Saturday, November 22, 2014

Thanksgiving at the Lake 2004

Wednesday November 17, 2004: Apache Lake Resort boat ramp 6:36p.m.

Sunshine and Tyler dropped me here at about 3p.m. I took a short walk (approx. ½ mile) and set up camp right by the ramp. My plan is to scout the area for a couple of days and then load the canoe and move camp to a more secluded spot. For now, I'll enjoy a few of the amenities the resort has to offer, like showers and toilets. I have to be back here to meet Sunshine and family for Thanksgiving. I'll ferry them to my camp in the canoe.

I met some guys who’ve been here fishing for the last couple of days and haven’t caught anything. They tell me the bass don’t start hitting well here until December, but I’m looking for food not trophies and not just flipping spinner baits after bass, so I’m not too discouraged.

Preliminary scouting reveals that with a little effort firewood shouldn’t be a problem. There are many mesquite thickets and much deadfall. I dined this evening on the abundant windfall Jojoba nuts. Note to self: collect a couple pounds of these before the rodents beat me to it. I’ve also found hackberries to be in season, dry and tough, but sweet.
It’s been a beautiful, mostly clear day. The high was supposed to reach 80. I’m guessing 60-65 now with a slight breeze.

Thursday November 18, 2004, 10:45 pm

Spectacular meteor showers to the Northwest during the last two nights. I just saw a ringtail cat. I canoed about 6 miles today (round trip). I visited Saguaro Point, Fox Point, Haystack, Ash Creek, Horsetail Bay and 3 Bar Point. All to the west of my camp near Crabtree wash. I fished the entire time using rubber worms, minnows, diving plugs, spinners, salmon eggs, salty grubs, et,al. I threw everything I had at 'em to no avail. I didn’t even get a nibble.

When I returned, I hiked up to the resort and called my friend Frank in Payson and told him where I’m camped. He told me that my friend Pat, from Chevellon, will be following him down and they will be meeting me Monday. I guess I'll stay here by the marina until then so they can easily find me. I hope Dee and Mikey are coming also.

There were four grapefruits at the base of the tree behind my tent when I got here and I had one for breakfast. Lunch was Jojoba nuts. In the evening a young couple I met invited me to share their campfire and we had mesquite-roasted bratwurst for dinner. They also had Beck’s Dark beer and a doobie!

Friday November 19, 2004, 6:21 a.m.

I awoke today just before dawn to the hooting of an owl in a eucalyptus tree above me and chest pains on the right side of my body. (The owl is traditionally a portent of death or extreme change). Last time I had an owl in camp, Maya, my faithful companion of 13 years was dying. I pay attention to the owls, man. Upon rising I determined that my pain is of muscular origin, from rowing against the wind and current all day yesterday. The owl was simply a neighbor saying good-morning. I also saw a ringtail cat at about 1a.m. while out for a moonlight hike and resin toke. I’m going to give my aching ribs a break and stay out of the canoe today.

Well, I couldn’t stay off the lake. I rowed down to Needle Cove, again caught nothing. I’m starting to wonder if there’s even fish in this lake. I’ve seen huge bass skeletons on shore, but not only have I not had a nibble, I haven’t seen or heard of anybody catching anything. I haven’t even seen any minnows or crawdads. Frank can really fish. He’ll catch ‘em if anyone does. Brunch: Jojoba nuts and coffee. Dinner: the last of my grits.

Saturday November 20, 2004

11:34 am
I grabbed a piece of steak out of the dumpster at the resort last night and fished with it. I got 2 bites but didn’t catch anything. I’m going to row west and shoot me something today. Breakfast: grapefruit and coffee.

Now to digress a bit, which I’ll probably do a lot. I get overwhelmed sometimes with the awesomeness of what I’m doing. I feel like I’m the richest man in America. I mean wow! Just look at my front yard! Sure am hungry though, and the jojoba are starting to upset my stomach. They are very high in tannins.

I wore myself out rowing against the wind again . I talked to Dave today. He owns Apache Lake Resort and Marina. He says there hasn't been a fish caught for a while. Didn’t shoot any varmints as I found a tub of worms, but I still haven’t got anything. Horrible stink turtles are stripping my hook without even ringing the bell. I caught one, but it smelled so doggone bad, I couldn't fathom eating it. Dinner: 3 small pancakes and coffee. Ran out of flour. I have one grapefruit left. Not looking good for Apache Lake. The Forest Service fishing report said Apache had the best fishing of the three lakes, but they were obviously wrong.

I wish I'd stayed on the Verde again this Winter. I not only survive there, but thrive. No matter. It’s best I start out with the hard part anyway. Quite cloudy out tonight.

Took a late night hike and surprised a couple of fellas at the cove on the other side of the marina. When I turned the corner on them, they turned off their flashlights and hustled off in different directions. One was a guy I've seen pushing a broom at the resort. If they were getting high, I wish they hadn't been spooked. I'm almost out of resin and my pipes are pretty clean.

Sunday November 21, 2004, 11:30 a.m.

About 10p.m. last night I put my rain tarp up, and that was just in time. It’s been raining on and off all day. I just talked to Sunshine and she did an interview about me with News Zap or Newzap or something like that. We think it’s an online newspaper. She’s supposed to take a picture of me for them on Thursday when she comes.
The receptionist at the resort just told me they had a fishing tournament yesterday. I guess, out of 17 boats, only one caught a single fish. Game and Fish blames an algae bloom, (see I gave up today and had lunch at the Apache Lake Resort. A double swiss burger with French fries and an apple pie ala mode.
Latest report had the dead fish at Apache the result of both the algae bloom and runoff from fires. I asked Sunshine to check Game and Fish to see of the other lakes in the chain (i.e. Roosevelt, Canyon, and Saguaro) have suffered similar fates. If so, she’s going to check with the Cave Creek ranger station and try to get me an extended pass for Bartlett Lake.

I just talked to a guy who works here and he told me they opened the turbines at Roosevelt and that let a bunch of fire retardant flow down and it killed all the lakes. Also, he said there was a type of algae that got in from India somehow. I’ve heard a lot of reports about these airplane contrails and seen a lot of them here. On a clear day with no wind, I’ve seen them settle down as a mist, creating a fog through the entire valley. My local sources tell me they’ve seen smallmouth bass with open sores.

Another theory is that the crawdad population was wiped out and being the major food source for the bass, they starved. Fishing reports in the Arizona Republic and on the internet say the fishing through here is good. I don’t know where they get their information. The locals know better. It would seem they are trying to hide something. I’ve noticed that people cover things up for 3 reasons: Legal, political, or commercial. It’s 7:00 and the rain continues. I hope it’s done by tomorrow when my friends arrive.

Monday November 22, 2004, 10:25a.m.

And then the wind changed direction.

Its coming from the west now and that end of my tent is bent to the ground.

My rain fly ripped and one of my poles snapped. I repaired it with a hose clamp. The radio says it’s snowing in L.A. and Vegas. Feels like the temperature just dropped 10 degrees. The radio says its 49 degrees in phoenix with rain on and off today and tonight. That means it's much colder here.

Frank showed up, but nobody else wanted to come out in this cold rain. He started a fire using wet ground score willow during a downpour and then told me he had dry firewood but wanted to see if he could do it. We smoked some of his grass and drank a few beers and climbed a spur of Crabtree Wash to watch the fire. Then we went to the bar and had a few beers then I had a Martini and very strong White Russian.. Bad move on the white Russian after no food all day. I was up heaving out the tent most of the night.

Tuesday November 23, 2004, 5:15 p.m.

I awoke at 8a.m. and hiked up to Frank’s camp, only to find that he cleared out early. I hope he and his dog are okay. It’s not like him just to disappear like that.

