Saturday, July 27, 2019

Tunnel Trees in Mariposa Grove by Zina Abbott

I’m a day late getting my post up. With my husband as a willing accomplice, I played hooky in the form of taking one of our annual day trips, a visit to Yosemite National Park. Yesterday, our destination was Mariposa Grove in the southern border of the park.

Mariposa Grove is located near Wawona, California. It is the largest grove of giant sequoias, or Sequoiadendron giganteum, in the park, with several hundred mature examples of the tree. 

My husband grew up in Merced County and visited Yosemite National Park, includng Mariposa Grove, frequently in his youth. I moved up this way later. In all the times I have been to Yosemite, I don’t recall having visited Mariposa Grove. Then, when he and I decided to visit this park attraction several years ago, we were told no. 

The Mariposa Grove was closed for three years for renovations. It reopened in June, 2018. Unfortunately, although we had been waiting those three years for Mariposa Grove to open, our 2018 trip to Yosemite National Park took place before the opening date. 

Things have changed. It used to be visitors could drive to the various famous and named trees within the grove. We can no longer do that. There is now a parking lot by the visitors center where people must leave their vehicles behind and board a shuttle bus to take them to the walking tour area. There are three walking tours available: one about .3 miles one way, one about 2 miles round trip, and one 8 miles round trip. We took the middle tour at the end of which was the surviving tunnel tree in Mariposa Grove.

At one time there were two tunnel trees.

Wawona Tunnel Tree
Wawona Tree 1887 Painting

The Wawona Tree, also known as the Wawona Tunnel Tree, was a famous giant sequoia that stood in Mariposa Grove until February, 1969. It had a height of 227 feet (69 m) and was 26 feet (7.9 m) in diameter at the base.

The origin of the word Wawona is not known. A popular story claims Wawō'na was the Miwok (a local Indian tribe who often inhabited Yosemite) word for "big tree", or for "hoot of the owl". Birds are considered the sequoia trees' spiritual guardian.

A tunnel was cut through the tree in 1881, enlarging an existing fire scar. Two men, the Scribner brothers, were paid $75 for the job (equivalent to $1,947 in 2018). The tree had a slight lean, which increased when the tunnel was completed. 

Created by the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company as a tourist attraction, this human-made tunnel became immensely popular. Visitors were often photographed driving through or standing in the tunnel.

The following is from the book, The Pacific Coast Scenic Tour by Henry T. Finck published in 1890:

There is aflutter of excitement as we approach the Tunnel Tree, or Wawona (which is Indian for big tree), through which the stage drives as it stands, with horses, passengers, and all. The diameter of this tree at the ground is twenty-seven feet, or three feet less than the Grizzly Giant; the tunnel of which we go through it is ten feet high and from six to ten feet wide. Just as we drive into it, a poetic youth exclaims to his fair companion, Now look out for spiders!

Even President Theodore Roosevelt, during his 1903 visit to Yosemite National Park, traveled through the Wawona Tree Tunnel.
President Theodore Roosevelt traveling through Wawona Tunnel Tree- 1903

Maintaining the Wawona Tree was part of an effort by the Park Service to increase tourism in the age of the automobile. Stephen Mather, the first Director of the National Park Service, was a main supporter of building a tourist clientele for the parks, which would in turn attract increasing appropriations from Congress and establish the Park Service as a legitimate and noteworthy bureaucratic agency. 

1918- Automobile travels through Wawona Tunnel Tree

Mather and his chief aide, Horace Albright, who would also be his successor, worked to make the parks as accessible as possible and, with drive-through attractions such as the Tunnel Tree, as memorable as possible. Mather and Albright had already worked on the "See America First" campaign, trying to connect with western railroads to increase visitation to the parks.

