The Wisdom of Milt

{My apologies for not posting a blog last Friday.

We got the call Tuesday night–my 90-year-old father-in-law, Milton Salonen, had passed away.

Wednesday was a day long scramble to book flights to South Dakota as quickly as possible to make the Visitation at the funeral home on Friday evening. (We didn’t realize we were competing with a large contingent of pheasant hunters arriving for Opening Day of Pheasant Season.)

I packed my computer thinking I’d be able to write a tribute to this wonderful man who was part of my life for more than forty years and post it on my StoryBroads blog. No problem. But the reality was: the words wouldn’t come, plus, my late father-in-law lived on Lake Poinsett. A beautiful piece of earth that’s not known for its Internet connection.

So, here’s my tribute. A week late.}


On October 19, 1974, a brilliant, sunny fall Saturday, I married my high school sweetheart, Paul Salonen, at the First Lutheran Church in Brookings, South Dakota.


On October 18, 2014, a brilliant, sunny fall Saturday, I sat in the same church to say goodbye to Milt Salonen, my father-in-law of forty years (almost to the day).

The timing felt a bit surreal. The loss felt very, very real.


Milt turned 90 this past summer, but this photo is about the age he was when I met him.

Milt Salonen was a humble man who never would have believed half of the accolades his friends and family bestowed on him at his funeral. But few would deny that he was the heart of this lovely family.


Milt a few months ago with his #2 son, Paul.

For as long as I’ve known him, Milt spoke frankly and honestly, often with wry wit and profound humor. He worked hard, loved his wife and five sons, worshipped with his whole heart, passed on his core beliefs to his children and grandchildren and found delight in nature. He retired to Lake Poinsett where he marveled in the small things–like the light dancing on the waves of his beloved lake. He’d often call or text me a weather report–simply because his day was too beautiful not to share.


My view the morning after his funeral.

He worried too much about his family but he couldn’t help himself, nor would he have wanted it any other way.

He was loved by the sweetest, kindest, most truly Christian woman I’ve ever known, Mae Salonen, until her last breath eleven years ago. Not a day has passed since then that Milt didn’t ask his Lord to take him Home so they could be together again.


Milt and Mae when I first met them.

His wish was answered last week. He played cribbage on Sunday, felt poorly on Monday, saw the doctor on Tuesday morning, went home to the lake after his appointment to take a little nap. He didn’t wake up. Nobody could begrudge him that, but, of course, we can’t help feeling a deep, deep loss and heavy sadness.

But, as my brother-in-law said at the cemetery (channeling Milt, we’re sure), “He’s not gone, he’s just dead.”


A few years ago, the owner of the local bar and eatery, Smokin’s, came up with these great, Got Milt? t-shirts to show how happy they were to have my father-in-law around.

Believe it or not, that made sense to us because Milt is part of us. I guarantee his wisdom and humor will pop up from time to time in one of my books. I feel very fortunate to have been part of his journey for forty-plus years.

Thanks, Milt, for being the man you were and for raising the son I love. You will be missed. But, luckily, as the t-shirt says: we’ve “Got Milt!”

Writing… It Ain’t for Sissies


I’m working on a new book series. New town, new characters, new everything. You would think that after 25-something books, I’d have the process down. But no. Each time I begin a new project, whether or not it’s part of an existing series, I end up tweaking my process, hoping for an easier time. I spend more time on the synopsis (a roadmap of the story, of sorts), adding twists and turns. I analyze my characters.  And for all that preparation, the writing just gets harder and more challenging.

Not all of it.  Creating the place in which to set the story is great fun, especially because my towns or cities are almost always fictitious. I can make them look and feel however I want.

This new series is set in the beautiful Rogue Valley, in Oregon. I researched the climate and demographics, etc. I installed the usual coffee and restaurant hangouts, schools and other important businesses that help breath life into the place. As the series progresses, these places will grow and change, but that doesn’t pose much of a problem.

As for the actual writing, though… As I said, it just gets harder. I’ve been thinking about why that is, and have come up with several reasons. For one thing, with each book I write, I learn more about the craft of writing. You’d think that would make the process easier, but the more I know, the more I feel compelled to delve deeper into my characters. Not so easy, when they don’t want to share their baggage, their innermost fears and desires, with me. Would you? (All that prep I sweated over? Just the tip of the iceberg.)

