Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
Parallel Play
by Ram

These two parallel stories are from a week apart in late June and early July of 1989. I only recently figured out how I would try to share the story. Hopefully I have gotten enough writing experience to be somewhat worthy of this awesome material. I hope you enjoy this little trip into the Twilight Zone ...

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“THEY’RE HERE!!!” Cheeks called out from the window.

I scooted over and took a look. John and Ann Minton had arrived. They were bearing gifts. Gifts expressing thanks. When I had called them a few days back, telling them that we had retrieved much of their abandoned gear and that I lived a mere 70 miles away, they couldn’t wait to come up to meet us and get their valued equipment. They asked what kind of payment we wanted for returning a couple of thousand dollars of gear. I told them that the charge was to hear their story. The very expensive knives they gave to me, which I gave to my young partners, was a surprise and not necessary, but a nice gesture nevertheless.

Greetings were exchanged and we returned an expensive Nikon camera that must have weighed 5 pounds, sleeping bags, a tent, and miscellaneous gear. We had taken what was lightest and most valuable. John was a big fella. Not tall but well built. You know the kind. Looked like he would have trouble clasping his hands behind his back. Clean cut and boyishly handsome. Ann was small and thin, not quite frail, with milk white skin and blond white hair to match her skin. John started in with their story ...

It was the last week in June 1989. John and Ann had decided to do a 3–day trip up, around, then down Wet Beaver Canyon in Arizona. Temperatures were soaring into the 100’s. They hiked up the Apache Maid Trail and over to the head of Waldroup Canyon. They ran out of water and Ann started to slow down. John decided to hike down ahead to find the water promised by the guidebook and bring some back for his wife. They would not see each other for almost 3 days. Thus begins their epic.

Five days later Cheeks, Newby, Dick and I were coming out the bottom of West Clear Creek. It is the 3rd day of a 22–day trip. We stopped and swam at a lovely spot by the Bullpen, where a dirt road meets the river. We had spent 3 remarkable days descending this amazing river to get here. I estimated almost a mile of swimming in the 30 miles we traveled. Simply a stunning passage through clear green water. We had started the trip with a 5–mile walk in the sun, with black inner tubes shock–corded to our packs for pack flotation. Ahhhh, bad idea. It was over 100 degrees. One by one, the tubes super heated and exploded on our backs. It would take great innovation, with varied methods, to manage to keep our gear dry in the coming days.

At the Bullpen swimming hole, the 3–day West Clear Creek hike behind us, we leave Cheeks and Newby at this lovely spot for a few hours. As a side note, this spot will be the site of a volatile hostage situation in just 3 days. Dick and I go and do the car shuttle. After returning to the swim hole, taking several more laps in the pool, we drive out with the intention to do a partial hike in toward our next objective, Wet Beaver Canyon.

From the trailhead, we hiked in 2 miles to the trail junction that led out of the canyon and was to be our approach route. The sun had set but it was still brutally hot. The air thick and hot like a sauna. We lay still, on top of our thin bags. We rest, but sleep little. We are awake before our alarm clocks go off. It is 3:45 AM. We hope to beat the heat of the day, as we have 1,200 feet of ascent, zig–zagging through the cactus, right out of camp and nearly 2,000’ of ascent total. But we can’t beat the heat for it has never gone away. Slow we go. Not a wasted motion. No arm swing. Head held steady. Sweat allowed to flow where it will.

One thing you have to understand about many an Arizona trail. They are on the maps. Nice lines telling you where they are ... but they’re not there. They don’t exist. Bad map reading you say? No. It is as if someone put the trail on a map and expected the passage of people to create the trail. Hints of passage here, a small but disappearing trail there. I have asked my Arizona friends about this, quite recently, a full 18+ years since this trip.Todd, Steph, Tom. They smile. The trails are still just wishful thinking.

The sun is on us now. The 85 degree cool of the night gives way to a sun baked 105 degrees. I am not in shape. I am a bit overweight. I am not carrying enough water. We set our goals. That next tree a hundred yards ahead. We walk, then we hide, walk, then hide. With almost 17 hours of daylight, we move at a crawl. Eventually I am at the head of Waldroup Canyon, the access route to Wet Beaver. We start in. There are 7 dryfalls to negotiate. Left at this one, right around those two, straight down the next. Dick and Newby decide to head down more quickly than I am able to move. Perhaps even bring water back to Cheeks and me.

