April 2003 Whispered Watchword
A Southwestern Trip Through Girl's Series Books
At the end of January, I had the opportunity to travel to the Southwestern United States. I had never spent much time in this part of the country and I was excited about the trip. I looked at a lot of guidebooks and planned out my route and the places that I would see along the way. TO add to my experience, I began to read some girl's series books that are set in New Mexico and Arizona.
The books I choose were Mystery in Arizona, a Trixie Belden, Dude Ranch Nurse, A Cherry Ames, Black Cat Gulch, a Connie Blair and Adventure Girls at K-Bar-O an Adventure Girls book.
I think this was the first Trixie Belden that I had read since I was in third grade. I never liked Trixie very much after my first initial readings when I was a kid and I had never given her another chance. Mystery in Arizona was not as bad as I had been expecting. The BobWhites spend Christmas vacation at a Dude Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. (Bobby does not go along, so only has a small role in the beginning of the book.) The family who works on the Dude Ranch has mysteriously gone away and in order to stay for their vacation, The BobWhites must work as waiters and maids. Trixie tries to uncover the "mystery" of why the family of Mexican-Americans left so abruptly.
I was impressed with the wealth of information that the author relayed about the flora and fauna of the desert. It helps that Trixie is not doing well in school and one condition of the trip is that she studies in her spare time. One interesting tidbit is the use of Pyracantha to decorate at Christmas. It is a holly-like bush that grows in the desert.
The BobWhites do get to participate in some tourist activities. They visit San Xavier Mission, the Colossal Cave and "Old Tucson". They visit Nogales across the border in Mexico and Saguaro and Casa Grande National Monuments (Saguaro is now a National Park). This book was copyrighted 1958 and was the most modern of the four books that I read.
In Cherry Ames, Dude Ranch Nurse, it is 1953 and Cherry takes an assignment in Tucson, Arizona at the hacienda de dos Montes. This Dude Ranch is full of asthma sufferers and there was a lot of nursing information about their treatment. Cherry also gets to explain her job to a young girl, who wants to be a nurse. The only other Cherry Ames that I have read is Ski Nurse, so this book was new for me also.
The mystery that Cherry has to solve is a missing and mysterious inheritance of the young girl at the hacienda. There is a soap opera full of personalities at the hacienda. The Doctor, the Head Nurse, and the other Patients provide lots of drama. There is not as much southwestern atmosphere as there was in the Trixie Belden Book. The author does mention the La Fiesta de Los Vaqueros. This is a cowboy festival that goes on in Tucson in February. It was also mentioned in the Trixie Belden book (Trixie and her friends were going to miss the festival).
The Next book I tackled was an old favorite of mine, Black Cat Gulch, by Betsy Allen. This is a Connie Blair Mystery. Connie visits Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico. The copyright of the book was 1948. Connie works for an advertising company in Philadelphia and she travels with her boss to investigate Colors in the Desert for a textile company. What a great job! There is plenty of southwestern flavor in this book because that is basically Connie's job. She is supposed to observe the landscape and the people and bring back ideas for color schemes.
The mystery is helping an archaeologist form the Philadelphia Museum (that they very conveniently meet en route) to find a man named Twisty. There are lots of twists and turns and Connie ends up bringing down a counterfeiting ring! I just love the atmosphere in this book. The hotel that they stay at in Santa Fe sounds delightful. There are wonderful descriptions of the countryside, the rooms, buildings and the people.
The final book in my quartet is the Adventure Girls at K-Bar-O. It was written in 1936. This was the first time that I had ever read an Adventure Girls book and I would be interested in reading another one. It was a little hard to keep the characters straight, as there are six adventure girls! They are Gale, Carol, Janet, Phyllis, Madge, and Valerie. Plus they are visiting the cousin of one of the girls, Virginia! Whew! They are of course, vacationing at a ranch in Arizona and they certainly have plenty of adventures. It seems like each chapter is one crisis after another. Cattle rustlers plague the ranch. This is the main mystery they solve. They also foil a bank robbery in town and when the bank robbers escape, the adventure girls are targets for revenge. They spend the night in a haunted cabin, and one girl barely escapes form a rattlesnake. Two of the girls are captured by the bank robbers (or is it the cattle rustlers?) And then they escape. They take a camping trip across the countryside that would have taken a month at least! (I was driving and it took me two weeks and these girls were on horseback). They visit the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Monument Valley, Painted Desert, and the Betatakin Cliff Dwellings. One girl ropes a cougar and the bad guys kidnap another again!
This book was a whirlwind tour of the Southwest and my only complaint is that I have no idea who these girls are. The author seemed to concentrate on two of the girls. Gale and Valerie did emerge with personalities. Gale wants to be a doctor (maybe) and Valerie was the sickly one. (They came out west hoping the dry climate would improve her health). I wonder if other Adventure Girls books concentrate on the other girls and that to properly meet all the girls you must read all the books?
These four books give the reader a nice taste of what the American Southwest was like 50 to 70 years ago. I must say that it is not that different today. There are more cars and it seems like everyone has a TV. But the American Southwest is still a vast desert with many areas that are desolate and wild. It was fun to read these books and I recommend them to anyone who wants to take an armchair trip to the American Southwest.