Saturday, May 25, 2013

Rock Climbing in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy

Some people contend that our individual personalities are molded from our past experiences. My three books of the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy came from my research on prehistoric cultures, my imagination, and my past experiences.  The rock climbing episodes in the first and second books came mostly from my past experiences. 

Figure Two.
I took the dialogue below (in blue) from Chapter 9 of Shadows on the Trail where a villainous tribe has forced the women and children slaves of another tribe to scale a granite rock wall in the haunted Spirit Rock Canyon. Add in a death-defying waterfall right next to the rock wall and a long fall into the river below and it should translate into compelling drama. That is if I am any good at writing at all!  
When I wrote Chapter 9, I envisioned a rock wall similar to the rock wall in Figure two, but not quite so steep. I would tell you how the story of the rock wall ends up in the book, but I better let you read Shadows on the Trail to find out for yourself. Let me introduce you to the characters in the dialogue below. Ayasha was a young orphan girl in the captured tribe and Namid was a strong young woman from the same tribe who was watching out for Ayasha.         
Ayasha was the next climber. She hesitated to take the first breathtaking step onto the rock wall, right above the vertical cliff. Ayasha looked down at the cloud of mist rising above the river. Namid gently placed her hands on Ayasha’s waist.
            “You will be all right!” Namid told her. “I will be right behind you!”         
            “I am scared!”
            “We are both scared, but we must do this!”
            The rope around Ayasha tightened as the prisoner climbing in front of her had reached the rope’s limit.
            “You must go, Ayasha!” Namid pleaded.
           Ayasha touched the rock wall with her fingers, searching for a finger hold. Finally, she stepped out onto the rock wall, her legs shaking. She took a step, hesitated, and then took another step. 
           “Good, Ayasha! See how easy it is!” Namid said, praising the small girl. “I am right behind you!”
          Ayasha took several more steps up the rock wall with Namid climbing closely behind her. Ayasha was almost to the top of the rock wall when she glanced over to her right and spied Chindi, the monstrous waterfall. Ayasha’s muscles froze on the rock wall, under the captivating spell of the waterfall. 
          This rock climbing event in the book came from the personal experience I had with rock climbing in college. Even though I was scared of heights when I was younger, I let a group of friends in college convince me to technically rock climb with them. Over the course of two years, I thought I had cured my fear of heights or that is what I thought. 
         On one particular climb, my friend and I climbed up a vertical crack in the granite rock face to about one hundred feet above the ground. There, the vertical crack disappeared and directly above us the rock face overhung like a massive granite ceiling. We knew we were not skilled enough to climb the overhang and the only way out of the predicament was to find a way around the overhang. To our right was a steep featureless rock wall that wrapped around the side of the overhang. This was our only chance. Our dilemma was that this rock wall was as smooth as glass with only a few small rock crystals to put our boots or fingers on and there was no way to protect against a long fall (we did not bring what are called  rock bolts). Climbing across the rock wall and slipping meant a very long free fall for one of us.  
Figure Three.
      We both tried to climb across the rock wall, but we lacked the intestinal fortitude or mental toughness to handle it. Neither of us had the guts to take a thirty or forty foot teeth-jarring fall before the climbing rope caught us. Then, one hundred feet above the ground, we began panicking and making mental errors.  The rock wall defeated us and we rappelled back to the ground with our tails tucked between our legs. It was a very long time before I went rock climbing again and after that episode, climbing would never be the same.  
        Figure three above is what I envisioned the river looked like from the rock wall that Ayasha and Namid climbed in the above passage from Shadows on the Trail. This is not exactly a reassuring sight, even if you are not the one climbing it.  
        I hope you enjoy Shadows on the Trail and share your thoughts and comments with me and others. Shadows on the Trail is available in paperback and e book at, Barnes and, and many other booksellers. 

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dire Wolves vs. Gray Wolves in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy

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           Chayton and Kangi held their breaths and listened to the night with Pahin. Chayton heard the croak of a bullfrog near the creek and the chirping of a cricket near the trail, but other than that, the night was silent. Then, the hunters all heard it, a wolf howling in the canyon. The hunters held their breaths and continued to listen, attempting to pinpoint the direction of the howl. A wolf howled and then another wolf returned the howl.
            "We must hurry, they are behind us,” Pahin stated.  
            The crescent moon was now high in the sky and its light reflected off the scattered clouds, making it light enough to make out the trail in front of them. The three hunters ascended a knoll and from there they saw the small yellow lights from the tribe’s campfires.