It is dry. No water anywhere. The canyon aligns north–south, the sun in our faces. After the dryfalls we are in a deeper canyon. No breeze. The sun reflecting off of every wall. One final piece to create this localized hell ... The canyon is made up of entirely black basalt rock. If you touch it, it burns your hand. The rubber on my sneaker bottoms are sticky and soft.The heat is beyond anything I have ever experienced before or since. My partners are fine, but my stomach is unsettled. I take shorter steps because I get cramps if I bend my legs much at all. My body’s thermostat is overheating, but there is nowhere to whisk heat away from myself. I gasp a bit, mouth open, surrendering more moisture and I move slowly. I know I am in dangerous territory.

Soon the canyon opens a bit, a breeze returns and the drainage empties into Wet Beaver Canyon ... except its not wet. It is a 30–yard wide collection of bowling–ball–sized boulders, the gradient seemingly flat. We turn right and head toward the spring we have read about. I am light–headed and very dehydrated, but doing much better for not being in the furnace of Waldroup Canyon.

Soon I see a big lone boulder in the middle of the dry creek bed. On top of it sits ... could it be? A water bottle!! My friends. My wonderful friends. They must have come back and left me some water! I LOVE them! I grab the bottle. Need and desire are a powerful forces. They blind us. I barely noticed that the bottle was swollen wide enough it could have burst. It being very hot? Of course it would be, sitting in the sun. The top so tight that I had to yank on it with all my might? Dick is strong, that’s all. The smell that came off of it? Noticed not at all. With greed I drink ... and immediately gag and spray the water out.This can’t be water! Looks like it. But that taste. And now I notice the smell, the heat of the water, the swelling of the bottle. This is not my friends’ bottle. But whose is it? Oh so bitterly, I tighten the lid and put it in Cheeks pack ... and wonder ... how thirsty would I need to be to drink that water?

John had left Ann in Waldroup Canyon to go and get water. A strong hiker, he arrived at the spring, quickly drank his fill, emptied part of his pack, filled up all his water bottles, doused his head and shirt in water, and headed back upcanyon to help Ann. He arrives at where Waldroup Canyon enters. No Ann. She was moving slowly. Perhaps she is still up ahead. He climbs up into the furnace. Soon he reaches a spot. “Haven’t I been here?” he thinks. He is not sure.

He heads further up and soon sees a spot they had rested before. She is not here! Panic grips him and he sprints downcanyon ... then slows ... must follow foot prints. He must look behind every rock, peak in every alcove. She could be hiding from the sun. She could be hurt and hidden. She could be unconscious ... what else?? ... must not panic, must not panic. My God, my God, my God, WHERE IS SHE?? He screams for her at the top of his lungs. He reaches the confluence again. She is nowhere. He heads left, up Wet Beaver for a few miles. Nothing. She can’t be that way!! Then back up Waldroup. Nothing. Then down toward the spring again, total panic gripping him and tears flowing.

He leaves a water bottle on top of a big boulder in the middle of the dry wash. Surely she will see it and drink!!

Back at the spring, he takes a minute to think. If she doesn’t have water and soon ... oh my God!!! He makes up his mind. He empties his pack of all but the barest essentials and, with flashlight at the ready, decides to sprint 12 miles downcanyon and back to civilization. The first 8 miles are a trailless, forested stream with huge swimming holes interspersed. He has never been before. It is 5 PM. He has no chance of making out before dark. He never wavers though. He writes a note for his love, on the rock slab, with small rocks. Then he is off, fear and determination the driving force. He wonders. Where is she? How long can she hold out without water?

I laugh at myself. My tongue is so stuck to the roof of my mouth. I must ply it with my fingers to free it. No saliva. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Hard to carry on a conversation this way. Ah, but the campsite and the spring are close. We find Dick and Newby stripped down to their shorts, hair wet and slicked back, smiling at the edge of water. And these were the guys I envisioned coming to my rescue?

Aw well. I quickly join them and drink mightily from the spring sans any water treatment. In fact, we will drink straight from the stream all 6 days going down these 2 canyons. These creeks had seen so little traffic, we saw no social trails at all. This spring was huge. From the dry and barren, we came around a corner to a 20–by–10 foot pool, often deep enough to be over our heads and mostly covered with algae and lily pads. The guidebook says there are 2 pools just down river. They are bigger than the spring!!

We lounge on submerged rocks, heads and shoulders out of the 65 degree water, soaking in sun and heat from the 100 degree sunshine–laden air. Just heaven. We speak in subdued tones. I remember contemplating the absurdity of experiencing such discomfort on our trek to get to this magical spot. We make ourselves hungry, so food tastes better. Water is always more refreshing when thirst has its grip on you. We revel in the cleansing and cooling of an overheated and sweat–crusted body ... Now the simple pleasures feel like a flood of well being. The best reason to suffer is to experience the joys of its passing.

