“I journeyd fur, I journeyed fas; I’s glad I foun’ the place at las’ ”
– Joel Chanldler Harris, from Nights with Uncle Remus, 1883
A big blizzard hit Northern Arizona right before Thanksgiving and my job with the Forest Service was quickly over. When we couldn’t get outside to survey anymore, it was the end of the field season. So we unloaded the Chevy Blazer, put the survey equipment away, and spent one last night getting hammered at the Sultana. I puked on the way home and some chickens who had escaped from some poor beaner’s shitbox front yard had a field day pecking away at the sudden treat lining the snow-covered bushes and sidewalk. I was a mess.
When I left the Kaibab I figured that was the end of the line with the Forest Service. The pulp wood business was in the tank and Dave, my boss, told me that the Supervisor’s Office was probably going to scratch its survey crew because there weren’t going to be any new timber sales, so there was nothing to survey next year.
I didn’t know what to do.
Most of my friends were seasonal firefighters and were heading to Flagstaff. They were planning on renting a group house on North Humphreys and collecting unemployment until they went back to work in the spring. Needless to say, there weren’t any firefighting jobs to be had around Flag in the winter, so they just filled out the paper work each week, showing they had been seeking gainful employment, and then the checks rolled in like clockwork. Essentially, it was free money. Then they would get a seasonal pass to the Snow Bowl for a few hundred dollars, and spend the winter skiing and partying.
Not being a winter person, or the kind of fellow who liked to get paid for doing nothing, I headed south to stay with a lady friend who taught school in Tucson. I had saved up some cash from work and decided to hang out until the money dried up, or I found work.
In those days, Tucson was still pretty laid back. Phoenix was the big city. But Tucson was a backwater oasis in the desert surrounded by the bewitching Catalina Mountains. It’s claim to fame was the University of Arizona. Besides the school, there was wonderful Mexican cuisine, funky neighborhoods of pink and turquoise-colored houses adorned with red chiles, reggae music out the ass, and not much else. I spent a month exploring the many stoner trails in the Coronado National Forest outside town and often rode my bike into the desert or out to the Tucson Mountain Park. Mexican weed was plentiful and inexpensive and I loved to ride up the Mt. Lemmon Road, to this outstanding overlook above Willow Canyon, smoke a big spleef, and enjoy the colors. Some days I’d cruise over to the amazing library at the University and spend a leisurely day checking out the stunning coeds and reading about the history of the Southwest. Life was pretty chill and cheap. It’s amazing how far you can stretch your money, eating beans, rice, and tortillas. Beer was my largest expense.
In early spring I drove east to visit my parents back in Maryland. They, of course, thought I had lost my mind. I had no job. I had no college degree. I had no prospects for the future. And I was as happy as a clam. Clearly, I had lost my faculties
In March , I got a call from my old buddy Dave Healy, offering me a job on the North Kaibab Ranger District. The North Kaibab Forest ran from Utah to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I knew nothing about it, other than the stories I had heard from some of the people from the Supervisors Office who had been detailed there periodically during the previous field season. They described it in almost reverent terms. The trees were ginormous. The forest was covered in broad glacial meadows. There were hundreds of spectacular viewpoints overlooking the Grand Canyon. And the massive herds of deer resembled the Serengeti.
And then there were the Mormons. Most of the people working on the North Side were Mormons, living in Southern Utah. My friends said they were a little odd but basically harmless. Having never met a Mormon, and not really giving a damn about any religion either way, the presence of some religious weirdos seemed unimportant. The more, the merrier...