The thing is, my stories are mostly character-driven. This means the hero and heroine and the major secondary characters drive the action. Sure, I begin with a story idea and a plot in mind, and I know how I want it all to end. But getting there? That’s basically up to the characters.

Usually for me, the first three chapters are a breeze… At least with that very first draft. The one where I think I know what the characters want and what drives them to act. But once those chapters are on the page, I find myself stuck, unable to move forward. I have learned that this means that I simply don’t know those pesky characters well enough to proceed. For days and often weeks, I tinker with those chapters, adding and deleting and tweaking and getting to know my characters better, until suddenly I can move forward and start the next chapter.

Then there are the doubts. The plot isn’t strong enough. The story is stupid. My writing sucks. I have no idea what will happen next.


And yet, I persist because I really want to tell the story.

It isn’t all bad. There are days when the writing sings and I know that this will be my best story ever. I love this graphic because it shows that writing isn’t linear.


Despite the fact that writing is a slow, painful process, knowing that I will share the stories in my head with others brings me great joy.  I wouldn’t trade my profession with anyone.

Thanks for letting me share.

Until next Thursday, and wishing you joy in whatever you do,


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I Wrote A Book (Tara Taylor Quinn)

So many times in my life I’ve come to battle with that voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough.  A lot of us have our own versions of the voice.  Some name it.  They call it “Ego.”  Or “Fear.”  Some call it “The Doubter.”  or “The Saboteur.”  Mine is just a part of me.  Throughout my life it’s been my most constant companion.  It’s not soft spoken.  It won’t be ignored.  And yet, somehow, I’ve managed to co-exist with it and still succeed.  I wish I could tell you how.  Or write a formula for the key.

Maybe part of the reason for my ability to live with this negative companion and still ‘succeed’ is because of my definition of success.  Am I a millionaire?  Absolutely not.  Do I want to be?  Of course.  I still expect to be.  But I’m not there.  Not even close.  I don’t measure my success by money.  I measure it by the fact that I am doing what I think I was put here on earth to do.  I feel as though I am fulfilling my purpose.  I have something to give the world, a talent that I am meant to share, a way of getting to the heart of the matter and helping others access that place, too.  I set out at fourteen to write for Harlequin Books.  I signed my first contract with them in 1992.  I am still under contract with them.  My heart tells me I am a success.

I’ve been patted on the head.  I’ve been called woo woo.  I’ve watched people shake their heads at me.  I’ve been constantly reminded that I am not at the place I need to be.  Numbers aren’t as good as some want.  Money isn’t as good as some want.  There’s always something that isn’t good enough.  Yet I continue to feel as though I am right where I need to be, doing what I need to be doing.  I feel.  And there is my key.  I don’t judge myself by my head.  I don’t let the voices, inside me and those that come at me from the outside, define me.  Oh, they have an effect.  They drag me down.  They let me experience despair.  And, in the end, they strengthen me as I develop the muscle to disregard them enough to continue doing what I do.

I pay my bills.  And if my writing didn’t pay my bills, I’d do something else that would, and still write.  Because while paying the bills is necessary, it isn’t my purpose.  It is only a means that allows my physical existence to do what it is meant to do.  To write the books that touch people’s lives.

As I raised my daughter the one message I tried to get across to her more than any other was that in all things, she need only listen to her heart and she would be okay.  I wanted her to consider my advice on matters, but then listen to her own heart and make her decisions.  Over and over I would tell her to listen to her heart.  To trust her heart.  I don’t agree with all of her choices, but I support her completely, because I believe she acts from her heart.  I would have it no other way.

Our hearts define us.  They are our uniqueness in a crowded world.  They contain our essence.  Our purpose.  Our individualness.  (I know that’s not a word, but it conveys what I want to say.)  The heart contains the still small voice.  The one that will lead and guide us on this very complicated journey called life.  Your heart is the one thing you can trust in the midst of the cacophony coming at you all day every day in so many ways from so many sources, known and unknown.

