Traveling to Your Novel’s Setting for Research, by Stacey Coverstone
Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I’m in love with the Land of Enchantment. Why? Because the skies are bigger and bluer, the sun is brighter, there’s something magical about the desert, and the mountains call me home. I go to New Mexico often, but not often enough. That’s why so many of my stories are set there. When I’m not able to physically be there, at least I can dream about my second home and re-imagine all the wonderful places I’ve seen and the people I’ve met. Setting a story in a real town or state gives an author a good reason to travel—in order to do research. That’s what I’m talking about today.
When I wrote “Outlaw Trail,” I referred to actual New Mexican towns and settings; places Josie and Grey visited or stopped at during their long journey. Some of these places I’d really visited in my own travels, some, I hadn’t. Once I’d mapped out Josie and Grey’s destination during the plotting stage of my story, I decided the Nambe waterfalls would be the spot where the climactic scene would take place. I’d never been to those particular falls before, but it seemed the perfect setting. Now, if I was going to be accurate in my description of this place, I had to see the waterfalls for myself, right? You bet. So, off I went, to Northern New Mexico on a research trip. I invited one of my best childhood friends, Linda, to meet me there, because she needed a vacation bad.
Linda flew in from Illinois and I came from Maryland, and we met up at the Albuquerque airport. One rental car later and we were off on our adventure! I can’t begin to describe all the fantastic sights and spectacular beauty we experienced. Today, I’m sharing Nambe Falls with you.
Nambe Pueblo is one of the Tewa Pueblos of the northern Rio Grande region. The name is a Spanish interpretation of the Tewa word “name”, which roughly translates as “earth roundness.” Prior to the arrival of Spanish explorers, Nambe Pueblo served as the primary cultural and religious center for the northern New Mexican pueblo communities.
Nambe Pueblo sits at the base of the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains, sixteen miles north of Santa Fe. It encompasses 19,000 acres of land surrounded by national forest. Its terrain is scenic and striking, featuring waterfalls, lakes and mountainous areas. The Nambe Falls are located above the Pueblo. A 15-minute walk along shaded cottonwood trails next to the river takes you to the base of Nambe Waterfalls. A longer hike up the side of a steep, rocky canyon affords you a magnificent birds-eye view of the stunning triple-decker falls. Standing at the peak, one can turn around and gaze out at the mountains and desert for as far as the eye can see. Guess which hike I chose to take?
My dear friend, Linda, is not a hiker. Nor is she an outdoors person. However, she was a real trooper—all in the sake of research. Despite her fear of death by stumbling and falling over the cliff to the jagged rocks below, she did climb that canyon with me all the way to the top. It took a while, but we made it.
Later, after she’d sat for a while, resting on a rock, she drank a bottle of water, wiped the sweat from her face, and mumbled a few choice words about the stupid cowboy hat she bought that was too big and kept sliding off her sweaty forehead. But, she agreed with me that the tricky hike up the canyon had been worth it.
As I gazed at the stunning three-tier falls that dropped through a cleft in the rock face to tumble into a reservoir below, I asked Linda if she’d ever seen anything so beautiful or felt so at peace. I’d experience that same feeling of peace several more times during our trip, because New Mexico is full of magical and spiritual moments that stay with you long after the vacation is over.
Josie and Grey battle outlaws, nature, and each other on their journey, but when they finally arrive at Nambe Falls, they discover riches more valuable than the original treasure they sought. That’s the way I look at research, especially when I can travel to the Land of Enchantment to conduct it.
Visit my website to read an excerpt of “Outlaw Trail,” coming December 1.