Apache Lake and Resort is owned by the Schuster family and boasts 3 separate motel structures, a marina, boat shop, boat rental dock, several boat ramps, camping, RV sites, restrooms, showers, restaurant, grocery, bar, tetherball courts, horseshoe pits, ping-pong tables, volleyball court, sheriff’s station, and heliport. The lake itself boasts largemouth, smallmouth, and yellow bass; as well as rainbow trout, crappie, sunfish, bluegill, channel, flathead, and bullhead catfish, walleye and carp. (See Sunday’s entry) The elevation here is 1,900 feet, and claims 17 miles of shoreline encompassing 2,568 surface acres of water. Although the lake is situated within Tonto National Forest and administered by the Forest Service, it is owned y the Air Force. The maximum water depth is 253 feet. More information is available by calling (602)467-2511 or (928)467-2511. The resort website is

No rain today, although there has been a great deal of thunder. As I sit here in the lobby of the resort (batteries are dead in my flashlight, so I am taking advantage of the electricity). Several people have walked past complaining of the cold. A Phoenix radio station is calling for temperatures in the high 30’s overnight in “outlying areas”. Lunch today was a cheeseburger and fries. Dinner: coffee. I catfished with night crawlers from 1:00 to 4:00, but gave it up when I didn’t even get a nibble in three hours. Earlier I hiked out a ways and did some target practice with my 22-revolver. Tomorrow, Sunshine, Tyler, and Gavin will be here and they’re thinking of buying a flatbed bass boat that’s for sale down by my camp. It’s probably the ugliest boat I’ve ever seen, but it’s priced reasonably and comes with an outboard and trolling motors.

Since my batteries are wiped out in my radio, I went over to the tables by where I had seen the ring-tailed cat hoping for another glimpse of it. If I couldn’t fish, at least I might see some wildlife. That’s when I noticed the guys sneaking around, following me. It’s disquieting having people lurking about bushes, whispering in the dark. I don't know if they are security, or those dudes I surprised the other night. They eventually left. One guy, on foot with a dog, the other on a quad and I waited around maybe for another hour, but I think the dog spoiled any chances I may have had of seeing the ring-tail tonight. I wonder if those guys were nosing around Frank’s camp and that’s why he left early. I wonder if they think I’m casing the joint, always hanging around the lobby taking notes on my clipboard around closing time. I also tend to use the restroom up there, rather than the one near my camp. It’s cleaner and warm.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004, 4:45p.m.

Some guy who I've seen around here in a white pickup with a short wheel-base and no bed just backed up to the rocks by my camp and stared me down in his rearview mirror. I smiled and waved, and he pointed at me with a scowl. I guess I get the message. He’s walking purposefully toward my tent. I’m in my tent writing. I’m going to call Sunshine and see if she’s on her way as soon as he leaves.

I was unable to reach Sunshine on her phone. They must be on their way.

A little later
I hiked to the resort and back about a dozen times, hoping to see Sunshine driving in. They finally showed and I suggested we load my camp and move to Roosevelt Lake in hopes the fish are alive there. They brought a full thanksgiving dinner with all the fixin's for tomorrow. Yippee! I haven't had a Thanksgiving dinner for years.

Thursday November 25, 2004, Thanksgiving Day Roosevelt Lake. 2:00? (Tyler says 12:50) 

Walnut Canyon game enclosure is 1 mile west of Bachelor Cove camping area (our camp). It’s part of research being conducted on the 3 Bar Wildlife area by the Arizona Game and Fish department in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service. Within the enclosure the department is studying the population dynamics, habitat requirements, and pathology of mule deer and javelina.

Tyler used his 4 wheel drive to “flex his man muscle” upon the dynamics, habitat requirements and pathology of the many mud puddles.

Roosevelt lake (named for Teddy, not Franklin), was once the largest man-made lake in the world. It covers more than 17,000 acres. The lake is formed by the junction of the Salt River and Tonto Creek. As I’ve mentioned our first camp here is called Bachelor’s Cove, and is a fee site. $4.00 for tent camping. Fortunately for me, many of the campgrounds require the fee for parking, not camping. So, when the Dvorak’s leave, I won’t have to pay.

Bachelor’s Cove reminds me of Bartlett Flats, lots of RV’s and boats, and you can launch right from your camp. Last night was pretty cold and dewy. I’d say it’s in the mid to high 70’s now. I’m in shorts and a t-shirt now. We drove to the Punkin Center for gas (13 miles north). Regular was $2.04 and Tyler called that reasonable. I guess I’ve been in the woods awhile because it doesn’t seem reasonable to me.

Local vegetation includes saguaro, barrel, pincushion, and prickly pear cacti, as well as Palo Verde. Some mesquite and salt cedar trees, Jojoba, desert broom, and cockleburs. Firewood is scarce, but we scored somebody’s old stash on a jeep trail. I’ve also seen grackles, ducks, doves, and egrets. Geese are plentiful.

Breakfast: blueberry pancakes and coffee with real maple syrup and butter. Lunch: chips and soda. Dinner: Smoked turkey, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes. I ate more today than I have all week. I may not need that extra belt hole after all. Wait! There’s pie! We drove up to Tonto cliff dwellings after dinner, but it’s gated and closes at 5p.m. (ruins close at 4p.m.). so, we went further east about ½ mile and did some more 4-wheeling. About 1 ½ miles up a wash we passed an old windmill and then got high-centered on a rock. All we had was a scissor jack, a tripod, and the kid’s compound bow I found when I met the White wolf years ago. I gave it to Tyler for Gavin when he's old enough.

The boulder was fortunately a sedimentary conglomerate. Had it been gneiss we’d have been in trouble, but despite its enormity it was light enough to dig and crumble a bit and muscle out with our legs. We’re back at the fire now. Tyler’s playing guitar and I’m thinking about that pie…coffee’s ready. Fishing report is better here. Folks are catching bass, smallmouth and cat. More importantly, the folks nearest us are using soft rubber bait not live bait, so that means I can catch’em.

We met some great folks who spend Thanksgiving here every year. I played guitar and sang for beers and had great fun. I ran out of songs I would normally think were appropriate for families, but the kids were asleep and they insisted I continue although I warned them all I had left were bluer or drug related tunes. I was a hit. They all sang along with the choruses of “The Ballad of Verde Hot Springs” and “Drinking after Midnight”.

Before I forget, I promised Frank I'd post this in case anybody is reading: “The Oxbow in Payson is the funnest place in town.”

Note: I believe The Oxbow is no longer open (2014)

Friday, November 21, 2014

"I Am Pan! Lord of the Forest"

The western edge of the outside hot spring is formed from the natural stone of the mountain. The rest of the tub is bordered by concrete slab poured generations ago and overlooking the Verde River. On the mountain side, there is an undercut beneath the stone going back about three feet.

I used to dive down into this hollow space and come up with Kaolin clay. Kaolin is a high quality ceramic clay that's used to make china and also in the cosmetic industry. I've been unable to find these deposits since the major floods of '04-'05.

Below the sand, gravel, silt, and rich black organic matter, the clay began. The first layer was gray from the humus that rested above it. The second layer had yellow streaks, and I used to make pipes from it in the coals of my fire. After several dives, digging with my hands, I would come to the third layer of pure, white, kaolin.

I used to sculpt the clay into little figures and sit them in the sun on the rocks above. I remember one day, meeting two hippie girls from Tennessee and we played with the clay, afterward smearing it all over each other before hiking back to camp. On hot days I would thin it with water and cover my nose to prevent sunburn.

One Friday in April, I went to the tubs early (as I liked to do on weekends). I had a new book I wanted to read while I soaked. Springer had stolen some magic mushroom chocolate from me and, by way of restitution, was providing me with beers and buds. I was well stocked when I reached the spring.

The sun was just coming up over Ike's Backbone when I got there. I had the place to myself. The morning proved to be too groovy for my book. Wildflowers were blooming yellow all along the mountains to the north and east. It was going to be another perfect day. I lit a joint and floated around on my back for a while, enjoying the sun.

I had a crew cut, and my head was sunburned and peeling. I applied my mixture of clay and water, but it kept flaking off so I put a LOT of clay on, covering my entire face and head. I made a long hooked nose and pointed ears and topped it all off with a large horn that shot up nearly a foot.

During this process, Rusty had come up from the trail to the south and Pat and Springer appeared from the direction of the ranch road a little later. Springer announced that he had prayed to God, asking that he send us thirty single women. Rusty aptly remarked that thirty might not be enough of a pool for Springer to find one that could tolerate him.

We spent the next hour or so drinking cheap beer, smoking cheap grass, and comparing notes on the summer camps we would soon be leaving for when the temperature rose. From the Spring, you can see traffic on portions of the road leading down to the Verde Valley. That morning, there was an endless line of trucks bouncing down the road. I was glad to have gotten there while it was still comfortably underpopulated. Looky-loos and weekend warriors were about to descend on our paradise.