I once had someone tell me that I was too much about heart.  That I needed to get into my head or the world was always going to run me over.  I believed that for a while.  But over time, I knew that I’d had it right before.  That I needed to come from my heart.  And today, completely without my seeking it out or knowing that I needed uplifting, I was presented with support.  From someone who doesn’t even know I exist.  Because that is how the universe works.  When we live from our hearts, we all help each other.  We don’t have to know who or when or how.  We don’t even have to know what.  The heart is what joins us all.  It is what knows.  We just need to have the faith to listen.  And then to act.  Trusting that if we live true to ourselves, we are fulfilling our purpose.

I leave you with a quote from Jim Carrey, given this past spring at a commencement address:  “Everything you gain in life will rot and fall apart.  All that will be left is what’s in your heart.”  Thank you, Mr. Carrey.


That darn Cash Out Button! (Suzanne Forster)

So, we’re back from Vegas.  Yes, we survived the heat, the crowds, the Strip and the amazing outlet mall sales.  We even had fun.  However, what happens in Vegas definitely stays there, including our money.

This would be a sad story if it wasn’t so weirdly funny.  First, a little background.  We used to gamble a bit back in the day when slot machines still had handles and you could push nickels into the slot for hours without going broke.  What a kick when the bells went off, the lights flashed and the tray by your knees filled with nickels.  Allan would play 21 while I watched, and then he would convince me to try it because he believed in beginner’s luck.  And I often did win, not big amounts, but enough to pay for a show or a dinner.  It was fun.

Now the slots are pretty bewildering with the array of combinations that can win and all the choices that come up as you’re playing.  Betting correctly takes some savvy too.  Just getting our player cards initialized was a challenge.  You can’t just sit down at a machine anymore.  You have to register first and get a player card.

When I won, the machine would ask me if I wanted to “Take the offer” or “Try the options.”  Later I found out if it’s a small win, you should always try the options because there’s a good chance you’ll win more.  Why didn’t someone tell me sooner!

Still, my beginner’s luck did not fail me.  First, our hotel gave us free money to gamble with at another hotel on the Strip called The Cosmopolitan, which is a pretty dazzling place.  We got our player cards “loaded” with the free money at the Identity Play Counter and they set us loose in the 100,000 square-foot casino.

I was playing a $25 card on the least bewildering machine I could find, and I saw winnings come up periodically when the lights went on.  It was a modest win overall, not more than $15, but when my player card ran out of money, I thought it was all over.  I figured the machine had put my winnings back on the card and I’d played them and lost.   So … we went to another machine and I played another $25 card.  Same thing.  The $25 was gone before I knew it and so were my winnings.

By the third machine, Allan noticed a man who was following us from machine to machine, just standing behind us and watching me play.   I continued to win, but as before, my winnings failed to materialize in any way I could discern by the time the card was empty.  By this time, there were two or three people watching us.  I wanted to keep on playing, but that was all the free money we had and I didn’t want to risk our own money because we’d lost so much so quickly.  Before I could get up, a cocktail waitress came by and asked if we wanted something to drink.

I jokingly told her it was a $75 drink because I’d played three $25 cards without winning anything.  She looked at the machine and said, “Hon, you got winnings there, look!  You just have to hit the Cash Out button and the machine will print you a voucher that you can take over to the Cashier’s window.”

Suddenly, Allan and I realized why we were so popular.  We’d been leaving our winnings at each machine for others to collect.  The small crowd behind us had scattered by the time I hit the Cash Out button and collected my $20.  Allan and I figured that we would have won somewhere between $45 to $60 total if we’d known what we were doing.  Not a fortune to be sure, but not bad considering it wasn’t our money to begin with.

When we left Vegas, the hotel gave us an incentive to come back:  Two more gambling gift cards.  Believe me, if we do go back, we’ll know how to use them!


Bestselling Collection for 99 Cents! (Alicia Rasley)

Thanks to Lynn and the other Broads for hosting me today! My name is Alicia Rasley, and I’m most famous for my role as Lynn’s navigator on several driving trips in England. (Or maybe I should say that Lynn was “my chauffeur”.)