We end our few hours of water play with some cliff jumping. Some 15–foot jumps into the crystal clear water. Boys must be boys. As we head back to camp, I note that the water is so clear one can see the bottom 10 feet below. Nice–sized schools of fish dart all around you, making uniform direction changes. Smaller fish nibble at us and making a meal of little bits of our skin. It is all like a vision of Disney’s Fantasia.

We arrive back at our gear and set up housekeeping. This will prove to be among the eeriest campsites. Room to sleep is at a premium. Cheeks and I set up side–by–side on a rock slab, packed in a little closer than usual. We are pressed in and framed by an army of small ants, marching single file, down alongside my sleeping gear, 25 feet to the edge of the stream, where they turn 90 degrees left for 10 feet, before turning 90 degrees left again and up 25 feet, right at the edge of Cheek’s gear before turning left for another 10 feet to complete their rectangular circle. They will ignore us entirely and never waver from their march in a circle for the entire time we spent there.

We are in a ribbon of green. Riparian around us, but just 20 feet up, a steep barren slope of desert climbs over 1000 vertical feet to the rims. An unstable slope it would turn out to be. We are constantly encountering small pebbles rolling down into our camp, often hitting us ... and the sound of rockfall, some quite loud, will echo and unnerve all afternoon and night. We even have to do 5th class moves to get out of the magic green world to relieve ourselves. But these bits of ambiance are not what is most eerie.

Dick calls out to us. He is over in a thick brushy spot. “Come see,” he implores us.

What we find is a scattered gear cache. A pack, along with food packages torn to shreds, all over the place, mixed in with sleeping bags, camera, knife, tent and all other assorted gear. We guess a ringtail cat has had its way with the cache. But who would leave such a valuable camera? There is over $1,500 of high–end gear here. Who would leave their sleeping bags here, far from any shelter? And then the mystery deepens. On a slab of rock nearby, spelled out neatly in small rocks, is a chilling message.


All those hours training in the gym and distance running were now paying off. John sprinted down the canyon. Grabbing a handful of branches, swinging back and forth, side–to–side. Then hard, frantic crawl strokes across the large pools. All the time breathing deeply. Daylight is fading. He has kept his flashlight dry in a small bag in his hand. Now it comes out and gets turned on. It casts strange shadows and he stumbles frequently, even crashing to the ground a few times. With these impacts, the jarred flashlight starts to flicker on and off. Still on he rushes.

Soon he is at the trail. Only 4 easy miles to go. It is after 11 PM. He starts off in a run, but the light keeps going on and off. When it goes off, his eyes take time to adjust to the dark. Soon he dispenses with the erratic light, as being more trouble than it is worth. Over the last few hours, he has gashed his shin on a submerged rock. An ankle is sprained and now in the darkness he slips and gets a handful of cacti. He stops for none of these things. But there ahead is the trailhead and his car. He jumps in and speeds toward the County Sheriff near Montezuma.

At 1 AM, he bangs on the door and is greeted by a deputy. He rattles out his story. They make him slow down, but he can’t. They make him repeat things and it is making him crazy!!


He paces about. This panic–spawned energy must go somewhere.


“Well, son, it is the middle of the night, what would you suggest?”

The deputy makes a call or two and tells John that he will make a bunch more calls at 5 AM, and suggests he get some rest on the couch over there? WHAT? HE’S KIDDING, RIGHT? Still there is nothing to do. Soon the massive efforts he made to get here, start to catch up with him. Sleep? No. But rest. He lays down, his body vibrating from efforts made and anxieties washing over him.

We awoke the next day and packed up. We waterproofed our gear and all of the found gear we could carry and then headed down the canyon. After the 3 big pools, the flowing stream was surrounded by a forest that had much more the feel of a hike in the Appalachian’s than out in the desert. The vegetation was so thick that one couldn’t even see the desert that was merely yards away. The 2 rattlesnakes I encountered reminded me where I was. On a hike as long as this one, it is not uncommon for everyone to end up hiking on their own for stretches, which is what happened this day.

With the thick growth, it was often best to walk in the water, pushing brush out of the way ahead of yourself. And this is what I was doing, when I dipped low and took a mouthful of water. I pushed a bush out of the way to suddenly see a deer’s head less than 1 foot in front of me. A wave of shock hits me. I spit out the mouthful of water and gag. The deer’s body in the water, head suspended by a branch, and his neck, inches away from me, at a very unnatural angle. Startled to my core, I tremble a bit. The deer did not move. She was dead. More than a little shaken by this encounter, it was a while before I took my next sip of water. In the evening, each of us would relate the horror, shock, and fear of this surprise encounter, as we each had experienced it separately and alone.