The first to make the journey from camp to the springs were an unlikely coupl of city slickers from Chicago who called themselves Dan and Marge. They were easily in their late sixties. Dan didn't say much. He just sat on a concrete pillar and sipped from a flask. Marge was more gregarious. She stripped down to a one piece and joined us in the water. She was what we call a “Peter Gazer”. She couldn't stop staring at our Johnsons.

Finally, Rusty told her “Hey sis, my eyes are up here”. He also told her we were expecting a mule train with tobacco, ammo, and liquor. She believed him and pleaded with Dan to stay and see the mules. Later, back at camp, Dan went from camp to camp asking if anybody had any Viagra for sale. I told him that I could find grass and mushrooms, but knew noting of pharmaceuticals. He later scored some from a source I won't name and drove his mini van to a secluded spot.

They only stayed at the tubs for about an hour. Shortly after they left, Springer's prayers came true. Thirty single women came marching down the path. It was unbelievable. Remaining clothed, they lowered themselves into the outside tub with us, retired to the hotter, inside pool, or lounged around the patio. Seeing my clay mask, one of them asked if I was a Chupacabra. “No” replied as I got out to fetch another beer. “I am Pan! Lord of the Forest”!

One of the women gasped and three looked away with enough speed to cause whiplash. The gasper told the woman beside her they should warn the new people. Wanting to make her more comfortable, I offered her a beer. That's when I found out they were a lesbian Alcoholics Anonymous group.

I told Springer the next time he prayed for women he should be more specific and maybe not so greedy.

Monday, November 10, 2014

You Never Know What You Might Find at the Verde Hot Springs

I'd spent a couple of winters at the Verde, and thought I'd seen it all. I know now what an understatement that can be.

Spring was coming. I remember that because more people were showing up on the weekends and it was still a little cool in the mornings. Janine was there sleeping in a hammock. There were a couple of schoolteachers, fellas from Colorado, camping near her. Other than that, there was only one other truck in camp. It was unoccupied and parked in the Hackberries.

I woke at 6 O'clock on that Friday morning and decided to hike up and have a nice soak before the crowds rolled in. I packed my canister stove, coffee, water, and a worn copy of “The Monkey Wrench Gang” a hippie girl had laid on me. The river was a little high, so I took the old ranch road to the One Crossing. I approached the springs carefully, having heard a single gunshot when I was passing the old corral.

When I arrived, I found the tarp from the roof of the inside tub had been removed and hung across the doorway. I assumed a couple was in there and wanted some privacy, so I left my pack on the steps and lowered myself into the cooler outside pool.

After about an hour, I was eager to leave the breeze and 98 degree water for the warmer spring. After two hours, I began to get annoyed. There hadn't been a sound coming from the stone building just feet from where I sat. That was unusual. The water in there is pretty warm, and people usually have to at least stand up now and then to cool off. If somebody was camping in there, it was time for them to get up. Nobody has the right to monopolize the building like that. The other option that crossed my mind was suicide; that single gunshot I heard.

I had enough. I climbed out, naked and shivering, I stood at the door listening through the tarp. Nothing. “Hello”, I called. No answer. I carefully pulled back the tarp and nothing could have prepared me for what I found.

Next to the wood stove was a pile of dirty laundry about three feet high. Who in the world could have carried so much up the trail from camp. It wasn't there the night before. Odd as that was, it was nothing compared to what else I saw.

The inside tub is roughly six by eight feet. A shallow rectangle of hot water with a few steps leading down. The entire thing was covered in carefully placed sheets of glossy magazine pages. Closer inspection revealed it to be lesbian porn. In the middle was a large beach ball. Next to the steps was an empty wine bottle on it's side, a large purple rubber dildo, and a set of false teeth.

Who in the world would leave their teeth? Nobody. That’s who.

There's a cave on the other side of the outside pool, and the smart money said that whatever wackadoo owned this collection was probably in there, possibly armed, and likely didn't want to be found. I gathered my pack and my clothes and dressed on my way down the trail to the river.

About halfway back to camp I passed the schoolteachers, who shared some tasty blond hash. They asked how my soak was and I cautioned them about the gunshot, false teeth, dildo, beachball, and thirty pounds of laundry. They laughed and said they'd keep an eye open.

Later that afternoon, I was visiting with Janine and they came over. They said they thought I was just kidding. They were surprised to find everything exactly the way I described, with the addition of a little old man who appeared, packed everything up, and split.

Friday, July 25, 2014

How I Wound Up in Muncie, and What I Found There

I didn't really have a good reason for moving to Muncie.

I'd left my first wife in the spring of '88 and returned to Ohio. I rented a bungalow at a vintage motor court on the Dixie Highway and got a pizza job. By August, I still hadn't found an apartment and was getting discouraged. A girl I worked with told me it was shame I wasn't looking in Muncie, Indiana. She was returning to school in the fall and one of her roommates had backed out of their lease. She said there were plenty of pizza joints in town, and I should check it out.

On a whim, I traveled to Indiana and did a walk through. My room had double pocket doors, a marble fireplace with a mirror and columns all the way up to the twelve foot ceiling, and a private entrance. My portion of the rent would be $150.00 per month. On the way out of town, I got a job managing a pizzeria on campus. By September, I was living with three sophomore girls; two topless dancers and and the sweetest little architect student.

When I called my dad to tell him about the move, he said I was dumber than owl shit.

Friends from Dayton threw me a going away party and we dropped acid. At about 2:00 am they headed back to their wives and girlfriends and I got on the road west. I took the interstate and there was one lane from construction all the way from Dayton to Richmond. Large barrels crowded in on me, festooned with flashing lights that sent my LSD high into overload. My forearms were sore from clenching the wheel so hard and I kept forgetting to breathe. Even though I had the cruise control set at 40, I alternately thought I was creeping or racing. I should have stayed at John's place, or at least taken the farm roads.

Somehow, I found my way to Muncie and located my new home. The girls weren't due for another week. I wasn't really supposed to be there myself, but I knew the house was empty and I had a key and couldn't see paying another week at the motor court when there was adventure and exploration ahead of me. I stashed my grass, unloaded the hot rod, hung a hammock, and slept until four the next afternoon.

I posted a few posters and considered myself unpacked. I grabbed a manageable amount of buds from my quarter pound and jumped in the Buick, eager to see where the hell I landed. My first stop was the pizzeria, where I let them know I was in town and would report for work the following week as planned. Then I just drove around getting high and familiarizing myself with my new environment.

I found a street on the south side that was about thirty or so blocks long and bumper to bumper hot rods. The parking lots were full of pretty girls milling about in frilly little skirts and teased bangs. On one end of the cruising strip was a genuine old fashioned burger joint. It was like going back in time. On my third pass down Madison Street, I found a race. A '69 Nova lined up with me at the Memorial Drive stop light and by time we reached the railroad bridge about twelve blocks north, I had him by two lengths.

Suddenly, he turned off and just as I was thinking he was a sore loser for not pulling into McDonalds to meet me and talk cars, I saw the cop falling in behind me. First day in town, out of state tags, reefer... no thanks. I went the wrong way down a one way and punched it, turning off before the officer showed up in the mirror. I did that a couple of more times, and then headed back to campus where they had different cops.

I checked out the village, and was impressed by the counter culture scene. There were some good bars, and great music. I walked down University Avenue smoking fat joints and meeting groovy people. I fell in love with that town

I thought I'd end the night by stopping by the pizzeria for a take home pie and meet some of my new co-workers while it cooked. The pizzamaker was a pale, skinny, brooding fella who reminded me of Edward Scissorhands. The closing driver that night was an Irish guy with an afro who looked like a Hanna Barberra character. The shop was built in an old house and business was slow since classes hadn't started yet. The Hair Bear dude had a guitar out and played some old Cat Stevens and Don McLean on the porch while we watched the pretty girls go by.

Scissorhands offered me the pizza for free if I'd stay and help close. We locked up and the three of us smoked the last of my night's walking around stash in the walk in. Hair Bear invited me back to his place to sample his doobage when we left. I remember heading up the street I lived on and turning just before the fairgrounds and winding through a neighborhood to a huge yellow house. I tried to go to his house the next day and see if he wanted to hit the bars, but had a wild adventure trying to find it.