Actually, when we were getting lost in the English countryside, Lynn and I took the time to plot a ghost story. Gwen’s Ghost has now been reprinted in a boxed set with five other Regencies. So I thought I’d explain a bit more about the project, and ask you all a question: Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever had an experience with ghosts or hauntings? If you comment, you’ll be enrolled in the Story Broads raffle for a free Kindle Fire! 1 regency masquerades 3-d

When Lynn and I wrote Gwen’s Ghost, we wanted to explore one aspect of “ghost-ness,” the idea that “unfinished business” is one purpose for lingering after death. From that theme came the story of Valerian Caine, the Georgian dandy (complete with high-heeled pumps and velvet face patches) killed in a duel and brought back almost a century later to fix the family feud his death had started. Of course, he can’t appear in 1816 as himself, so he poses as Jocelyn Vayle, a man who has lost his memory. The only one who sees through his masquerade is Gwen Sevaric, the acerbic descendant of the man who had killed him a century ago.

This book joins five other Regency romances in a boxed set dedicated to that theme of “masquerade.” The Regency Masquerades set offers six different views of romantic masquerades, with reasons ranging from the pragmatic to the desperate.

In The Lady from Spain by Gail Eastwood, the hero and heroine are disguised for the very good reason that they must hide their identities to survive in a time of war.

The Earl’s Revenge by Allison Lane is a tale of two people who – like so many authors—are using professional identities to present their work (illustration and satire) while protecting their positions in society.

In Daring Deception, by Brenda Hiatt, Frederica dons a disguise and obtains a domestic post in the household of a man she will be forced to marry. Posing as a frumpy housekeeper, she knows she can learn what this lord is really like, and what secrets he is concealing.

In The Redwyck Charm by Elena Greene: An heiress yearning for adventure, Juliana Hutton masquerades as an opera dancer to escape an arranged marriage. Her erstwhile betrothed uses an assumed name to have one last adventure before he too is forced into this marriage.

And then, in Lynn’s other book anthologized here, Lucy in Disguise, the young heroine has disguised herself as a witch to scare away those who might harm her best friend. At the same time, the hero chooses to take up the role of a smuggler to escape the restrictions of his high social position.

This leads to another question—why is disguise such a compelling theme in romance? Usually the characters have what they think is a good practical reason to hide their identities. But there’s a deeper need underlying the use of the masquerade. I think that perhaps what we conceal is what we reveal, that donning a mask lets us paradoxically be more ourselves. In some ways, most of us are often pretending even without a disguise, aren’t we? Yet true love can come only when we reveal our true selves.

The masquerade allows simultaneous concealment and revealing. And let’s face it—masks and ghosts are just plain fun, or we wouldn’t be celebrating Halloween every October!

To see how each type of masquerade plays out, buy Regency Masquerades, a digital boxed set containing six full-length novels by award-winning authors. For a short time, this set is just 99 cents! Buy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo Books.

Addictive Personality c’est moi – Carolyn

I have an addictive personality. Just ask me the prime place chocolate holds in my life. Thank God I am also something of an Epicurean rather than a hedonist. One of my professors used to say that Hedonists live for pleasure, whatever the consequences. Epicureans love pleasure, but they avoid the pain that overdoing brings afterwards. In other words, Epicureans don’t get drunk because of hangover. I started smoking when I was twelve and quit when I was thirteen. Nasty, and even then expensive. I am too miserly to spend megabucks on something that makes me sick at my stomach and smells bad. And I don’t drink. One glass of wine puts me under the table and gives me an incredible headache the next day. Besides, the sweet cocktails I like have too many calories.

I have enough trouble with the addictions I do have. See above: chocolate. I can do without it for weeks at a time like a dry drunk who hasn’t had a drink in weeks, then all of a sudden I head for Dinstuhl’s (Memphis’s answer to Godiva, and I think, better chocolate, but that’s only my opinion). I can eat a pound of chocolate covered strawberries or milk chocolate pecan bark at a single sitting. I don’t really like dark chocolate. Of course, I don’t like the stuff that’s actually good for me. Roast chicken without the skin? Foggeddaboutit. Give me southern fried, preferably with cucumber sandwiches.

At the moment I have two addictions. Anything that interferes with the smooth and sane running of one’s life is an addiction, right? I read on average one and a half to two murder mysteries a day on my IPad. I try to pick inexpensive books by new and very old authors, but my Amazon account is still about where it might be if I went to Tunica to the casinos one a week. By the way, I don’t gamble either. I went to the James Bond casino in Monaca, watched and enjoyed, and literally did not spend a dime gambling. Who wants to waste money that way? I don’t win stuff, unlike my critique mate Barbara, who wins so often it’s a disgrace.

