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.