I turned just where I thought we had the day before, but it looked a little different. This street curved to the left and came to a tee at a dirt road. If I turned right on the dirt, I figured I might come out somewhere near where I was heading. I did so and a little while later the road curved to the left, then again. Then AGAIN! I had almost gone in a complete circle. Then, looking up, I noticed the grand stand. I had unwittingly driven onto the horse track at the fairgrounds.

I thought I was probably already busted, and anyway, when would I get another opportunity like this? I dropped it into first, floored it, did two laps and got the hell out of there. I headed to the village (where they had different cops).

Once again, I gravitated to the pizza joint where I thought I might get better directions to Hair Bear's place. I was told he was at another driver's place helping him move and they showed me a note on the bulletin board from Lucky Tailor, requesting assistance and accompanied by a map and the promise of free beer.

I now had plans for the evening.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Unbreakable Pipe

      I had been at the Verde River a few weeks when a weekend hit that was every bit as exciting as my first. I met many people then who have been cherished friends now for over a decade. Most don't remember me from that time. I was still keeping mostly to myself and had shaved my head. My friends may have some memory of those meetings, but have revealed they were unaware it was me. It am reputed to be much more sociable (and hirsute) than I was that first trip.

      It was late April or early May and the weather was that from which summer memories are so often made. I was camped alongside the river below a grass crested dune of sand that no longer exists. My camp was invisible from the drive, yet I was afforded a view of all incoming traffic and a quick escape into the trees adjacent to the north side of my tent.

      A young couple, not noticing my camp from above, wandered in and stayed to share my fire and their smoke. It was good smoke and they were most welcome.

      He was a glass blower, specializing in pipes, and they were on their way to Bonnaroo or Burning Man or some such event to ply their wares. After a few drinks, my guests retrieved from their car a wooden case with samples of their art. They made a present to me of a small chameleon glass one hitter about three inches long.

      After showing it and announcing his intent to leave it with me as a gift, he raised the pipe over his head and dashed it into the rocks of my fire pit. It bounced about the stones for a bit and finally came to rest in the sand... unharmed. An unbreakable chameleon glass pipe is a wonderful gift for a fellow who lives outside among the rock.

      For the next month, whenever somebody at the hot springs or campground inquired for a pipe, I would proudly display my little gem, dash it on the rocks, then offer it up to smoke. It was a big hit and if I had contact information for the artist, I could have sent him a lot of business.

      Then it happened.

      One evening, as I was returning to my camp from an afternoon soak upriver, a group of campers asked if I had a pipe they could use. Responding in the affirmative, I revealed my now richly hued piece, and dashed it into the rocks of their fire pit where it exploded into tiny little pieces.

      They all just stared at me. One guy told me what a dick move that was and his girlfriend said I could have just said no, I didn't have to be shitty about it. I looked like an asshole. I explained myself; that the pipe was not intended to break, and they understood. I presented my rolling papers as an alternative and we enjoyed a good laugh as well as a fine joint.

      I'd like to find another of those nearly indestructible pipes.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

How the Mogollon Rim Was Formed

The Mogollon Rim was formed during the Carboniferous and Permian periods. Those periods mark the end of what they call the Paleozoic Era and lasted from about 358 million years ago to 252 million years ago.

At that time, there was just one big continent on the Earth called Pangea. Much of the world was covered by water. There was a climate change event, and the land dried out quite a bit. This was when Reptiles evolved from the amphibians and dominated the planet.

They think that in addition to the natural change in climate, there was a cataclysmic event. The result was the largest mass extinction in the history of the planet. 90% of aquatic creatures and 70% of land animals died out. It was the only mass extinction of insects that we know of.

Things got crazy. There were volcanoes and earthquakes and giant space rocks slamming into the planet. There were huge fires. Rainforests became deserts. Seas dried up. It took ten million years for life to adapt and recover.

It was one of the dried up seas that left behind the sandstone deposits of the Mogollon rim. Fossilized limestone and crystalline bivalves and corals can be easily found. Some of these corals are the size, shape, and color of a chicken leg.

That's not all the Earth had in store for building the Mogollon Rim. Beginning about six million years ago, a chain of volcanoes sprung up in a line across what is now northern Arizona called the San Francisco Volcano Field. Basaltic lava flowed down over and around parts of the sandstone plateau. Ash covered it's entirety. The area became fertile.

Waterways changed again. The last volcano to blow was Sunset Crater about 950 years years ago. The San Francisco Volcano Field is no longer active. Unlike the volcanoes of the Pacific Rim, which are products of fault lines, They were the result of the continental plates moving over a hot spot in the Earth's magma.The Earth moved on. 

The Mogollon Rim Lakes were built in the fifties and sixties for flood management and recreation.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The White Wolf (I Know a Coyote When I see One)

Nearly every year on the Mogollon Rim I crossed paths with a white wolf. The last time I saw her was in 2005. I say “her” because I didn't ever see any wolf-balls or related genitalia. I've told the story around many a campfire, often to the ridicule of those who believe there are no wolves on the Rim. Nobody made more good natured fun of my wolf stories than Tim, Marc, and Becky.To be honest, I couldn't blame them. Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I would be skeptical as well.

The first time I saw her, I didn't think there were wolves on the Rim either. Mike, “The Man in the Tower”, had given me the census numbers on large mammals in the Bear Canyon area and wolves were not included.

About a mile north of the lake on Forest Road 89 is a wide cut through the Ponderosa Forest that extends from the northeast, southeastward toward Star Valley and Payson. In the middle of this cut runs huge towers, crackling powerlines, and a rough road that services them. Certain times of the summer, elk gather here of an evening to browse on the grasses that grow in this open area.

At the southeast corner of the Powerline Road and FR 89 is a meadow with a few large Ponderosa. It is a favored campsite of large families and RV campers who wish to avoid the crowds of the lake, but feel safer with the open environment and proximity of traffic. Beyond the power lines, FR89 becomes worse and greenhorns become fewer. Bivalve fossils, three to four inches in diameter, are abundant beyond the power lines.

It was a Tuesday. The weekend warriors had pulled out, leaving me to my forest. Often the RV folk left behind bags of store bought firewood. They sold splits of alligator juniper at Woods Canyon and it was good for cooking. It was better than pitchy old pine for sure, and with the recent rains, drier than the dead-fall oak I preferred to grill with. I walked FR89 toward the power lines, mentally marking the camps who'd left the dry bags of juniper and taking one-hits from my dugout.

Between the trees in the corner meadow, I saw something gleaming in the sunlight. It was a small reflection and didn't look like a beer can. I'd become an expert at recognizing beer cans littering the forest. I maintained my focus as I crossed the hundred yards of meadow so I wouldn't loose sight of it.

When I was twenty five feet from the object, I caught a movement in my peripherals and stopped. Twenty feet to the left of the object, and on an intersecting path, was the white wolf. She was also looking at the object and didn't appear to have noticed me. Not wanting to surprise a large white wolf, I coughed. I coughed in as friendly and nonthreatening a manner as I possibly could.

Startled, she stopped and turned her head toward me, just for a split second, then she bolted straight across the meadow and disappeared into the thick pines. She was mostly white, with just a touch of gray at the shoulder and haunch. Her head reached my waist. This was no coyote. I put my dugout in my pocket and stared after her.

I'd seen a wolf only once before, high in the Rockies on Mt. Elbert. This one was larger, and more white. I wondered if she didn't see me because I was stoned and vibing with the forest. It seemed odd to surprise a wolf in an open meadow. I'd heard they had released wolves near the Arizona and New Mexico border, but that was half a state away.

The shiny thing that drew me into the meadow was a child's compound bow. I fashioned an arrow from a hollow piece of tent pole with raven feathers and a handle-less phillips screwdriver (for the point). It would drive the arrow into a log enough to make it hard to pull it out. I gave to bow to the parents of Gavin Dvorak the next time I saw them. He was about to turn four, I think, and was maybe a bit young yet.

That winter at the river, I think Grizz, Lee, and Rusty were the only people who didn't try to convince me I saw a coyote. I know what a coyote looks like. Grizz said he thought they had released some wolves in the White Mountains.

