Saturday, December 25, 2010

"The Canyon Chronicles" is HERE!

Winter is here and the malls are filled with weary shoppers looking for that perfect gift.

Well now, if you, or someone you know, like reading about the Canyonlands of the Southwest, starting with Grand Canyon, the mother of all canyons, I have just the thing for you.
I worked for fifteen years (1980-1994) on the Kaibab National Forest which wraps around the north and south rims of Grand Canyon. I worked seasonally as an engineering, timber & archaeological surveyor during the Raygun Years, and those were some wild & heady times indeed. Follow me as I unravel the mysteries of life, love & death in a world where time stands still.


While working as a surveyor for the Forest Service on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon during the rape and pillage years of President Ronald Reagan, Steve Carr, a young man from back east learns surreal survival lessons as he journeys into some of America's most phantasmagorical lands and national parks where he encounters greedy loggers, federal land barons drunk on power, brain-dead cowboys, clueless tourists, strange Mormon polygamists, crazed firefighters, amazing Anasazi ruins, mysterious Indians, canyon loonies, lady travelers looking for fun and excitement, environmental terrorists, menacing wild animals, and the outlandish characters who live at the bottom of the earth. Each stand alone story is laced with lurid flashes of forgotten Southwest history and sprinkled with a heavy dose of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll as the reader is transported into a magical world where flash floods, broiling canyons, freak snow storms, hallucinogenic visions, and bone-crushing rapids come alive with all the power and the glory. Each struggle leads Steve closer to a final confrontation with the Forest Service over the future the Kaibab Forest and the essence of the Kachina Way.

You can purchase the book conveniently through my publisher at:



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Friday, December 24, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 16 - Part 2

Otis understood he was being put on sentry duty because Billy Ray and John Lee, the two bikers from the Verde Valley in Arizona, were inseparable; B.T. had used the chopper to scout the pueblo they would be digging, so he was the only one of the group who knew where the site was situated. That left only Otis to guard the entrance road. But knowing the reason didn’t lessen the hurt. Otis felt like low man on the totem pole. After all, he knew more about digging Anasazi ruins than both of the motorcycle morons put together. It just wasn’t fair.

Otis was lounging in a ten-room pueblo that sat astride the dirt road like a crumbling fort. This site had been pothunted many years ago by locals. In fact, some enterprising person had actually brought a small backhoe up to the ruin and had excavated the whole area from top to bottom. Very little of the original structure was left standing, but one could still see the rock outline of the outside perimeter, and the wall which faced House rock Valley was still pretty much intact.

Otis sat in a folding lawn chair, gazing out through a large hole in the rear wall, less than ten feet from the lofty edge of the plateau. He was not a hard worker by nature, and the sitting part of this assignment was easy enough to get used to. But he still though that taking this type of precaution was a waste of time. Nobody lived on the Paria. The tourists were on their way to the Grand Canyon or the national parks of Southern Utah and didn’t even know this place existed. And all of the cattle had been moved off the plateau a few weeks back, with the coming of winter. Now that the cowboys were out of the way, there was no one else to worry about. It wasn’t on the way to anywhere. The roads were sandy and mostly impassable. The only source of water was an alkaline pond which the cattle used. There were no services; there were no hiking trails; nothing except cactus, stone, and the long-abandoned rock houses of the Anasazi.

Otis stood up. He was thirsty for a beer, but the others had taken his truck. There was no good place to stash a vehicle near the lookout post, so Billy Ray drove it to the dig site. They would relieve Otis at sunset. Until then, he would have to make do with only a gallon canteen of water. He spit over the wall of the pueblo and looked down into the valley below. He couldn’t believe his eyes. There was a green Forest Service truck coming slowly up the road to the top of the plateau. The truck was still at least a mile away, just beginning the long steep climb up the switchback mountain road, but it would pass by his position in less than fifteen minutes. He stared apprehensively at the government truck and fidgeted with the gun on his hip.

Otis stashed his lawn chair behind a large pile of rubble and got out his binoculars. He hunched down behind the broken wall of the pueblo and focused intently on the Forest Service rig. It was still pretty hard to make anything out, but when it rounded a turn, he could see the driver was a woman with bright red hair. Otis chuckled. This might be interesting.

Otis turned on the walkie-talkie and called the boss.

“B.T., this is Blondie. Do you read me? Over.”

He repeated the message at ten-second intervals as he marked the progress of the approaching government truck.

After about a minute, B.T. responded. “Go ahead, Blondie.”

