Way Down on the Colorado River
by C.K. Thomas
Have you ever been to Parker, Arizona? If you have, you know it sits near small, winding roads dubbed back-road byways, which should give you some idea of the terrain. This desert is very “scrubby,” pitted with rock outcroppings and a few modest mountains.
My husband Frank and I decided to attend one of those “90-minutes-and-you-stay-free” presentations at an RV resort on the Colorado River between Lake Havasu City and Parker. It has been an adventure of sorts.
We crossed a small bridge a few miles before the resort, putting us over the Arizona state line into California. The California side of the river is rife with RV parks facing an Arizona shoreline heavily built with classy condos. I can’t help but wonder how the condo owners like their view.
On Thanksgiving we ate potluck at a table for 10 with a group of people from the Heber/Overgaard area of Arizona. The resort provided turkey, dressing, and gravy, while the rest of us brought side dishes. We even scored some leftover turkey and pie to take back to our RV.
By now, you’re probably wondering what this brief travelogue has to do with the craft of writing. Maybe nothing, but then again maybe there’s something here to feed your lust for knowledge. I don’t know about you, but my brain needs “input” following hours of “output” sitting in front of a computer screen.
There’s a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, first published in 1992. Since then there have been several editions, workbooks, and take-offs based on the original. One of the foundational ideas of the book involves taking yourself on an artist’s walk once a week as a way of recharging imagination and creativity.
When I go on an adventure away from home, I imagine my brain grabbing tidbits of information, storing it all in my brain cells where it will be accessible whenever I’m in the “output” phase of my work. For instance, I’m sure my brain cells grabbed the profile of the woman I sat next to at the potluck dinner. She very recently had had surgery and, in the face of her husband’s objections, made a pumpkin and a pecan pie to take to share with folks on Thanksgiving. Now there’s a strong female character who needs to live in my fictional town of Mineral City, and she’s an Arizona native.
Then there’s the Parker Dam. Would you ever imagine that this seemingly small dam is the deepest dam in the world? It sits in the middle of the Colorado River, holding back the waters of Lake Havasu while passively creating a desert oasis that brings flocks of tourists and snowbirds to Arizona every year. This massive dam’s foundation reaches 235 feet below the riverbed and extends upward 85 feet to reveal to visitors 62 feet of its superstructure above the roadway constructed across its top.
I may not remember the dimensions of this man-made goliath, but my imagination already has captured what the scene may have looked like during construction way back in 1932. Who were these men who risked their lives hanging from scaffolding and dredging the riverbed of the mighty Colorado? And, who were the men and women living in tents and cooking over open fires to feed this muscled crew? Those answers could be the foundation of a rough and gritty novel full of love, tears, triumph and tragedy.
C.K. Thomas lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Before retiring, she worked for Phoenix Newspapers while raising three children and later as communications editor for a large United Methodist Church. The Storm Women is her fourth novel and the third in the Arrowstar series about adventurous women of the desert Southwest. Follow her blog: We-Tired and Writing Blog.