Fourteen months later, I had my second sighting.
About a third of the way down the western side of Bear Canyon Lake is a still, shallow finger just before the shore curves to the left. There's a steep ravine that ends in that finger. At monsoon times, that ravine feeds the lake. I had some success floating homemade flies on the calm water there.

On the morning in question, I was maybe forty feet from the point of the finger, having a smoke before trying my luck. My most recent creation was a red dragonfly I made with a rooster feather. There was a mother duck and ducklings up at the point, and I was watching them to see if they shed any feathers. Suddenly, the white wolf sprang from an unseen spot in the tall grass, snatched a duckling up into his mouth and trotted up the ravine and out of view. The remaining ducks made quite a commotion and hastily retreated further into the lake and around the corner.

The activities had no harmful effect on the fishing, I caught three nice trout on the dragonfly. That night I tied up three more.

That winter, the gang at the Verde could barely keep contained in their mirth that I would think a coyote was a wolf. Tim said he'd seen some pretty big coyotes, and I should realize they get bigger in the mountains than the scrawny desert variety. I know what a coyote looks like.

In July, one year, Marc was camping with me at the northernmost camping area by the west side of the lake. He didn't like that spot because it was so populated, but Tyler had my fishing gear back in Phoenix and I had to spend long hours at the lake to keep fed on crawdads and dandelions. Marc had the idea to have a fourth of July party out there and invite our friends from the Verde. When the time came, we'd move out to Marc's usual spot at near where FR89 merges with FR91 near Willow Creek.

We invited about thirty people in all. Maybe half that showed up. Early on, it was just Becky, Marc, Grizz, Trapper,  Rusty, a friend of his, and Janine. One night just before dark, we drove out to the rim's edge to get a cell phone signal and call some people with specific directions to the party. I think everybody rode along but Rusty and his friend. Somebody was following us. Maybe Corona Brion and Dave the Pirate.

About a quarter mile from the lake turnoff the white wolf raced across the road, the meadow on our right, and into the forest's edge where we lost sight of it. Marc hit his brakes and said “Did you see that? That was a big white wolf!”

“Oh, no!” I replied, “That was just a coyote.” They believe me now.

The next year, toward the end of the summer, I was walking south on FR89 toward the Bear Canyon Loop Trail (a favorite of mine). I wasn't planning to hike far. I didn't have my day pack or any water on me. Then I saw the white wolf yet again. This time she crossed the road at almost the same place we had seen her the previous year, only this time she stopped at the forest's edge and looked back at me. I put my hand in one of her tracks and her paw was nearly as big as mine. Certainly not a coyote. I know a coyote when I see one.

She hesitated as if waiting for me to follow. I was high again, just like the last three times. That's actually pretty remarkable as I look back. It wasn't often I had grass on the Rim. Anyway, I got the idea that if a possibly magical white wolf wanted to show me something in the forest, who was I to refuse?

We went west, for the most part, and slightly north. We crossed out of familiar territory and down ravines and over meadows for a couple of hours. Just when she would be almost out of sight, she would stop and wait for me to halve the distance between us. We were miles from the lake, far beyond any trails or fire roads. I knew that the rim road was to my left (south), FR91 was ahead, and the power lines to the right. FR89 was behind me. Even if I got lost, I knew how to find camp.

Eventually, I began to speculate on my lack of water and the wisdom of allowing a wild carnivore to lead me deep into the forest. I couldn't discount the possibility that she was leading me to her pack for dinner. I didn't have a flashlight or jacket and it was growing dark. Insert whatever excuse you want, I quit following and rolled a cigarette, Thinking again how thirsty I was and how good that water was going to taste back at camp. I turned to head back to FR89.

Between the roots on the west side of a pine tree facing me were two water bottles and a pair of binoculars. I didn't see them on the way past because they were on the other side of the tree. Did that wolf just lead me to water and binoculars? It was obvious they had been there a while from the dust and dirt. I assumed a hunter had forgotten them last fall. I opened a bottle and drank. It tasted like the bottle. It was obviously old, but I was glad to have it.

I thanked the wolf and went home. It was dark when I crossed FR89.

The following year was the last time I saw her, and I saw her several times over the course of my last week ever at Bear Canyon. I was camped in the forest between FR89 and the lake, about a mile and a half north of Rim Road 300. I wasn't more than a quarter mile from the place I picked up her trail the previous year. My camp faced east toward the lake, and sat about two hundred feet from the top of the ravine leading down to that fly fishing spot.

Each morning, that wolf would trot right past my camp, as I sat there with my coffee and morning puff. Sometimes I'd wave and say “mornin'”. She was never in a hurry, traveling along with that familiar trot. Neither of us were afraid. I wondered if she recognized me as I did her. One morning, on my way to the lake, I saw her trot right through somebodies camp while they were fixing breakfast. They didn't even see her.

I watched her wind through the forest among campsites and up and down that ravine to the lake and never saw anybody even look at her. I stopped to ask a few people if they'd seen a wolf but got the same derisive comments my river buddies used before they saw her. There is much that goes on, sometimes within feet of ourselves, that we do not see.

In 2012, ten years or so from my first sighting, wolves appear on the census as living on the rim. I found an article dated 2002, that says wolves were released in Apache-Sitgreaves Forest. This is where I saw the white wolf.

I know what a coyote looks like.

 For more information check out The Mexican Grey Wolf Recovery Program at:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Flood of '04 (Part I)

Sunshine and family brought me from Roosevelt and we camped on the flat sandy strip to the southeast of the cliff. We chose that spot for maximum sunlight. Back then, you couldn't get a car to my hidy hole. They left the day before Christmas.

I stuck around that site for a few days before moving back to my favorite spot. On the twenty eighth, a steady mist began falling while I trekked back and forth setting up a more permanent camp further out of sight. I set up two tents. I was staying in the new Coleman tub-bottom tent Sunshine gave me for Christmas. I used my old Walmart tent as a supply depot and kept my non perishables and fishing gear in there. The canoe was beached behind it. Due to the weather and the holidays, there weren't many people around except for day trippers.

Mr. Hole was set up in the middle of the campground about 30 feet above the river. He'd been straining and cooking prickly pear fruit for days and had a couple of five gallon buckets ready for making his famous pies. I gave him a Mensa Puzzle a Day Calendar Book for Christmas. I told him this way I could mess with his mind 365 days a year. He gave me a sack of buds. Woo Hoo!

On the way to the hot springs the twenty ninth, I walked past Mr. Hole's truck and chatted a minute. He showed me a wooden golf club he had carved and was gluing the head on the handle. He asked if I thought the river was going to break the banks. “Nah”, I told him. “Maybe in a few more days. The last time it flooded over the lower sites, it took three days of solid rain for the water to roll down from Chino Valley to the north”. I didn't realize it had been raining harder and longer in Chino.

The river was up and running swiftly at the one-crossing, so I traversed at the Dugas road high water fjord to the north. Once across, I backtracked toward the springs and found FBI Al's Toyota on the trail where I'd never seen a vehicle before. Al was at the springs, and welcomed me back for the winter. He had a half gallon of Kentucky bourbon that we sipped as we caught up on each other's recent adventures.

I had some of those buds Mr' Hole gave me back at my camp, and we returned to partake. Al, the hardcore maniac, was all for swimming the river at the springs to cross. I refused, citing the strength of the second crossing, and we returned the safer way I came.

My firewood was tarped, and I had no trouble starting a fire in spite of the light mist. At dusk, Al left me with the little remaining whiskey and returned to his truck. I walked with him as far as the mulberries, and noticed Mr. Hole had his truck jacked up and was crawling beneath it. I remember stepping on damp sand and puddles appearing around my feet. When I would raise my foot, the puddles would soak back in the saturated ground. 

Dave crawled out from under the Chevy and pointed out the old cans and other garbage that was suddenly littering all the roadways. He said he had spent the evening with his new golf club knocking litter out of the high weeds throughout camp. "Tomorrow" he said, "in the daylight, we can bag it all up." We had our work cut out for us. 

Back at camp, I stoked my still burning coals and fixed some dinner. Having recently arrived, I was well stocked. I fixed mashed potatos and gravy and opened a can of green beans. For dessert I had a Little Debbie pecan pie. 