As the day was turning toward dusk, we came to a small campsite on top of a large boulder. This spot provided a view of the stream as it went through a narrow gorge. We settled in for the night. We knew that the next day would be very wet and beautiful. We also knew that we didn’t have that much distance to cover. We would stop, swim, and stall at every opportunity.

In the morning we swam and relaxed, not leaving camp until 11:30 AM. It was a mere 2 hours and we were at a swim hole called Bell Crossing, where a trail intersected the river. This spot, a mere 4 miles from the car, had deep pools and thirty–foot–high cliffs, from which we launched ourselves into the pools below. The shore had shady and sunny slabs to lounge on. We chatted the day away, comfortable as can be, with stifling heat just yards away. I remember we all talked about the lives we hoped to build in the coming years. And here we waited until about 3 hours before dark. It was difficult to leave the water’s side. Within minutes of starting the walk out, we were dripping sweat.

As the day’s light started to dim ever so little, we were stunned by an army of tarantulas we came upon, walking across the trail, just before arriving at the car. None of us had ever seen one before, let alone the half dozen we saw in under a minute. Many were fist sized! All were crossing the trail left to right. We would consider this, in retrospect, an omen of more weirdness to come.

Ahhhh, the cars!! Wait ... That’s not right ... the tire on my car is flat. Ugh. Why isn’t my key working in the door? The lock appears pushed in. The door is unlocked. My stuff looks rifled through.

My car was broken into and so was Dick’s. Today, your vehicle might be protected by a safety system or alarm. Mine is and it decides to go off when ever it feels like it, several times a day. Back then? No such luck. Ahhhh but I did have my own kind of security system. It’s my massive disorganization. This thief breaks in, rummages through my smelly socks, torn up clothing, filthy, ratty and aged gear. Does he find anything of value? My wallet? No way! Dick, neat and impeccably organized fellow that he is, is not so lucky. His wallet, all his money, credit cards ... all gone. Newby changes my tire and we go to scouring the roadside in fading light looking for a discarded wallet. Maybe a driver’s licence or something to show who he is. Big bummer. We find nothing. We decide to go report the break–in.

John lays on the couch restlessly, waiting for the night to end. He prods the deputy to make calls at 4:30 AM at first light. Local search and rescue and all available police personnel are called. They even call ‘a bear in the air.’ The decision to bring in a helicopter is based on the concern that Ann, without water for a day, is likely in desperate shape and that time is of the essence. Access to this area is difficult and several searchers are dispatched to the Waldroup/Wet Beaver confluence. This involves rappelling out of the helicopter to the ground as there is no place to land. Once on the ground, they scour in all directions, looking for any sign of Ann. The helicopter continues to search from the air. Tick, tick, tick.

We arrive at the County Sheriff and see the sheriff himself, sitting at the desk, on the other side of a low swinging gate. He gets up and is facing perpendicular to us taking down our information. He is a big man. maybe 6’4” tall, with a large belly. He has on the big–rimmed hat and his face is almost angelic, with a large jowl. Exaggerating the large round jowl even more, is a wad of chew, bulging out. He immediately tells us that he has a ‘situation’ and that he may have to leave for this more important business at any moment.

He spits.

After taking the theft report we inform him of the gear we have found deep in the bowls of Wet Beaver. He spits. He draws a blank. Then the light bulb goes on!

“Oh that must belong to to those folks that got lost last week! You can leave that stuff here and we will return it to them.”

He spits.

I think,“Yeah, sure I’m leaving that gear here ... when pigs fly!”

The radio crackles and he turns, showing us the other side of his face for the first time. My knees buckle. As round as the one side of his face was, the other side was equally concave. All the bone had been removed surgically. An eye bulges out wildly from the sunken skin. A friend told me it is called it a ‘Commando Operation.’ Cancer surgery from chewing? A wound in Vietnam? Don’t know. Tried to show no reaction. We all did. Sure he has seen the look in others eyes before.

He spits.

Anyway, the radio informs him that his ‘situation’ has heated up. He turns and throws us a huge smile and says, “We got a hostage situation over at the Bullpen. Ever heard of the place?”

Hell yeah!! That’s where we had left Cheeks and Newby swimming for a few hours, just 3 days earlier when we did the West Clear Creek car shuttle. This Arizona place is nuts, I think to myself.