Now I have added a second addition, and it’s a doozy. It’s a bunch of puzzles about spacial awareness called Cross Fingers. I’ve worked my way through every level except genius. I started that yesterday and discovered that, yea, lo, verily, if I ever was a genius, I am certainly not one any longer. Interfere with my life? You betcha. I have very little patience at the best of times, but I struggle with these puzzles until I solve them, then I try to beat my time. The difficulty is that I haven’t found any other games that I am interested in playing. Do not, please, offer me an avatar. I’m not even certain what that is. I am not interested in blowing up cars or shooting molls. And I hate noise.

I have made up my mind to quit cold turkey. The games, not the reading. That’s a lost cause. Now, if I can just finish the genius level…

Why I Love Romance (Pat)

I’m participating in a writing panel next saturday at Memphis’s largest book store.  The subject is romance novels and my particular role is to speak on the appeal of romance in literature.

We often get a bad rap from those who have never read romance, particularly those in the media.   I usually want to throw a shoe at the television, but then I resist.   The know-nothings are not worth it.   Instead, I take great satisfaction in my own knowledge of how many people read, and love, romance.   I often speak to librarians in our local library system; it’s part of their training.    I love the surprise when I run trhough the statistics.

For instance, romance fiction is the largst share of the U.S. consumer book market, according to statistics.   Romance was the top performing category on the best seller lists in 2012 based on the best selling llists (New York Times, USA Today and Publisher’s Weekly).    Approximately 74 million people read at least one romance every year.

As for money:  Romance fiction accounted for $1.438 billion in sales in 2012; Religion/Inspiration, $717.9 million; Mystery, $728.2 million; Science Fiction/Fantasy, $590.2 million, and Classic Literary fiction, $470.5 million.

Ha.  So there, I say to the doubters.

But there’s more in my presentation to librarians and others. .

Romance is the oldest of all literature, going back to Chinese romantic poetry, and think of some of the most revered literary couples, including:Isolde and Tristan and  Romeo and Juliet.   Of course, unlike today’s romance, these stories did not end happily.   But romance has always been at the heart of much of iterature, especially the most beloved literature.

I love to quotes from a book called “Rotten Reviews.”    It’s an assortment of bad reviews for revered literature.   Here’s one of my favorite about a Jane Austen book:   “I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen’s novels in high regard.   They seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic investion. . . without genius, wit or knowlege of the world.”

Except people loved. them.  So much for reviewers.

Today’s romance celebrate life instead of death.   And the one qualification, according to Romance Writers of America, is the emphasis must be on the relationship of two people and must end happily.or, at the very least, satisfactorily.   Anything else goes:  mystery, history, suspense, new worlds.   You name it.   The only promise: there will be a smile on your face when you finish.

I know most of you know this.   You’re part of this community because you love romance, but it’s a lot of ammunition to throw at doubters.


All things pumpkin

I love all things pumpkin! I also love to cook. After writing, cooking and baking are my favorite activities. Often when I’m standing at the stove, I I do a lot of good story plotting or figure out how to solve problems with my current work-in-process.

This is why, when I stopped at the meat market section of my local grocery the other day, the butcher and I discussed the Chinese Lion’s Head soup I was going to make (the recipe calls for Napa cabbage, which resembles a lion’s mane). While he filled my order for the ground pork I needed for the recipe, he told me about the pumpkin bisque he was making for dinner that night. He was going to use the pumpkin puree his wife had made from sugar pumpkins.

I was intrigued and decided to try my hand at making pumpkin puree. I got a recipe from the internet and began. First, I bought small sugar pumpkins (each weighing around two pounds ) and washed them.

sugar pumpkins

Next, I cut off the tops, halved the pumpkins, and scooped out the guts. Messy! But far easier to cut into pint-size pumpkins than the big ones. I set aside the seeds for roasting later. My halved pumpkins fit on two baking sheets, and went into a preheated 350-degree oven.

sugar pumpkin halves

This is what the pumpkins looked like about 50 minutes later. Unfortunately, the two darker ones on the back sheet were over-cooked and had to be tossed. :-( But the rest were perfect.

baked sugar pumpkins

I let them cool for a good hour, then removed the skin. Happily, it slid off in my fingers. I put the insides into my food processor and pulsed until smooth.

sugar pumpkin puree

For my efforts, I ended up with 8 cups of pumpkin puree, which I divided into two 4-cup portions and froze. I’m going to pull them out and use for my Thanksgiving pies. I know this puree will make for yummy pies. Already salivating!