“There is our camp!” Pahin yelled over his shoulder. “We have almost made it!”
Chayton managed to laugh from his tired lungs as he looked over his shoulder to make sure Kangi was still following. The adrenalin of the three hunters sped them along the trail, as the campfires grew larger. 
The black wolf galloped effortlessly along the trail, invisible in the dark, like a demon of the night. The wind curled up its lips exposing its large canine teeth into what resembled a smile. The monstrous animal no longer needed a scent to follow the humans. The black wolf turned its head and snarled at the others, a warning for the pack to remain quiet. The lust of the kill flowed through the gaunt body of the black wolf as it picked up its pace to a full run. 
Kangi never heard the black wolf before it slammed into him, knocking him down....

            The above passage comes from Chapter 3 of Shadows on the Trail where three members of the prehistoric tribe, the Folsom People, encounter a pack of starving wolves. When this story took place 10,700 years ago, humans and wolves were at the same level in the food chain; many prehistoric humans ended up as the main meal course for packs of voracious wolves while wolves served as a food source for prehistoric humans. While the prehistoric humans had fire and spears to defend themselves against these formidable predators, wolves roamed in packs of ten, twenty or even more wolves. It does not take much of an imagination to see the dilemma humans had!
                               Figure one - Size comparison between Dire Wolf and Gray Wolf.

            When I wrote Shadows on the Trail, I thought about using dire wolves, an extinct wolf species, but after doing my overall research on wolves, I concluded that gray wolves were more efficient hunters than dire wolves, therefore a more threatening species. Although dire wolves were larger than gray wolves (calculated to weigh 25% more from fossil evidence) and had a more powerful bite (calculated to be 129% of a gray wolf's bite), they were not as fleet of foot (based on their heavier build) and dire wolves were most likely less intelligent (based on their smaller brain cavity).
Figure two - Comparison between gray wolf skull on the left and
extinct dire wolf skull on the right (courtesy Dire Wolf Project).
          While gray wolves were social, highly intelligent, and efficient predators of both small and large game, it appears dire wolves focused their hunting and scavenging on the large megafauna of the Pleistocene which ultimately went extinct. Shortly thereafter, dire wolves also went extinct.

Figure three - Artist's depiction of a dire wolf
(courtesy of


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            Over sixteen hundred remains of dire wolves have been excavated from the Rancho La Brea
tar pits in southern California while only eight gray wolves have been excavated from the same tar pits. Even if the population was much greater for dire wolves than for gray wolves, the disparity of fossil remains at the tar pits between dire and gray wolves is significant. The evidence seems to indicate that a large part of dire wolves' existence in the area depended on scavenging the large mammals that were already trapped in the tar, ultimately becoming stuck themselves. The lack of gray wolves in the tar pits may indicate that they chose different animals to hunt or were smart enough to stay out of the tar. The bottom line is gray wolves survived into modern times by being efficient and intelligent predators while dire wolves faded away into extinction with mammoths, short-faced bears, camelops, wild horses, and several other species. 

That was my rationale for using a species that was not only extremely dangerous to prehistoric humans, but also highly intelligent and fleet of foot, thus Canis lupus or the gray wolf was one of the star predators in Shadows on the Trail

Figure four - Gray wolf, super predator. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Shadows on the Trail - Spear Throwing and Baseball Pitching

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        The historical novel Shadows on the Trail takes place in northern Texas and southern Colorado right around 10,700 years ago. Many of the animals the Paleoindians used for food were fast, large, and/or dangerous, so the weapon system used by these Paleoindians meant a great deal towards their surviving or not surviving. Since bow and arrow technology would not show up in North America until sometime around A.D. 500 and domesticated horses did not land with the Spaniards until the late 1500s, the weapon technology used by North American Paleoindians was fairly limited. I sure would not want to hunt some of these big predator and prey animals with the weapons they had.

       North American Paleoindians brought with them from the Old World a technology called the spearthrower or atlatl. An atlatl consisted of a two foot long or so wooden shaft with a handle or finger grips on one end and an attached hook made from antler or bone on the opposite end. Near the center of the atlatl's wooden shaft was often times a rock weight used for balance or whipping action. Figure One demonstrates the use of an atlatl to launch a spear while extending the length of the hunter's throwing arm (Photo courtesy of University of New Mexico).

