Every March, a miracle takes place in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. The Sandhill Cranes return by the thousands, during early spring on their migration route north, to mate & create their nests. Considered a high mountain desert area & rimmed by the spectacular snow-capped Sangre de Cristo & San Juan mountain ranges, the melting snow from the nearby mountains is enough to create wet marshes in this temperate valley that the cranes especially love for their breeding grounds.
Yet what lends an even more epic quality to this annual beautiful migration, beyond the return of thousands of cranes (as far as the eye can see), is the fact that this species of crane has been coming to the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado for millions of years.
The phenomenon of these lovers' return is so ancient that it has been preserved in petroglyphs etched by Native Americans throughout the Southwestern U.S. for thousands of years.
Now, anyone who's read my blog or my books knows that I am as sentimental as they come and a sucker for true love! So of course it captured my attention that these elegant birds, who mate for life, are known for having a lovely heart-shaped marking on their foreheads. If you've read my novel Twixt, and seen how much I love the mysterious raven, then you'll understand why the Sandhill Cranes made my imagination soar, and I just had to use them as a symbol for the ancient lovers featured in my new novel Mission Archangel--the magical sequel to Twixt in the Enchanted Outlaws Series that tells the love story of Rose's best friend, Amy Tinker.
So while researching Mission Archangel (which will be out this summer), I took a trip to the San Luis Valley where the novel is set to see the sights, sounds, and in particular, the beautiful arrival of the Sandhill Cranes against the back drop of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
My only problem? They hadn't arrived yet! Despite the fact that I got up at dark-thirty in the morning & toted binoculars to the marsh areas of the San Luis Valley to see them in the freezing cold, there were no Sandhill Cranes to be found. Unfortunately, I'd hit the migration season a bit early in the year, so a little dejected, I went back to my hotel and picked up my husband & sons and took them out for breakfast. My children begged to go to a local skatepark afterwards, so I obliged them, and then I decided to take the long way back to our hotel on a remote country road to show my family some of the spectacular scenery of the area.
To my total surprise, and in one of the most magical moments of my life, the Sandhill Cranes began to arrive at that exact moment! I tear up just thinking about it--as my small family stepped out of our car and looked over the wetlands, the sky became peppered with the dark silhouettes of these elegant birds, arriving by the hundreds, to land in the marsh area. And I'll never forget their beautiful calls to one another as they began to arrive, with that reedy, haunting quality, as if to say, "We're here! We made it! Let the dancing begin!" Because what the Sandhill Cranes do during their mating season is spread their giant, 5-7 foot wings & leap & spiral & float in ornate dances that they spontaneously create for one another, which they began to do as we watched, spellbound, by this natural phenomenon.
My children were just as silent & mesmerized as I was as we watched these lovely birds move in almost a choreographed way for each other, with their striking white and red markings and long, elegant necks & legs.
And even though the cattails & marsh areas were still covered by frost, that didn't seem to deter the Sandhill Cranes as they gathered in huge flocks, sending out their lyrical calls that echoed over the wetlands to herald their annual greetings.
Because this was a special "research" trip for me to stir up ideas & be inspired to write Mission Archangel, I have to admit I felt especially blessed to catch sight of these birds, and it made me feel as though my novel might have a very auspicious--and even magical--destiny. I hope this novel can measure up to this early-morning sacred moment I was able to experience, and most of all, I hope that Mission Archangel will remind us all of the eternal beauty of the path of these ancient lovers & their enchanting return to the San Luis Valley.
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