Automobile by Wawona Tunnel Tree - 1929

In the 1920s, the Park Service actively promoted automobile tourism. Roads and roadside attractions bloomed on the sites of Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite. Roads, they believed, would also increase accessibility for "those who are not as strong and agile as you and I, for they too are entitled to their inspiration and enjoyment,"  
Fallen Tunnel Tree

After a heavy load of snow fell on its crown in February, 1969, the Wawona Tunnel Tree fell. It was estimated to have been 2,300 years old. At the time, the park service debated about what to do with it. It has remained where it fell primarily for ecological reasons. Because of their size, giant sequoias can create vast new ecosystems when they fall, providing habitat for insects and animals and allowing new plant growth. Currently, it is known as the Fallen Tunnel Tree and is still a tourist destination.

California Tunnel Tree
1920s Park Employee & passenger California Tree

A modest notice of both the Wawona Tree and another tunnel tree appears in the May 28, 1899 issue of a Sacramento Daily Union article: "In the lower grove there is another tree through which the wagon road runs. It is named California and is twenty-one feet in diameter at the base and 248 feet in height."

The California Tunnel Tree, whose passage was dug in 1895 as a novelty for stagecoach riders, is still standing. Visitors are allowed to walk through it. Evidently, while the Wawona Tunnel Tree still stood, the California Tunnel Tree got no respect from the historical photographers. Most images I found online were taken after the Wawona Tree toppled in 1962.

After we reached the California Tunnel Tree, both my husband and I decided whoever determined the length of this hike must have measured “as the crow flies.” We were sure it was longer than .9 miles. Since we live about 100 feet above sea level and this section of the park is about 5,500 feet elevation, it turned into quite a jaunt. Because we did not realize until after we arrived that visiting the trees in Mariposa Grove these days involves hiking, we did not bring water with us on the shuttle bus. Fortunately, a kind fellow hiker gave us a bottle of water. If you visit Mariposa Grove, be sure to bring water.
California Tunnel Tree today
We did make it to the California Tunnel Tree. My husband recalled being able to drive through this tunnel tree before they closed it to automobile traffic in 1969 or so. Here he and I are standing at the entrance.

For more images of tunnel trees, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

My next book, Escape from Gold Mountain, is set east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains slightly north and east of Yosemite National Park. This book is longer than most of my novels. Escape from Gold Mountain is currently available on pre-order at a special sale price that will continue until the day after the book releases on September 4, 2019. At that time it will be raised to its regular price. You may find the book description and purchase link by CLICKING HERE.


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Guest Author Kaye Spencer

Please welcome Guest Author Kaye Spencer, who has a story is a recently released Hot Western Nights anthology.

My contribution Prairie Rose Publications’ western romance anthology is ‘Give My Love to Rose’. Johnny Cash fans will likely recognize that same title as one of his early hits. The song provided the [quite loose] plot fodder for my story. I changed things around and Rose became the main character, and the man who comes across the dying man is a deputy U. S. marshal. (You can listen to this song on YouTube.)

A deputy U. S. marshal comes upon a dying man and finds unexpected love when he carries out the man’s last request.

Exhaling a long, slow breath, Federal Deputy Marshal Clint Callahan eased the dead man down to the blanket. Clint pushed his hat back and studied the man from his lawman’s well-seasoned experience with death. He’d come across all manner of dying during his career. Broken leg, gut shot, horse run off, weak heart, blizzard, poisoned water hole, robbery. It wasn’t so bad when he came up on them already dead. Their suffering was over. It was the dying ones that stayed with him—the desperation in their eyes, the regret in their voices. He’d never get used to watching a person die, especially the women and children.

What he knew for certain was the worst part of dying wasn’t the pain. It was not being able to say goodbye to the people who mattered, and that was his sole companion over every mile he rode.

How many times had he heard the last words of love for a beloved wife and children, or a wish to see a mother one last time? Some cried. Others cleared the burden on their consciences. Most only had enough time to name next of kin. When you heard a person’s last words, shared their last breath, shouldered their confessions, you took on the duty of seeing their dying wishes taken care of.

This man, Lon Griffin, was no different. He’d clung to a thin thread of life, slipping between delirium and lucidity all through the night. His will to live gave out in the dark just before the dawn.