In order to save firewood, I opted to spend the evening reading in my tent. I carried my lantern inside, removed my boots, and crawled into my bedroll with my headphones in and soon was immersed in the story of the Krupps Steel family. I picked up the massive biography because I thought it would be boring and it would last a while. It turned out to be fascinating. I was surprised to read about Haile Selassie attending parties along with Adolph Hitler in pre-war Germany.

I had a whole pickle bucket full of what I considered “Bad Fiction” that I bought at five cents per novel in a discount bin in Camp Verde. When I had “Good Fiction” I was at risk of just sitting in camp and burning through it at a novel a day.I ended up developing a taste for dry biographies and pulp novels.

Over the sound of the am radio, I kept hearing the snap and crash of large branches. I assumed it was deadwood succumbing to the weight of accumulated moisture, a circumstance I had witnessed many times during my years in the forests. I made a mental note to collect the deadfalls in the morning. From the sounds of it, there would be plenty of mesquite for cooking. The new Coleman tent was leaking like a siv. The tub bottom, rather than keeping me dry, was collecting the rain from the leaky seams. I made sure everything was off the floor and stacked on milk crates.

At about midnight, I marked my place in the book, removed my headphones, and was preparing for sleep when I heard Mr. Hole faintly and frantically yelling my name. Worried that his truck had fallen from the jack in the soft sand and trapping him, I hurriedly put on my boots and stepped out of the tent into about eight inches of rushing water!

The river, normally about eight feet below the rise that held my tents, had risen in about an hour and cut off the only trail to safety. I stood there for a minute, like an idiot, looking back and forth between my two tents in what seemed like a stage pantomime. The upside down canoe that was rocking in the current and about to wash away. Trees four feet around were roiling downstream and taking out everything in their path. I realized the sounds I had been hearing were massive logs crashing into the trees along the shore and uprooting them. I also realized I was in trouble and didn't have time to think about my next move.

The trail to the campground was no longer an option, neither was swimming against the current. For a minute, I thought of getting in the canoe and trying to make my getaway by water, but the huge amount of debris and the destruction it was causing changed my mind. 

The steep slope of the mountain and cliff faces were my only hope. I couldn't decide what to grab, and feared that any minute there would be a mudslide or rockslide to bury me or cut off my escape. I tied my canoe to a tree and set off up the slippery slope. I envisioned myself either washing out into the raging river, or becoming stranded on the side of the mountain hoping for a helicopter rescue.

I tied the canoe to a tree and began picking my way up the slippery mountainside.

I imagined Al, whiskey drunk and washed out from his spot on the bank up by the Dugas road. Mr. Hole had quit yelling, and I figured he was lost as well. Judging from the river, his truck as well as Alan's were probably completely submerged.

It was very dark, from the cloud cover, and I had to feel my way along the cliff faces back toward the road in. It seemed like hours that I was clinging to those cliffs, constantly fearing an avalanche, but it was probably only about thirty minutes. The wash that runs alongside the road at the entrance to the campground was rushing and several feet deep. I had to travel further up towards Ike's ridge to leap across the ravine and backtrack to the gates of Childs.

I looked down, fearing to see Mr. Hole's truck as it disappeared beneath the deluge and saw nothing. Slowly and cautiously, I made my way down the road towards the shitter and there was the old Chevy, parked at the water line, which had almost reached the shitter door.

There was a light shining out the open back door. And I walked around the truck to the back. Inside, Mr. Hole was on the Ham radio, keying the mike. “Mayday, Mayday, Camper down!” he exclaimed. “Mayday, Mayday, we have a camper washed away in the flood at Childs! We need rescue!”.

“Who's missing Dave? Did you see Al's truck wash by? Was somebody else here?”

“You! You're missing, How'd you get out of there? I tried to come warn you when the water came up, but the trail was washed out and too strong to wade through.”

“I edged along the cliff” I replied, My site down there is the highest point in camp. What about Al? He was camped at the edge of the river just this side of Dugas. We'd had a lot of whiskey and he was going to bed.”

“Lets go!” Mr. Hole said. “We've gotta get out of here while we can. There's nothing we can do for Alan tonight.”

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Journal Days 8-9. Eating Grasshoppers and Trading for Supplies. A Trout Technique.

Journal Day 8

Maya and I did a lot of hiking today. Her paws are all better and my lungs have grown accustomed to the thin air. I no longer wake at night gasping. We went down the bear track trail and explored a few old fire roads with trees growing in the middle of them. We found a whole elk skull, and met a family in an RV camped to the east of the bear trail in a secluded meadow. Their names are Mike and Ann and they have three teenage sons. I gave them the skull because I certainly can't hike with it. I'm not sure how I'll manage what I have.

Mike works for a power company in Hawaii that is a test market for something he calls geothermal energy. It sounds very interesting. They're letting him work from his computer while he travels with the family for the summer. Every morning he drives out to Strawberry to transmit his work. He says he used to be a Forest Service fireman in Utah. They call them Hot Shots.

Back at camp, I went around collecting grasshoppers for dinner. It took me about two hours to find and catch fifty of them. Fifty looks like a lot of grasshoppers when they're jumping around in a bucket, but once you remove the head, legs, and wings, there isn't much left.

I roasted them in taco powder. They made a tasty snack, but it would take a powerful lot of them to actually feed me. Maya liked them too. They were crispy, but didn't have much meat to them. I sure hope I don't have to rely on eating them. I probably expended more calories catching them than they provided. We'll have to get to where there is fish soon.

Just before dusk, we trekked up to the lake and saw about twenty elk in a meadow. Man, are they incredible animals! You can't hardly look anywhere around darkening time without seeing one. We saw several more on the way back to Onion camp.

We're out of coffee.

Journal Day 9

We're down to dog food, hot cereal, mushroom gravy mix, bread crumbs, a couple of cans of green beans, spices, and of course the popcorn. I took some sinew from my roll down to Mike. He's making bows for the boys and was going to use boot laces for the string.I gave him one of my six foot rolls of leather too. They can make slings or whatnot.

We did some trading, and I dumped a lot of the crap I am unable to carry for a few supplies. I gave him the guitar, acrylic paints, and all my books except the Book of Outdoor Lore. In return, he gave me a box of cigars, a big can of coffee, and more dog food. I realized after returning to camp, that I gave him all my paint brushes and have nothing for the water colors I kept. Oh well, Maya and I have plenty of hair.

Saw a turkey this morning by a small watering hole we found. Thought we'd been hearing them.

Tomorrow, I'm going to spend the day paring down my gear some more and packing up for the trek to the Washington Trailhead. It's going to be much warmer below the Rim. I had hoped to spend more of the summer up here, but with a fishless lake, that's just not wise. I'll do better in the creeks and rivers below. My maps show three sources of water between here and the trailhead, which is maybe ten miles away. We'll take our time and only cover about 3 miles or so per day.

While I'm loafin' with a cigar over a cup of Maxwell House, I'll tell you a fish story.

Growing up in Ohio, I fished for bass and catfish mostly. One night some friends of mine and I snuck into a trout hatchery, but that's all the trout fishing experience I have. They would hit on a shiny hook there, or corn, or even bubblegum, so I still really know nothing about trout fishing. I expect to learn. I kind of have too.

Before I left town, I asked a friend how to trout fish and he related this technique: “You take some bread and wade out into the water until you are about waist deep. Sprinkle bits of bread on the water and stand very still with a big stick raised over your head. When the fish come up to eat, Wham!”

I'm skeptical, but haven't had the chance to try it yet.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Idiots with Guns

I had my first disappointment on my seventh day in the forest when an armed paranoiac came into my camp with an unleashed pit-bull making threats on my life. He was the second person I had contact with since I arrived. I hoped that I had left people like that behind in the city, but I've learned that in any group, you will find the same elements that comprise the greater populace. As unfortunate as it is, you'll have that.

The day started out according to my plans. I was growing used to the altitude and pace of the trees and awoke with the rising sun. We rolled out of the tarps, dismantled the camp, and moved to a spot I had previously scouted that was even more off the beaten path. Friday was here and I didn't want to be seen. Last weekend my spot was beyond all other campers, but I knew I couldn't count on that being the case again. Considering travel time and work schedules, we probably had several hours before the weekend warriors converged on our paradise.

