First-Hand Research: Arizona

Nancy J. Cohen

Do you believe in ghosts? I would like to think they exist, especially after numerous orbs came out in the photos I took on our Arizona trip. However, sites online explain the phenomenon as artifacts like cameras reflecting dust motes or water vapor droplets. Nonetheless, we visited many haunted sites on our recent trip west. The most exciting one was the Grand Hotel in Jerome. Formerly a hospital, this structure was built on a mountainside to serve the local miners. We took the nightly ghost tour and were given our own instruments to investigate.

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How does this work into the book I’m planning to write? I needed first-hand research, and it’s a good thing I went on location. When I’d put a forest in my story synopsis, I imagined the northern kind with tall trees and thick undergrowth. Man, was I off mark! Arizona forests, as least where I went, consisted of low scrub brush, scattered trees, reddish-brown dirt, and cacti. Uh-oh. Nix the victim in my story dying when a heavy branch falls on him. Instead, he’ll tumble off a mountain ledge. As mountain vistas are all around, this should be more plausible.

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Copper mines play an important role in my story, too. Little did I realize you had to be at higher elevations for this factor. My protagonists explore a mine in the story. Now I know what they should wear, what they will see, how they will face the scariness of pitch darkness below ground. As for the orbs, it’s either very dusty down there or the shafts are haunted.

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And the dude ranch where we stayed one night is the background setting for the entire story. I couldn’t possibly have written a word without being there in person, smelling the horses, having a drink in the lounge called the Dog House, and sampling the food in the dining hall. Plus interviewing the staff changed another story element. A character’s horse won’t be spooked by a snake let loose in its path anymore. Instead, someone strings a trip wire across the trail.

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We had many more adventures, from gazing at the awesome red cliffs of Sedona to an off-trail jeep ride to a recreation of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. We stayed at the dude ranch, rode down into the copper mine, and went on our own ghost hunt. I also got to tour the Desert Botanical Gardens to note the varieties of plants, trees, and cacti. All of these experiences were essential for my novel. Sometimes you can’t get what you need online or in the library. You have to go to the place to sniff around for yourself.

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You can see more of my pix here:

So what trip have you made that was essential to your research?