Any other time, Clint would have dug a grave right there, said the proper words, and then rode on to tell the family or sent a telegram, whichever was the faster way to convey the news. This time, though, Lon’s widow waited at the house a good many miles on farther north, she was probably wondering right now when she’d see her husband again. She never would, not alive, anyway, and Lon begged him to take him home to be buried in the family cemetery.

Haunted heartbreak clouded Clint’s eyes. That Lon left behind a family brought back his own loss. Nothing he possessed, not his guns, his badge, his physical strength, or his love had been enough to prevent the accident of nature that had killed his happiness in the blink of an eye.

Kaye Spencer
writing through history one romance upon a time

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Have you seen a Sugarbush Harlequin?

As I come from a rodeo family, I’ve always owned and ridden American Quarter Horses, but lately I’ve become fascinated with Draft horse breeds.

While doing research for a new book, a story about American Sugarbush Harlequin Drafts being used as pony horses for the Kentucky Derby popped up.

This is Harley The Magnificent, owned by Monnie Goetz. Harley is a big time pony horse and even worked the Kentucky Derby this year as a five year old. He's so popular, he has his own fan club.

Harley The Magnificent

Breyer Company even made a model of Harley The Magnificent. If that isn't making it as a horse, I don't know what is.

After World War II, many farms switched to tractors, but drafts were still used for logging and small farming operations. Carriage companies bought many of the remaining horses. There was a lot of competition between these companies for customers, and Everett Smith, owner of the Sugarbush Hitch Company in Ohio, thought louder-colored teams would draw attention to his business.

He’d started his business with Percherons, but became enamored with Mike Muir’s Stonewall Sport horses, a cross with racing Appaloosas and registered Percherons.

His colts had the loud colored coats of Appaloosas with the body type and calmer temperaments of the Draft horses.

With the popularity of his horses rising, Everett knew he needed a registry to record the lineage of both his Sugarbush horses and the Stonewall breed, so he started the Sugarbush Harlequin Draft Horse and Stonewall Sport Horse Association.
Sugarbush Classic O
In 1999, the first Sugarbush was born, the legendary Sugarbush Harley Quinn. Wow, what a beauty!
Sugarbush Harley Quinn

In 2003, the last stallion to come out of the Sugarbush Hitch program, Sugarbush Harley’s Classic O was born. 
Sugarbush Harley's Classic O

After Everett retired in 2008, the breed fell on hard times. In 2013, Rebecca Buck, the owner of Sugarbush Harley’s Classic O, and Tracy Meisenbach, an owner of one of the Stonewall stallions, got together and started the American Sugarbush Harlequin Draft Association to better the breed and save the remaining horses.

According to the website, the ASHDA bred horses and suitable for dressage, driving, eventing, and trail riding. Their calm personalities make excellent for use as therapy horses.
So what do you think of the ASHDA equines? Is this a breed of horse you'd like to own?
I know I would.

I don't have any of the Sugarbush horses in my books yet, but I guarantee one will show up soon. In the first book of my Rodeo Road series, Changing A Cowboy's Tune, I feature a friend's barrel horse, Tuneful. She was a delightful mare and talented. Also, as you can see from the picture, she was a beauty.

Love and trust—sometimes they hide in the least expected person.

She left behind her true love to pursue her dream. He held on too tight, and she slipped through his fingers.

Now, years later, their desire burns more fiercely than ever. Can they see past their own dreams to find a future together?

If you like Western Romances with strong women and determined cowboys, you’ll love Changing A Cowboy’s Tune.

Check out Tuneful and the first Rodeo Road book here!