Just south of onion camp was a quad trail that ran up a hill to the west and then turned north. It looked like it might be rarely used. Leaving the path at the bend and instead traveling southwest a few hundred feet, was a small copse of trees. The towering pines obscured all but the forest itself. It seemed as if we were miles from any sign that people had ever been there. Scratching Maya behind the ears, I surveyed our new home and said “Look at our front yard!”

I was able to set up there and be virtually invisible to anybody unless they blundered upon us. The curvature of the trail and proximity of the hill would naturally draw the eye of any quad riders away from our direction. There was a huge old Ponderosa at the turn that worked to our advantage. Our slightly elevated position afforded me a 360 degree view of any encroaching parties while seated. Instead of hanging the rope, we would sleep on one tarp and cover ourselves with the other, maintaining a low profile.

Our second objective of the day was to hit the lake. I'd been washing myself out of two liter bottles for a week and could stand a good dunking, no matter how cold. I also wanted to try some fishing while we still had groceries so we didn't have any surprises later that would adversely affect our diet. Maya did excellently on the hike, frequently running ahead and doing wide circles around me as I walked, which had been her method since she was a pup. The Maya dog had always been an excellent scout.

The trees at Potato lake sit back quite a ways from the water. If you have a pole in your hand there is no hiding the fact. Fish cops can see you long before you see them. Its not a good position to be in if you are a fugitive and lack the proper permits. Understanding this, I carried fishing line and hooks in my day pack and left the poles back at camp.

I dug around a bit with my machete, looking for earthworms, but found none. Turning over rocks only produced Roly-polys, so I caught a grasshopper and put him on the hook. I tied a small piece of stick about eighteen inches up for float-able weight and heaved it about thirty feet out into the water. Maya and I played fetch for a bit while I kept an eye on the 'hopper. Nothing.

I secured the line with a rock, and we explored the circumference of the lake, turning over the occasional stone and keeping my eyes opened for crawdads. No luck there as well. There was no sign of anybody ever fishing this lake. No tangled line, empty worm buckets, errant bobbers, or any of the evidence that is usually present wherever people fish. Come to think of it, there was nothing in the many signs posted at the entrance about fish at all. Surely the government would leave some kind of prohibitive messages if this were a place folks fished.

Some days later, I asked a ranger and he told me there are no fish in Potato Lake. The minnows are there to keep down the algae. Its primarily maintained as a watering hole for the numerous elk and other wildlife in the area. In fact, there wasn't a three foot area around the banks that didn't show elk track. There were no bear prints, but there were signs of assorted small mammals and birds. No rabbit. I had yet to see a rabbit on the rim.

On the side of the lake opposite my line, I stripped down, waded in to my waist and submerged myself. When I came up, I was unable to suppress the need to yell from the icy water. Maya, who had been wading around the edge, immediately swam out to join the fun. It wasn't that much fun for me. Shivering, I climbed out and soaped myself down with bio-compatables and returned for a hasty rinse. I noticed people at the trail-head a hundred yards or so away, coming my direction, so I scrambled out and began dressing. They turned around and went back the way they came. I felt bad that my nudity, even from a distance, had such a deleterious effect on the local populace.

So far, I wasn't doing a very good job of being inconspicuous.

Exhilarated by my chilling dip, and seeing how well Maya was faring, we packed up the fishing line and did a bit of exploring on our way back to our new camp. There was a meadow we passed with a small dry stream bed running through it and we followed it for a mile or so until it disappeared entirely. There were one or two brackish puddles in low spots. The only wildlife we saw were squirrels and ravens. We were cutting back overland to avoid the rough cinders and stumbled upon a granite memorial marker, out of sight of any trail or road, saying somebody died there. There were three loose keys and twenty nine cents in change on the marker in addition to a 410 gauge shotgun shell. I added a piece of turquoise.

That marker could be just about anywhere. I went looking for it a few years back on a quad and couldn't find it. I've always wondered what that mystery guy died of. I guessed it was a heart attack, hunting mishap, or quad accident.

It was probably about three in the afternoon when we turned up off of FR147 toward home. There was a green Chevy parked at the corner of FR147 towing a travel trailer. There was one older gentleman in a lawn chair by the door of the trailer. He waved and yelled a friendly hello which I returned. He waved us over and introduced himself as Pete. He said he was retired from the telephone company and came up there every weekend “until September, when it gets too cold”. He pulled out another chair and offered me a delicious cold beer. He was alone, but had friends coming to meet him later. I learned later that people in the forest alone almost always say that, whether it's true or not. We chatted for a while and he told stories about the rim and the wildlife he'd seen there. “There's a few black bears” he told me, “but they're hard to see, they don't go anywhere near people usually.” That's kind of a bummer.

I thanked him and we continued on our way. We crested the rise just before the quad track back to camp and noticed a powder blue Ford station wagon parked at the bottom of our quad track. There was a tent pitched across our trail and a pit-bull chained to the bumper of the car. Between the car and the tent was a playpen and a woman bending over a toddler. A little wiry fella with a shaved head and no shirt was staring at us hard over the playpen.

I waved and hollered a friendly hello and turned to approach his camp. He was, after all, camped on a trail-head. It was our trail-head, and I didn't think he had the right to block it. He came quickly from around the playpen, along the way calling to his dog Sweet to do something in German. He yelled for us to keep moving and then asked our business there. I thought this was an odd, if not contradictory bit of business. He seemed to be looking for trouble, so I called out that we were just hiking through and then we continued past until we were out of sight at our original camp. We stopped there to see if he was following. He wasn't.

We continued up and over the hill to the place where I saw the bear tracks and turned left there. We continued on for a couple of hundred yards and turned left again, eventually approaching our new camp from the opposite side of the hill. He was there waiting for us, facing away. We got pretty close before he saw us and turned. He had an automatic pistol in his waistband. The dog was unleashed at his side, so I took the leash from my shoulders and hooked Maya up so she wouldn't charge. “For a guy who doesn't want anybody near his camp, you sure are making yourself at home in mine”, I said.

“What are you doing here? Where's your vehicle? I've never seen anybody camped so far back in these hills. Are you hiding from the law?” Ok, now I was getting a bit jumpy myself. “I'm BACKPACKING”, I told him. “A friend dropped me off yesterday. What business is it of yours?” 
“If your dog comes near me I'll shoot it” he replied, noticing her low growl and raised hackles. “Were you in my camp earlier? I followed your bootprints. They're everywhere. You couldn't have made all those prints in one day”. (Stupid rookie mistake! Jeez, I'm an idiot!). I told him my tennis shoe tracks are probably every where too, and invited him to go over and check out the tread pattern on them.

 He ignored my offer and went on to tell me he had a wife and kid and came to tell me he didn't want any trouble. Then he threatened to shoot me if I came near his wife or baby. I told him he sure didn't act like somebody who didn't want any trouble, he acted as if he were looking for trouble or he had something to hide. I asked if he had made similar threats to the guy in the green Chevy with the RV trailer camped below him.

“I have a gun!”, he said again, turned, and walked away. “Who doesn't?” I called after him. He looked back once, possibly to make sure I wasn't taking aim, and then he was out of sight. I calmed Maya, took her leash off, and sat down on the tarp. I was shook. I'd only been here a week and already somebody called me a fugitive and threatened to shoot me. I really hoped this wasn't what my trip was going to be like. I could get that kind of action in the city, and recently had. I was getting real sick of idiots with guns. I smoked a bowl to calm down.

Some people just don't do well outside their environment; their comfort zone. I reckon that was this guys problem. That or maybe he was cooking meth. I'm sure glad his dog was friendlier and better trained than he was. I was still a little scared, loose cannon and all. Since our cover was blown, I moved back to onion camp so we were in a more accessible location to the road and maybe safer that way. It would also allow me to see the top of the quad trail in case that guy sent the law up to check me out.

I fed Maya and had a can of sardines and crackers for dinner, followed by a can of peaches for dessert. Canned peaches kick ass in the woods. I got to thinking, maybe I ought to let Pete know about this guy and his threats, just in case anything happened to me. I put Maya on her lead and started in that direction, but when I got to the asshole's camp he was gone. Packed up and left. Weird. We went back home to onion camp. No need to bother Pete.

Back at camp I smoked some resin mixed with shake and ate another can of peaches. Well satisfied, I smoked a cigarette of Mullein and considered the events of the day. More than jerks with guns and chips on their shoulders, I was worried for the lack of fish. This meant I'd have to move on when the supplies got light, probably within the week.