He says that some drunk guy has got a gun to his girlfriend’s head, and he has more important fish to fry now, I guess. I ask him for the address of the folks who the gear belongs to. He quickly looks and finds a slip of paper and hands it to us. John and Ann Minton from Littleton, Colorado, address and phone number included.

I ask quickly, “Summarize what happened to these folks?”

He just waves me off and says no time now and goes and gets a rifle off a rack. Just then two yahoos, with scruffy beards and in the classic garb, boots, hat, plaid shirt with the fancy buttons, come in holding rifles of their own.

They say, “Hey Bob, deputize us. I know that place well and we can get on the side of the hill to squeeze off a shot if needed!”

The sheriff says, “Now calm down boys and come along with me.”

We have receded into the corner of the office ... just a bit more than stunned. We slip out the door. We look at each other. Did that really just happen? Has any of this really happened?

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Now it is time for Ann to speak up. She has sat quietly while her husband has told his tale.

When she has hiked out of Waldroup Canyon and arrived at the confluence, she didn’t know which way to go. It had never been discussed. John interrupts to say that he had told her ... she flashes a look. He quiets down. She continues ...

And without flowing water, the spot looked flat. Which way was up and which way was down the Wet Beaver Canyon? Eenie meany miney mo. She went left. Parched and stumbling, she hiked for many miles. She thought maybe 5 or 6 total? And then, as if by a miracle, she finds a spot where water comes out from under the ground and flows for 30 feet before disappearing back under the rocks. This little oasis saves her life She quickly decided that this would be home until such a time as someone found her.

She had little food and no sleeping bag, as John was carrying the bulk of the group gear. But she had water and soon was feeling fine. The sun set. She put on all her clothes. It never got cold. She was fine. A new day arrived. The morning passed into afternoon, then almost to evening. She read from her little paperback, soaking her feet ... when she heard a distant wop, wop, wop, wop.

Still in my living room, John and Ann before me, I am listening attentively to their story. I realize that somewhere along the line, John took over the telling of Ann’s story.

I stopped him and said, “No, no, no John. You weren’t there. This is Ann’s story to tell.”

He sank back in his chair, a bit miffed. A barely visible smile showed on Ann’s face ... she took up the story again.

She said I knew they would find me. I wasn’t worried at all. I could have stayed there for days. I heard the sound of the helicopter a few times. Would come closer, then further away. Finally it came overhead and circled. I waved. He instructed over a megaphone for me to wave my arms over my head if I was OK. I did so. He asked if I was Ann Minton. I waved a yes. He called out that he would be back and then flew away.

After 2 hours or so, the sound of the wop, wop, wop came back. The copter hovered, a rope came down each side of the cab and a total of 6 men, one on each side with large backpacks, rappelled down to me. They greeted me and checked me out, then took chainsaws from their backpacks, fired them up, and cut all the nearby trees down. Yup. All of them. Then the copter set down in the creek, picked us all up, and we motored away to my reunion with my husband.

After we went out into the parking lot of the sheriff’s office, several folks left in police cars, including the sheriff and his gun toting friends. Lights flashing, sirens blaring. We never found out what happened. Cheeks and I discussed trying to find out just a few days ago. He called the Arizona newspapers. Just today he reported that they didn’t have news stories on anything but microfilm way back then, and one would have to go to the newspaper archives and spend some time digging around to find out what happened. That is if it was a big enough story to even make the paper. Perhaps we will look someday, when we are nearby, doing canyons.

We got in our cars and headed north. We just wanted a peaceful squatter’s site to decompress from this madness called Arizona. Up toward Flagstaff, we headed down a deserted National Forest road. Settling into a nice ponderosa forest campsite, we cracked a few beers. Then out of nowhere, two open–bed pick–up trucks, the backs packed with young adults, came roaring up, dust flying.

A passenger called out with a smile and said, “WANNA PARTY??”

“Not today, thank you very much.”

They stopped just a 100 feet beyond, barreled out, blasted music boxes and the occasional gunshot. We grabbed our stuff and moved 10 miles down a different road. We had 16 days left on this trip. Many more odd and wonderful moments were in store for us.

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I called Newby, Cheeks and Dick in the last 2 days just to review events, get the facts straight of the story I am sharing with you now. We laughed constantly as we shared our take on those 3 bizarre days in July of 1989. It was like we were living them all over again. One is a lawyer, one a professor, one a business owner. We live in different corners of the continent. We each have our growing families and lives. We don’t see each other as much as we would like, or perhaps talk to each other as often as we should.

It’s OK. Life’s experiences, this one and others, bind us. Bind us well and truly.


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