It is true the sand of the Mojave Desert hides treasures. There are storied treasure hoards, such as a ship laden with pearls, an underground river bed of black sand laced with gold, a shaft of gold ore behind an iron door, lost and never relocated. Then there are the real underground treasures actively mined in the region: pockets of gold, silver, lead, zinc, copper, tungsten, vanadium, iron, clay, and cinders.
I am inspired by the land, its endless variation, the secrets it holds, the way people have adapted to, even profited from its anomalies. A deserted doorless shack leaning against the wind has its story, a forsaken gap-bladed windmill another. I see them peopled and active in my imagination and I look for the swale through the Indian grass that was once a road, the heap of rocks that was once a wall. Sometimes there is a story to be learned, an actual history that fills in some of the chinks, but never completely.
Many stories did not have happy endings. The Mojave Desert is a particularly harsh home, for human or animal. Yet even here people managed to live, gather meager meals of nuts and grubs, as did the Chemehueva Indians, or farm and raise cattle, as did later visitors. In the Mojave National Preserve, the history lies exposed, an open book. Failed endeavors were abandoned and left to decay. Primitive roads thread across the Creosote scrublands and skirt sudden promontories. And unlike many National Parks and Monuments these roads are not prohibited to travelers, but beware; if you lack water or your vehicle lacks clearance or four-wheel drive, you may not re-emerge.
The plot of UNDER DESERT SAND grew in my mind while exploring these roads. A singular solitariness hovers over one when in the heart of the desert, with the Jeep in low 4-wheel drive descending into a narrow sand-bottomed arroyo, the momentary wheel spin in deep sand, that uh-oh moment. In our enabled lives there are few such times for most of us; it made me ponder how many anxious minutes early settlers of the land experienced on a daily basis.
The story of the 1925 gunfight at Government Holes came to me in snatches. I was fascinated by the drama, the snuffing out of two lives in seconds (talk about uh-oh moments). The road (if such it may be called) to Government Holes today has no signage. Several tracks lead away from the Mojave Road in the general area, you take your chances. I used a Preserve map and a compass. It was a good day as the sand in the river bed was firm and none of the small arroyos and gashes were too deep for the Cherokee. My reward was the sight of the old Rock Spring Land & Cattle Company windmill leaning against a cottonwood and the cattle tank still there, full of green murky water. I parked the Jeep and hunted through the underbrush and found stones from the building foundation, the very location the gunfight took place.
After several days in the Mojave National Preserve the story was well formed in my mind and I went home and filled in the chinks and wrote the story. Many months later, I contacted Kristallyn Designs for a cover. The image Krista sent for my consideration amazed me, for it might have been a photograph of the exact location. It is now the front cover.
My characters Zack Tolliver and Eagle Feather are destined to follow me through the wilderness. The land is my muse, the historic people my inspiration.