Figure One
       The basic physics of how an atlatl worked for Paleoindians can be explained using a comparison with a major league baseball pitcher (Figure Two). For baseball pitchers, the force used to throw a baseball X (times) the distance the ball is released from the point of rotation is what matters the most for speed. In baseball pitching and atlatl throwing, the point of rotation is the shoulder. If a longer arm is moving at the same rate of speed as a shorter arm, the ball (or spear) at the point of release is moving faster with the longer arm. An atlatl creates a longer arm for the Paleoindian, therefore, creating more speed from the airborne spear. This was truly an innovative idea.

Figure Two

       Another modern-day example that uses the same physics as an atlatl is the tennis ball thrower used in dog parks around the world for throwing tennis balls further and faster for our furry friends to fetch. Figure Three shows a tennis ball thrower used by a dog owner with his attentive pooch sitting beside him, waiting for the chance to retrieve that fuzzy yellow ball.  Replace the tennis ball with a spear and this dog owner resembles a Paleoindian hunter using an atlatl.
Figure Three. 

       Now, let's return to 10,700 years ago in our time machine. When a Paleoindian hunter was confronting a large and dangerous prey animal, such as the one and a half ton Bison bison antiquus, he had a choice. The hunter could get close enough to thrust his spear into the vital organs of the dangerous beast or he could throw the spear with his bare arm, at speeds approaching 90 kilometers per hour. An even better approach for the Paleoindian hunter was to use the  trusty spearthrower or atlatl. According to David Meltzer (2009), A spear thrown with an atlatl averages 135 kilometers per hour with speeds exceeding 200 kilometers per hour during certain portions of the flight. Additionally, the world record for distance with an atlatl-assisted spear throw approaches 300 meters. Try that with an unaided hand-thrown spear!

       Below is an excerpt from Shadows on the Trail where our hero Chayton was hunting elk with his atlatl or spearthrower.

Chayton was ready to doze off again when he heard the sound of animal hooves running across the rocks. He focused his eyes on where he had heard the sound. Finally, directly in front of him, he saw two reddish brown patches darting in between the cedar trees. He reached down and carefully picked up a spear. He watched the trees while nervously running his thumb across the stone spear tip. He felt a stab of pain in his thumb and looked down. He had sliced open his thumb with the sharp spear tip.
          Chayton’s weary head pounded as he impatiently waited for the animals’ next move. Then, he realized he was breathing too fast and too loud; they may hear him. He slowed his breathing down and grasped the spear shaft in his hand. He placed the butt end of the spear into the notch of his spear thrower. Then, breathing very slowly, he waited. 
          Two majestic elk, a young bull and a cow, walked out from behind the trees, heading straight at Chayton. The bull led the way while the cow followed behind. The elk held their heads high and sniffed at the air, smelling for any danger that would set them off running. The elk, upwind from Chayton, did not pick up his scent and kept walking towards him.
          Chayton’s left throwing arm was cocked and ready to throw the first spear, but the bull was still walking straight at him. Chayton did not like his chances for a kill with this throw. The bull had no vital organs exposed to Chayton’s line of fire and unless Chayton threw perfectly and severed an artery, the elk would not go down. The last thing Chayton wanted to do was track a wounded elk in this rugged country.

Meltzer, D.J. (2009)  First People in the New World. University Of California Press. Berkeley.  
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Friday, May 3, 2013

Shadows on the Trail and Making Folsom Projectile Points

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Another great video by paleomanjim on YouTube. This guy is truly the modern master of flintknapping as his scarred and beat up fingers demonstrate.

In this video he used indirect percussion with a moose antler punch and rock hammer to flute the Folsom point. This is the same method I used for the Folsom People in Shadows on the Trail. As stated in the video by paleomanjim, this method is more accurate than direct percussion.

He did pressure flaking with a deer antler and the finer pressure flaking detail with a deer tine.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Shadows on the Trail Trilogy and the Making of a Folsom Point

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An excellent YouTube video done by a modern day flint knapping master, +paleomanjim, demonstrating his effective technique for fluting Folsom points, just like the heroes in Shadows on the Trail had to do. Click the video and enjoy!

The Making of a Folsom Point --


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