Friday, July 19, 2019

The true residents of Oatman, AZ ~ by Kristine Raymond

Located approximately halfway between Kingman, Arizona and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge along Historic Route 66 lies the town of Oatman.  Named for Olive Oatman, a young Illinois girl taken captive by Indians in 1851 and later released in 1856, the town experienced a gold rush in 1915 when two prospectors found riches in the Black Mountains.  Five decades later, it was a ghost town; until a renewed interest in that notable highway stretching from Illinois to the California coast breathed life into the empty buildings, revitalizing the community and putting Oatman on the map as a tourist destination.
Copyright - Deposit Photos - Editorial use only
It's a lot like other Old West towns - there are mock-gunfights in the streets and souvenir shops selling local art and turquoise jewelry, but it's the residents that make this town unique.  No, not the human occupants.  The four-legged ones. 
Copyright Deposit Photos
Descendants of the burros prospectors once used to pack supplies in and gold out of the hills during their mining days, these friendly (though, still wild - they have been known to bite and kick) beasts are the highlight of any trip to this western Arizona town.  Following visitors through the dusty streets, begging for handouts, these wide-eyed critters are hard to resist, although Bureau of Land Management officials are urging shop owners and tourists alike to stop offering tasty treats to the burros due to overfeeding which has led to health issues for these animals.

But, let me ask, could you resist this face?
Copyright - Deposit Photos
(Interesting note - townsfolk place Do Not Feed Me stickers on the baby burros' foreheads). 

BLM estimates that there are 1800 wild burros in the Black Mountain herd, and after a day spent strolling through town, they return to the hills at night to sleep under the stars as their ancestors once did.

**Author's note - My husband and I visited Oatman on our way to Laughlin, NV back in 1992.  I remember a white burro sticking his head through the open driver's side window.  Too funny!

Also, there is a burro named Cocoa in my Hidden Springs series.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Work In Progress!

by Andrea Downing

Last night I had a discussion over dinner as to what I was writing at the moment.  From that we were led into where I get my ideas, why I write about the west, why I write romance, and so on and so forth. If you’re an author and reading this, you’ve been there I’m sure. How do you name a character or find their names? How do you choose your setting? Do you have the entire story plotted out? Do you know the ending? The questions came at me faster than an outlaw on the run.
Well, I’m not going to answer those questions here if that’s what you’re thinking—unless of course you happen to put them in the comments section.  But I thought I’d give you a small taste of the opening of my WIP and see if anyone wishes to comment or critique it—all criticism gratefully received.  I’m also, purposefully, not giving you the working title since that can lead to all sorts of problems. So here we go:
Part One
Chapter One