“We got company, B.T.”

“Give me a description.”

“Well, it’s a Forest Service bitch in a truck. She’s alone. And she’s definitely coming all the way up on top. Over.”

“Good eyes, my friend,” answered B.T. “Lay low. Don’t let her see you. If she does, hold her there and give me a call right away.”

“I’ve got you covered on this end, B.T.”

“Use your head, Blondie. Let he go right on by. If she takes the turn to Pinnacle Ridge, we’ll have a nice reception waiting for her here at the dig. But if she doesn’t come by in the next fifteen minutes or so, then we’ll know she went over to Poverty Flat, and we’ll go looking for her later.”

“I hear what you’re saying, B.T.,” replied Otis with excitement.

“Then hear it ALL, my friend. Under no circumstances do I want that truck to leave this plateau. Is that understood?”

“She comes in, but she don’t go out.”

“That’s a big ten-four on that, Blondie. We’re counting on you, buddy.”

Otis glowed with pride as the radio went silent. He un-holstered his gun and crouched down out of sight. The sound of the Forest Service truck grew louder as it neared the crest of the Paria Plateau as Otis licked his lips. Let the games begin.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 16 - Part 1

From the top the Paria Plateau, the view of the landscape below was a swirling montage of colors: red rocks, brown grasses, and the occasional stunted green tree. The visibility was at least a hundred miles in every direction and the sky was so blue that it was psychedelic. Otis Stiles finished his cigarette and flicked it over the edge of the cliff. He wasn’t interested in the pretty view or the breathtaking scenery. Otis Stiles was pissed off.

Otis had been the first person in the group to arrive on the Paria around one o-clock. Not being sure where they would be digging, Otis had stopped at the point where the Buffalo Spring Road crested the top of the plateau. He figured he’s just wait there because everyone would have to go past him to get to the interior of the Paria.

The biker boys had arrived about an hour later. They were half-drunk and the three of them shared a pint of Jim Beam while they waited for the boss to show up.

B.T. arrived at three, wired as usual. Otis didn’t like the narcotics aspect of this arrangement, but he kept his mouth shut. It wasn’t any of his business, anyway. Cocaine didn’t seem to hinder B.T.’s ability to function effectively, in fact, if anything, it seemed to enhance it. But drugs and needles still gave Otis the creeps.

Otis Stiles was a Jack Mormon from Escalante, Utah. His nickname was Blondie, because of his scraggly blond hair. He was tan and wiry like a sun-baked piece of juniper. He wore a perpetual three-day beard, and his hair was never combed. His clothes were ratty and covered with dirt and grease. The left side of his mouth turned down in a constant scowl and there was usually an unfiltered Camel hanging from his chapped lips. Otis Stiles was actually worse than he looked. He had four wives and fifteen children scattered across southeastern Utah. He was thirty-five years old, had dropped out of high school when he was fifteen, and he had spent the last ten years of his life going back and forth between part-time jobs and jail.

Otis had met B.T. Saunders while both of them were incarcerated at The Point, the maximum security prison outside Salt Lake City. Both hard cases, they formed a violent alliance which intimidated their cellblock. Otis was serving time for trafficking in illegal feathers, feathers of birds which were on the endangered species list, mostly hawk and eagle, but also exotic Central and South American birds, like macaws. This was not Otis’ first brush with the law. He had been busted three times for drunk driving, and once for pothunting a prehistoric site in Capital Reef National Park. The feather bust netted him two years at The Point, of which he served nine months. B.T. was serving a sentence for intent to distribute cocaine.

Right from the start, Otis knew B.T. was one of those people who had gotten badly wigged-out by Vietnam. He had all sorts of weird ideas about reincarnation, and he was always talking about death. Otis didn’t give a damn one way or the other. He had beaten the draft by having so many dependents and had gone through life without ever considering the implications of anything he did. For Otis, there was no future, there was only the present. And when you died? Who fucking knew? B.T. maintained that certain birds were the appointed messengers of the gods. He said the Hopis who lived on the nearby mesas believed this to be true, and there were mountain tribes in Laos and jungle tribes in Brazil who thought the same thing. The way B.T. told it, the gods just liked to hang out in the mountain tops where they lived and send the spirits of the predatory birds to keep an eye on man to make sure he wasn’t screwing up. Otis figured the birds must be loafing on the job because the whole damn world was going to hell in a hand-basket.