Have you ever made pies from puree you prepared? If so, I’d love to hear your stories and recipe tips.

Thanks for letting me share! Until next Thursday,


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Unlimited Free Reading for Thirty Days (Tara Taylor Quinn)

So my big news this week…

Number One New York Times Bestselling Author, Debbie Macomber, endorsed tnTheFriendshipPactThe Friendship Pact! Here is what she had to say:

“Tara Taylor Quinn tackles the subject of friendship—especially friendship between women—with the emotional investment she brings to all her books. Her writing is dramatic, her characters realistic, her stories involving.”

Debbie is a woman I’ve admired for many many years.  She’s a woman who has faced adversities many of us face, and some that many of us will never face.  From worrying about where her next meal was going to come from and spending her last ten dollars, the family grocery money, on postage to mail in a manuscript, to the death of her son, she has faced adversity.  Real tragedy.  And she remains a generous, giving woman who seems to always have a smile for anyone and everyone she faces.

She is gracious.  Human.  And never forgets where she came from or how it feels to fight to get ahead.  She has enough success now to buy a desert island and retire to paradise.  Instead, she’s writing non-fiction, to try to help others.  A children’s story.  And knitting patterns.  She’s still writing the women’s fiction novels that bring so many of us comfort and joy as we escape into world’s we want to inhabit.  And she’s still making time to have play days with her grandchildren.

Let’s have a Debbie Friendship day here.  For your ‘today’ entry into the Kindle Fire contest tell us what Debbie Macomber book you like most.  Or, if you haven’t read her, you can tell us that too.  But if you haven’t read her, you’ll probably want to.  And I have a way you can do it for free.  Simply go to tn_WhereTheRoadEnds_jpg (click on the book cover!) and start a completely free 30 day trial at Scrib’d.  You can read as many books as you’d like during your trial period.  Many of Debbie’s books are there.  And there are 44 ttq titles there as well.  If you like what you see, you can subscribe after your thirty days are up.  It’s $8.99 a month with no limit to how many books you can read.  It’s like Netflix for books.  Keep in mind, though, for now, these are all backlist titles.  You can find current releases on the site, but you have to buy them, so beware!  One last tip – this site is the only site where you’ll find Harlequin titles in this kind of program.  Harlequin granted Scrib’d an exclusive.

Happy Reading everyone!

Loose in Las Vegas (Suzanne Forster)

Everything they say about Vegas is true.  It’s sunny here every day.  It’s hot (at least in October), Vegas never sleeps and what happens here, stays here.

Well, probably true.  Not sure about that last one, but I’m guessing what happens here stays here because people are too tired to talk about it!  Wow, what a busy place.  This is our third day here and I’m ready for a vacation.

We’ve not gamblers, but we’ve eaten at the buffets (too much food, groan!), strolled the casinos and shopped ‘til we dropped at the outlets.  Amazing deals.  We have a couple shows on our schedule and I’m looking forward to not sleeping through them, but all bets are off.  I was surprised at the ticket prices.  Broadway is much more expensive, from my experience.

One thing I’ve noticed.  People don’t look happy here—and I’m talking about the vacationers.  The people who work here are invariably cheerful, perhaps because they’re not trying to do a gazillion things in three to five days, which I’m told is the average stay here in this bewilderingly bright and hyperactive town.  I understand why, too.  It’s all people can take.

We’re not staying in a casino-hotel, thank goodness.  We’re in time-share vacation club accommodations that have full kitchens, dining and living room combos and up to three bedrooms, so our lodgings are a nice refuge from it all.  There aren’t even any slots here.

Despite all of the craziness, we’re having fun.  Today, we’re heading out to Red Rock Canyon, a hidden gem that we’re told has hills and natural rock formations everywhere you look, and not just red ones.  There are black, white and pink hills too.  I can’t wait.  Apparently pictures don’t begin to do this canyon justice, but we’ll be taking some anyway.  If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll see a desert tortoise.