The first thing Shiloh Coltrane thought, as he went flying through the glass of the The Painted Lady Saloon, was he was going to hurt like hell if he didn’t first bleed to death. The second thought that passed through his slightly foggy brain as he hit the iron bar, which served to protect the glass from kicking horse hooves not flying people, was this was going to cost him big-time and anger every man in town. And as he landed on the wooden boardwalk, rolling away from the possibility of further infliction from the tied horses, glass shattering and splintering around him, the vision that had descended the steps from the second floor flashed through his mind’s eye as if death was approaching and his entire life had come to this point.
Which in some vague way he was aware it had.
That woman. Soiled dove? Surely not. Too neat, prim, and fully clothed. So what was she doing there?
He lay for a moment as the boardwalk vibrated with a power not unlike an earthquake and voices grew like thunder moving in. A slight odor of manure wafted up, the prickle and sting of fractured glass, and a knowledge that any which way he moved, pain was inevitable—all became apparent.
Then, as the squeak of the saloon doors invaded his hearing, Bozy the bartender’s voice slammed into his brain: “That there glass come all the way from Pittsburgh, Coltrane. You know how much that gonna cost to replace? You know how I’m gonna have to cover up that there winda while we wait for a replacement? And the painting to be done? You know how much all that gonna cost? You! It’s gonna cost you!”
Shiloh felt the scrape of the glass fragments as he lifted his head gingerly and twisted to look Bozy in the eye. He’d removed his gloves earlier and in order to push himself up, the tenderness of bruises just now becoming evident, he knew he’d have to risk some of those splinters embedding themselves further into his skin. He pivoted on to his buttocks, now conscious something had stuck him in the behind, right through his jeans and union suit. He pulled his legs in, bent, and somehow managed to squat. His hands found and gripped the window’s iron bar behind him, and he pushed himself to his full height.
“You tell Ike to pay for that, Bozy. And tell him not to show his face in town or he’ll have two windows to pay for.”
“Ike’s not gonna pay nothing. He ain’t got two nickels to rub together. He’s already hightailed it outta here.”
“I see. So just because I have a ranch that actually sees a profit I’m supposed to pay on behalf of the dumb brute that just flung me through your window? Good luck with that.” He glanced around for his hat and spotted it clutched in the hands of one of the doves.
Without meeting his gaze, she held it out. Shiloh took it and nodded his thanks, dusted it down, more to see if he could get some glass splinters out of his hands than to get dust off the hat. He studied Bozy’s face, a mix of upset and anger, worry and thought.
“I’ll see what I can do about Ike.” Shiloh tried to keep his voice noncommittal.
“You gonna shoot him?”
“No, I’m not gonna shoot him. Damn fool.” His hands inadvertently slipped to his thighs but the discomfort stopped him from actually feeling for his Colts.
“Why’d you start that fight, then? You gotta chip on your shoulder big as all outdoors!”
“I didn’t start the fight. And I said I’d see what could be done.”
“You’re good with your hands, Coltrane. Usually. You can do the work.”
“I guess. Maybe. Let me know when the glass arrives.”
“Well, what the hell happened there anyway?”
The crowd drew a little closer and suddenly Shiloh felt the air sucked from his lungs. He wanted to get out, get home, get the glass picked out.
“I asked him where Parmeter was.”
It was as if the ring of onlookers moved as one person and took two steps back.
“Yeah. You remember Parmeter? My sister’s husband?”
“You been askin’ ’bout Parmeter ever since you come back. Give it up, why don’t you?”
A chatter punctuated by snorts and sly looks met this statement.
“I’m not giving up ’til I find out who killed my sister and where Parmeter’s gone. And I hadn’t asked Ike before.”
Bozy shook his head. “Looks like he don’t know nothing ’bout Parmeter from where I stand.” He seemed to think a moment. “You best be gettin’ on over to that new doc’s.”
“What new doc’s? Since when do we have a doctor?”
Bozy’s mouth puckered and moved like he didn’t want to swallow something awful in his mouth. “A few weeks back. Only temporary I’d think. Lives up near the fort, treats the Indians at the agency, comes down here once a week. Sees folks over in the storeroom of the mercantile. Name’s Sydney Cantrell.”

© Andrea Downing

And if you need some good reading to keep you occupied while I continue to work on that, maybe my Lawless Love would fit the bill.  It’s available in both eBook and Audible.  See

Lacey Everhart has carved out a tough existence in the wilds of 1880s Wyoming, working hard to build a secure life for herself and her younger brother, Luke. She will stop at nothing to protect what’s hers and keep them safe. Even if it means keeping a secret that could destroy their lives.
Marshal Dylan J. Kane is a man who considers everything as black and white, right or wrong. He's never seen life any other way until he sets eyes on Lacey. Suddenly the straight and narrow that he's followed has a few twists and turns. Loving Lacey offers the home life for which he hankers...but can he really love a woman who seems to be plain lawless? 

Lacey thought of fluttering her eyelashes, but it was such a silly thing to do. How could women act like that? She just looked up at the marshal and waited, the possibilities turning over in her mind, flitting through her head but never settling.
     “You wanna tell me what really happened now so we can try to sort this matter? All I can do is promise I’ll do everything in my power to sort it for you, but I cain’t help you less’n you tell the truth. You tell me lies and make me look a dang fool, there’s nothin’ I can do. You understand that?”
     Along with the tiniest nod, she clasped her hands together. She looked up at Dylan Kane and saw kindness in that face, a face she could so easily have loved had things been different. She could sense the heat radiating from his body and knew if she touched his chest, a strength would exist where his heart beat. If she ran her hand down his arms, she would find that same strength in his muscle. How she wanted those arms around her! All her life, it seemed, she had looked after herself, cared for her brother, struggled to make a home for the two of them. What would it have been like if Morgan had not...
     “Lacey?” Dylan’s soft voice brought her back from her reveries. “You ready to tell the truth?” With one gentle finger, he lifted her chin so their gazes met for a moment before they each stepped back from the brink of something neither could control. “Lacey?” he repeated.
     “Yes, I’m ready.”