Knowing that guy was gone, I could afford to be more angry than frightened. The whole thing reminded me of the night before I left Phoenix.

It was about midnight, and I had everything packed and ready to go in the living room. I was about to try and get some sleep. Jim and his wife were house sitting at his parents place, so I had the place to myself. I realized I was out of coffee, so I dressed and started out to walk to Walmart. I was barely out of the driveway when I noticed a stereotype walking down the street toward me.

He was a Mexican kid, with one of those pantyhose looking hairnets and a white dress shirt only buttoned at the collar. He was wearing dress slacks and cowboy boots with silver at the toe. He stared at me and I pretended not to see him. He walked right up to me with a menacing look that I pretended not to notice and I gave him a great big smiling “Hello!”

At this point he was close enough in my face to smell his breath. Looking me square in the eye, he asked me if I wanted to get smoked and pulled back his shirt to show me a pistol in his waistband. I'd never been asked a question like that out of the blue before, and was at an immediate loss for what to say. With a personality like his, simply saying “No” was probably playing right into his hand. Watching Woody Harrelson in “White Men Can't Jump” taught me that exaggerating my natural talent as a goofy rube from Indiana was a handy way to get out of sticky situations sometimes. I replied with the most transparent stall tactic ever. “What?”

Then it came to me. “Do I want to get some smoke? Hell yeah I want to get some smoke. Hang on, let me go in the house and get some money.” I thought that if he thought I was stupid enough to go in the house and get some money, I could get inside without getting shot, as he might think he could rob me instead of just shooting me. It actually worked and I made it into the house.

I was alone and didn't have a phone. I thought he might come through the door any minute and this time the gun might be out of his pants. Still needing a sack of coffee (and maybe a rhubarb pie), I loaded my .32 and went back out with the revolver in my hand. He seemed to be gone. I walked maybe three blocks before I felt comfortable enough to pocket the piece.

As luck would have it, there was a cop in the parking lot of the Taco Bell in front of the Walmart. I walked up to his window and he didn't seem to notice me. All his attention was on his bean burrito. I knocked on the window, startling him, and he rolled it down.

“Hey man, I'm glad you're here!” I blurted at him. “Some Mexican kid with the pantyhose on his head and a white dress shirt just showed me a pistol and asked if I wanted to get smoked. He went north on seventy third about five minutes ago!”

“What are you doing out this time of night?” he asked. I told him I was going to Walmart and he suggested I go do my shopping and when he was through with his lunch he'd meet me out front to take a report. “What?”
“Go do your shopping, and after I eat, I'll come talk to you.”

I couldn't believe it. I told him never mind. I thought he'd want to catch some kid walking around the neighborhood offering to smoke people. I walked away more pissed at the cop than at the kid. I memorized the patrol car number and called 911 from the Walmart. I told them the whole story and they offered to send a car out in an hour or two to take a report about the kid with the gun. “Screw the kid with the gun", I said. "He's going to be long gone. I want to report the cop.” “Okay, the dispatcher said. Give me your name and address”. Screw that.

Remembering I had the .32, I hung up the phone, bought my sack of beans and a rhubarb pie and went home, avoiding the Taco Bell. I was going to be so glad to get to the forest and leave the stinking city and people like that behind.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Man in the Tower

    After 60 days on the Mogollon, I had reason to celebrate. My previous record for consecutive   camping days was 45. That trip was in the Rockies near Paonia, Colorado in 1992. I was feeling optimistic about my journey.  I'd been cleaning up campsites after folks left and occasionally found loose change that dropped from  their pockets around the fire. I thought it was funny that people would have money in their pockets up here. It's not like you can run down to the Circle K. I was also tremendously amused when I saw fishermen on the lake with cell phones on their hip. There's no signal. At least there wasn't back then and its doubtful there is now, so deep in the valley.
I heard form a few people that there was a camp store at Woods Canyon Lake, about a dozen miles east once you hit the Rim Road. I had amassed a tidy little nest egg of a dollar and seventy cents and like I mentioned, I had a milestone to celebrate. I deserved a soda pop and a candy bar. A newspaper would be nice.

      I set out along the lake, working my way south with the idea of cutting through the forest to bisect the Rim Road and eliminate the three or four extra miles I would have to walk if I took Forest Road 89. I like to deviate from the beaten path at times. There are more interesting sights. You don't often find shed antlers, artifacts, or Bigfoot when walking the beaten path.

       To my surprise, a quarter mile south of the lake was a small primitive camping area. I followed the road that led into it, and ended up at the Rim Road. A quarter of a mile east brought me to a fire tower and small cabin. Outside of the cabin was a fifth wheel camper and a Chevy truck. The base of the tower was surrounded by a high chain link fence and gate.

       Forest service offices are usually pretty cool places with pamphlets, maps, and information on the area they maintain. Hoping that's what the cabin held, I knocked. There was no answer, so I crossed the gravel drive to the tower and read the signs there. The most obvious was posted on the gate and over the words “Keep Out” was a sheet of notebook paper, duct taped, that said “Come on up”. I left Maya inside the gate and began the climb.

       The tower at Promontory Lookout is 110 feet high. That doesn't sound that high, but when you climb up it, you can feel it sway in the wind. At the top of the last flight of stairs is a hatchway. I lifted the hatch and announced my presence as I was unsure if I should be there or not. A voice from above replied “Come on in”. That voice belonged to Mike, the fire watcher.

       Mike was full of information and he was happy to share. The original tower there had been built in 1913 from logs harvested and milled on the spot. It was erected without the aid of machinery other than simple block and tackle. Mike said that ironically, that first tower burnt down. It was replaced in 1924 with the structure that stands today. In 1988 they added the cabin, but Mike said he would have had to pay to stay there. He also said his position was voluntary and he received no pay.

       The cab at the top of the tower is a seven foot square with shelving that runs around the perimeter at the base of the windows. In the center of the cab is a large table with a brass instrument mounted on a swivel that looks like a sextant. Mike pointed out a location a good ways off and asked me to guess the distance, then checked with his device. I was off by two miles. He said not to sweat it, he was frequently wrong when he first started the season and the firemen would yell at him for sending them to the wrong coordinates.

       We chatted for about an hour and when I left he followed me down. I said I was hiking to Woods Canyon and back and he was incredulous. “Do you know how far that is?” he asked. “Yeah, about twelve miles” “It's twelve miles back too!” When I told him I was backpacking, and camped at Bear Canyon, he said if I didn't have a tent I would probably be killed. He worried that a snake would curl up with me and warned me of the Arizona Black Rattler, which has neuro-toxins in the venom and is deadly. He showed me a stick with a loop of leather on the bottom that he used to catch the snakes that he claimed were abundant in the area. The botto of the stick was covered with a shiny varnish that he claimed was venom. Mike was obviously very afraid of rattlesnakes. When I left I cut across the woods, rather than use the driveway and he shouted a warning after me that I would surely be bitten and die if I didn't stick to the roads.
 I visited with him several times that summer, and each time he was more paranoid than previously. The last time I saw him, he claimed people had been shooting at him, and suspected the firemen. I learned later that he didn't finish the season but packed up and disappeared, leaving an extensive list of grievances and attacks against him. I hear that Promontory Lookout is only used in emergencies nowadays. I can still hear him calling his catch phrase after me: “You're gonna to die!” I wondered if Shattsworth had met him.

    I made it to the store, and a dollar seventy didn't go as far as I hoped. I managed to buy a can of Diet Coke and a stick of Banana Taffy. I found a newspaper on a bench and rationed it out to myself over the course of a week. It was hard not to sit and read it all at once. I saved the crossword for last. The simplest things delighted me. I savored the soda, fighting the urge to guzzle it. It was cold and bubbly. It felt like Christmas. That trip to Woods Lake complex was the first real civilization I had seen in months. I'd have liked to hang around a bit, but I had a long walk back to camp

           On my way back, a couple of old timers stopped and offered me a lift. They asked if I had broken down. I told them I had walked to the store for a soda and some candy. The fella driving said he'd have at least bought beer if he hiked all that way. I told him people frequently invited me to their camp for beers. Everybody brings beer to the forest. It's not so easy to find Diet Coke and Banana Laffy Taffy. Sweets are hard to come by.