Bear Canyon Lake, August. '04 or '05
There was a Mormon family that I met my first year out at Bear Canyon, and when all is said and done I will have referenced them many times in other stories The paterfamilias was head of security at a utility installation to the west of Phoenix; a pretty intense assignment in light of the terrorist fears of the time. I saw him several times a year, mostly with a large group including extended family and friends.
Mormons aren't supposed to have caffeine, so whenever he was in camp I would hike to his kitchen with my coffee pot and I would have coffee and he would have green tea and we would chat. Mostly we talked about the forest, but often strayed to politics. Mormons, for all their rules and strange underwear, are really Libertarian at heart. It wasn't hard for us to find common ground and become friends. The irony of his police background wasn't lost on me.
This particular year, his brothers had come with their families and before they arrived he warned me that they were Phoenix police officers, in the event I wanted to make myself scarce. He didn't know my legal status, but I think cops are just used to people who don't want to hang. I had no such compunction, He was a good guy and fine friend and I assumed his brothers would be as well. They were.
It was late August and getting cold. I had turned in with the lantern and a book. I was camped about a hundred yards south of the road to the lake, shortly after turning off of Forest Road 89. That area is off limits to camping now.
The Mormons were camped directly across the road (north) and again about a hundred yards back. There was a ditch about four feet deep that ran along my side of the road for about a hundred and fifty yards to the east, ending at the shitter.
Corona Brian had loaned me a copy of “Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon” by Ghiglieri and Myers. It tells the story of all known deaths at the Canyon. It's a fascinating read and I recommend it to anybody who is going out to camp in the wild. It is at times tragic, and at others a monument to stupidity.
I was about three chapters in, when I heard heavy footfalls near my tent. I turned out my lantern and listened. Soon, I heard a moaning, followed by giggling.Then a growl. I didn't take it seriously, I assumed it was some asshole kids; maybe drunk. Then two voices said they were going to kill me and cackled. I heard them walking away and I reached for my revolver.
I climbed out of my tent and moved a little ways off into the brush where I might not be seen and I watched for movement. I sat there a pretty long time. Just as I moved to return to my tent, there was a sharp report and a flash of light from the shitters and somebody yelled that they had been hit. I flattened myself on the ground. My camp was uphill and southwest of the toilets. It was quite visible in the moonlight.
I figured it would be better for me to watch those people, than for them to watch me, and the threats I had fairly dismissed earlier seemed more pressing now. I crawled like GI Joe the hundred yards north to the ditch and threw myself into it. I hunkered there, listening for any indication of what was going on. My Heritage Rough Rider clutched in my right hand. I waited. I heard footsteps, and three forms vaulted into the ditch behind me. The Mormons had arrived.
My friend, the security man, asked if I had been firing my revolver. It wasn't until I answered him that I noticed the 357 Glock each man was holding. As we reconnoitered, they told a familiar tale. Somebody had crept up om their camp as they were sleeping and made scary noises and threats and scared the women and children. “I don't need to tell you”, he said, “They picked the wrong kids to scare”.
I told them I had chosen the ditch as a way to sneak up on the shitter unseen to investigate. “Lead on”, he said, “Let's get the drop on them”. I was scared and thrilled and honestly almost giggled on the spot at the idea of three armed cops allowing me, a fugitive with sidearm drawn, to lead them on what was certainly an illegal out-of-jurisdiction raid. This is the west.
We got to the end of the ditch and peered over. There were three young Hispanic men standing around a Dodge Pickup. “Follow us” the security man said, “and keep your gun on them”. We hopped out of the ditch and I tried to emulate their movements, walking fast and kind of squatted down with my revolver extended. In all honesty I probably looked more like Janet Jackson than Samuel L.
The cops started yelling like a pack of dogs and the next thing you know we had them all lined up and reaching for the sky. Security took the lead and identified us as police officers. I remember thinking "well, there's a serious felony". I think he was the older brother. He questioned them and they denied having a weapon. He walked behind them and kicked their legs apart and searched them. All the while we were holding them in our sights. He didn't find anything and I suggested they might have ditched a weapon in the shitter. He instructed me to take a look.
First I checked the men's side. I looked in the trash and overhead in the rafters, I even looked down the poop hole. I was turning corners and leading with the Rough Rider like Kate Jackson. When I looked behind the door in the Ladies' room, I found a fourth young man, and tried not to look as startled as he did. He put his hands up of his own accord, and I marched him into line with the rest.
Security was searching the truck. The fattest of the four was visibly shaking and asked if he could put his hands down. “Only if you want to get shot” one of the brothers replied. He found nothing in the truck.
With their hands still in the air, the brothers took turns berating them for their juvenile behavior and for scaring their women and children. They must have told them three times how they could have shot them for making threats toward our camps. The perps were scared shitless. I'd never been on this side of things before, and the juxtaposition was fascinating to me.
In the end, there was a lot of “Yes Sir” and “We didn't realize” and the kids were told to get in their truck and never return to the forest. My police buddies went back to their families, and I sat outside my tent for a while and had a smoke. To this day I'm not sure if I was a Deputy, a Vigilante, or an Indian Scout, but that was the extent of my career in law enforcement.