Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
A Burning Ring of Fire
by Ram

“I fell into a burning ring of fire. I went down, down, down and the flames went higher and it burned, burned, burned, this ring of fire.”
      —Johnny Cash

I am an incurable romantic. One of my favorite things is to observe people in love—not this time. It was filled with concern and fear. It had been a hot day. Starburst Canyon had been dry and we were on the steep climb up and out. We were steady but slow, trying not to overheat on the last few 100 yards to the rim.

Suddenly, someone cried out, “Fire.”

We all turned, wiped the sweat from our eyes, and spied a giant plume of gray smoke, mushrooming up to the sky! Was it close? Pretty close. Which direction? Suddenly both Joe and Todd noted that it was coming from the general direction of the morning base camp where each had left their wives! With eyes wide, they sprinted the remainder of the hill to the cars. Into the drivers seat and away in a flash toward the plume of smoke and their loved ones, Sara and Stephanie.

I pursued at less ‘driven’ pace. On the drive, the angles revealed that the smoke and the camp were indeed in different directions. We regrouped and moved camp 6 miles further from the fireworks. Dinner, watermelon and refreshments later, Aaron, Todd and Stephanie returned to the overlook to monitor the fire’s progress. In fading light, we watched a mesa top burn. In the light, we could not see the flames, only the smoke and a fleet of water and chemical-carrying aircraft offering more entertainment but with sunset! WOW! We took out the lounge chairs and watched whole trees explode into flames as the fire spread over the mountain top, from a safe 2 miles away across a large gulf.

We only had one canyon left to descend in the neighborhood. The best one, I was told. I had traveled far to see this country, as a guest of my Arizona friends, and was driven to see it all. But do you mess with fire? I lobbied my friends hard to go. Eventually, I wore them down. Burt what potential dangers existed? Would the smoke fill the canyon and make breathing difficult? Could we get trapped or cut off? The next AM we drove to our lookout and saw that the fire had progressed but not directly toward our goal for the day—not really away from our goal either.

Four of us committed to the canyon.

Stephanie drove us to the trailhead to see us off. It is a super early start. It’s June and warm and that is reason enough to start early. But I will admit that I wanted out of camp and committed to the canyon before anyone, our group or outsiders, told me that I could not go! Within 15 minutes of our leaving, National Forest rangers show up at our camp to inform that the area is being evacuated. Our group is allowed to retrieve cars and gear, that is all. Our folks tell them that we are in a canyon and can’t be reached. Concern etches everyone’s faces, or so I was told. I am canyon bound and glad about it.

The canyon was great—maybe one tiny whiff of smoke midday? Not sure. I know we shivered from cold water more than once. We made great time and aside from the 4 wasp stings that befell Aaron and a bear skeleton found, it was an uneventful passage. Not so for those that didn’t go in the canyon. It was Stephanie’s and Sara’s turn to worry for those they loved.

The exit from our canyon was out a popular hiking area. We were engrossed in conversation and failed to realize that we had seen no one hiking—not a soul. We started to smell smoke. This alerted us to our eerie solitude. Into the parking lot we went. Not a soul. Not a car. We had spotted a car on the far side of the lot for the car shuttle, behind some trees and we went to look for it. There it was, all alone. In front of it by some shade trees, I spotted Stephanie’s silhouette. I approached in high spirits with a broad smile. The look in her eye wiped my smile away. She tried to talk but couldn’t. A single tear tracked down her cheek. Tried to talk again. Then Todd and Steph hugged.

“I was so worried,” she finally said.

The love was so heartwarming, but I felt guilt for being one of the causes of her anxiety.

The area had been evacuated and the road closed. The fire, still 3 miles away, blew smoke our way. State troopers came to visit and were relieved to report us out of the woods. We were informed that a SAR would have begun for us at 4 PM if we hadn’t gotten out. Boy, that would have been a bad idea. They were mostly concerned with smoke inhalation. It felt like a big fuss over nothing to those who went down the canyon, but Steph’s eyes spoke of another perspective. Soon, a truck arrived to escort us out of the evacuated area and back to the rest of our crew.

Sub sandwiches and Cold Stone ice cream for dinner and then a 2–hour drive poised us for the next day’s canyon, far from the burning forest


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