back. Oh shucky darn.

I love trips like this where I get see so much. Sometimes it can feel a little bit like sensory overload, with so much to see, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love to travel and see new things and share them with others who may share the same passion. Happy travels everyone! Be safe!

 

Traveling Through the Mojave Desert

Legends abound about the Mojave Desert and its desert companions The Great Basin Desert to the north, and the Sonoran Desert to the south. From lost Spanish galleons ran aground and now covered by the sands, to lost gold and silver mines, to subterranean rivers with black sandy shores running with gold, to haunted ghost towns, the desert bigfoot, mutants and the ever popular gambler that owes too much to the wrong people who “disappeared” but whose buddies are sure was buried in the desert somewhere. These three deserts that comprise the Mojave Desert Preserve certainly seem to have lots of stories to tell, but they don’t seem to be giving anything away.

Driving from Nevada to L.A. and back we saw a whole lot of desert; mostly Mojave Desert, which I found fascinating as I do most any landscape outside of the one consisting of our ¼ acre lot at home that’s under constant construction. For instance, I learned that the Mojave Preserve is home to the largest and most dense Joshua Tree forest in the world.

What is a Joshua Tree, you ask? I’ll tell you, According to the Joshua Tree National Park website, the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) is a member of the agave family. Its twisted branches seem surreal in the otherwise mostly desolate landscape.

A Joshua tree does not bloom unless conditions are just right and if it doesn’t bloom, it doesn’t branch out. Instead, it looks like a lonely pillar-like sentinel with a spiky green pouf of spiky leaves on top. (if you happened to see the movie Rango, these would seem to be the “walking cactus” seen in the desert near the water pipes). The oldest Joshua tree in the forest is in the Queen Valley Forest. It is 40 feet high and is estimated to be 300 years old. The name “Joshua tree” came from Mormon settlers who thought the tree looked like it had its branches stretched out in supplication. The name stuck and that is what later settlers and prospectors called the trees as well.

As we stopped at a rest stop just off the highway (much of which was the infamous Route 66) I was struck by the interesting contradiction between the palm trees, which I’d really only seen near water of some sort, near what seemed to be an unprotected picnic area amid a vast field of nothing but sand.

I mean nothing but sand. Still, there were signs of life. Birds flitted around the rest area, probably waiting for some unsuspecting tourist to drop a crumb or two. One or two bigger birds circled in the sky, probably waiting for an absent-minded tourist to leave a small pet unattended. There were also flying insects…insects always seem to find their way to me, much to my dismay.

On the road again we caught glimpses of mountain and sand dunes and cinder cones. All of which were rumored to harbor great veins of gold or silver and a great many who went in search of such treasures never to be heard from again.

Some parts of the desert looked more like an abstract painting than a real place with only the different colors of the sand, hills, and mountains making any distinctions in the landscape (no, this photo is not doctored to look like a painting, this was taken out of the front windshield going about 75 miles per hour). Other parts were crowded with Joshua Trees, yuccas, scrub, and the occasional palm tree. Unfortunately we were too far south to see any of the iconic saguaro cacti.

This is the greatest thing about road trips. I’ve flown over this seemingly desolate area of the country a few times. From above it looks like reddish sand, dirt hills, and canyons for as far as the eye can see at some points. From the ground, up close, it is an entirely different story. Traveling down the nostalgic Route 66, through the desert and over the mountains to its end in Santa Monica California was an experience that left me wishing I could have had more time to explore the desert. I would have liked to have seen Death Valley, hiked through some of the lava tubes, communed with some of native wildlife. Perhaps another time, for now, I’m grateful for the glimpses I did get of the Mojave’s austere, and sometimes mysterious, splendor.

Have you ever visited someplace that seemed totally alien to you? What’s the strangest place you’ve ever visisted. I’d love to hear about it!

Gracie the Cat – A Rescued Friend

Gracie the cat (a Burman mix, which is one half of the original Ragdoll) was rescued on fine day from the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region. Being an experienced cat owner, her new meow-ma had spent months diligently searching for just the right cat to add to the family after an appropriate mourning time for the previous cat who had passed away. I know some people aren’t cat people but after not having a cat for a while we found we missed having one around (we are both dog and cat people).

Gracie’s new meow-ma was not able to take her home right away as Gracie was due for the obligatory clip and snip and microchip. So her meow-ma picked her up the next day. She spent the first week at home hiding, in her crate, or behind the curtain thinking that no one could see her rear end below the bottom of the curtain or her bushy tail sticking out. She was less than a year old and scared. Gracie’s new family gave her the space she needed to heal and get used to her new home, but checked her stitches regularly and made sure to interact with her in a gentle and friendly way a few times per day.

After a while of cohabitation with her new family Gracie came out of her shell to be the beautiful, sweet, loving, and playful kitty her adopted meow-ma knew she would be. She was skinny and matted when she arrived, but diligent brushing and attention improved her coat and her appetite. Soon she had to be on an eating schedule because she was getting chubby.

Gracie is now a happy and healthy cat who trusts enough in her new family to make a habit of lying around on her back with her belly exposed, somewhat unusual for cats, but not unheard of. She L-O-V-E-S tummy rubs and will walk up to just about anyone and flip over on her back with a trill in her voice as if to tell them what she wants. She is not the most graceful of cats, hence the name “Gracie”. She often falls off the back of the couch or off the windowsill, and many times she missed her mark when trying to jump up on a windowsill but she always recovers in true cat fashion with a flick of her tail and an air of “I meant to do that.” Sometimes she just slides off the couch on her back like liquid pouring out of a pitcher. Sometimes she runs around literally bouncing off the walls and if one of her favorite toys are lost, she’ll cry about it until you help her find it.

Most of the time she’s sleeping…on her back.

In fact, now one has to wonder if she sleeps any other way.

Oh yeah, she does. All together now…Awwwww!

If you are looking for a four-legged friend, I seriously urge you to consider adopting a shelter or rescue animal. Shelter and rescue animals are some of the most loving, grateful and beautiful friends anyone could ask for! Do your homework, figure out what breeds might be right for you then take your time finding your new friend. A pet should be a lifetime commitment. Go ahead, take a trip to your local shelter and see what kind of awesome friends await!

Have you adopted a rescue animal? I’d love to hear about it. 🙂