Otis had been the one who first got B.T. interested in the raiding of Indian ruins. B.T. had never heard of the activity before, but it appealed to his odd religious fascination with Indians and spirits. Digging through prehistoric ruins sounded sexy and mystical, but the real kicker was that it could be extremely lucrative. Otis knew of isolated areas where there were ruins just ripe for the picking. He had grown up surrounded by the stone houses of the Anasazi, and eventually he had tried his hand at selling relics in Salt Lake City, where there would be a larger market and the items would be more of a novelty. He was arrested in a bar out by the airport by an undercover agent from the Bureau of Land Management, posing as a buyer, and he did seven months for violating the Archaeological Resource Protection Act. After that, Otis had decided that pothunting really wasn’t worth the trouble. Otis explained to B.T. that the market for cultural antiquities had become a booming business but he didn’t know a safe place to unload the Indian loot. B.T. told him that he might be able to help him out with the buyers; he had some contacts in high places. At first, Otis was skeptical, but this initial discussion eventually bloomed into a sweet partnership with the Judge.

Otis didn’t care much for the Judge. The stuffy old geezer was another one of those military assholes who thought he was still fighting some war, always acting like he was in charge. But the beauty of their arrangement was that the big shot, know-it-all was hardly ever around, and Otis didn’t care what the old fart thought, anyhow. The Judge had proven to be an excellent fence for their stolen merchandise, and the money they received in return was always more than fair. Otis had no idea where the Judge was selling the loot, but whoever was buying the relics had a lot of money, that was for sure.

Otis took great stock in the fact that this whole venture had been his idea. It was the best damn idea he had ever had in his whole screwed-up life. And on top of that, Otis was the man who located most of the sites to be excavated, so he usually had the role of guide, which made him feel important. Early on, B.T. and the Judge had rightfully concluded that Otis was much more than a simple field hand, and they made him a partner – albeit a minor one a five percent, but a partner, nevertheless.

And that was why Otis was steaming mad at this point. B.T. had left Otis behind to be lookout, spooked by the fact that his last murder had been witnessed by a passer-by. This time B.T. was leaving nothing to chance. There was only one road up onto the plateau, which Otis was ordered to monitor.

B.T. had seemed nervous and the last thing he said to Otis before he left with the others for the dig site had been almost frightening. “Don’t fuck-up, Otis. All of our asses are on the line this time.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 15 - Part 2

The road ahead dropped gradually into a lateral, dry wash and Jenny pumped the brakes to slow the Ford down. The dust cloud following the truck caught up to her and blew past like a smoky storm. Jenny quickly rolled up her window and steered around several large boulders jutting out from the bottom of the drainage. She down-shifted as the truck slowly climbed up the far side of the wash.

Parrot Rock looked like nothing more than a gargantuan pile of oxblood-colored boulders. Many of them had flat smooth faces, and a closer inspection showed the petroglyph scratching and pictograph paintings of the Anasazi artists. Parrot Rock was a magnificent collection of prehistoric rock art, deriving its curious name from the many figures depicting jungle birds from Latin America. Macaw feathers had been unearthed at some of the excavated sites in the area, and the archaeologists had concluded that the Anasazi had established trade routes at least as far south as the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico.

Jenny hadn’t planned on stopping at Parrot Rock, but when she looked over at the precariously-balanced rocks, she saw a new addition that made her brake as if a small child had just darted in front of the truck. She rolled down the window and stared indignantly at the word METALLICA, which had been spray-painted in giant red letters across one of the nicer panels in the group.

Vandalism of cultural antiquities came in many shades and colors, but the destruction of rock art panels was probably the most common form of destruction. Many people just could not control themselves when they saw what appeared to be prehistoric graffiti. They generally used a small rock to scratch alongside the rapidly deteriorating drawings of the Anasazi. Such mindless disregard for past culture was enough to tear at Jenny’s heart, but after years of watching every rock art site she knew of get trashed in this way, she realized the protection of these sacred places was impossible.

Jenny climbed out of her pickup and walked over to the boulder slide. This particular rock art site represented several different prehistoric time periods.

The original Archaic drawings were petroglyphs, carved into the surface of the stone slab with a sharp tool, like a hammer stone. These early Anasazi artists had evidently been intrigued by concentric circle patterns; most of their pictures were comprised of these swirling symbols, the meaning of which was lost. They had also pecked in drawings of bighorn sheep and deer, a reference to the excellent hunting. There were countless theories regarding the petroglyph rock art, but most was pure speculation at best.

The next generation of Anasazi to draw were Pueblo Indians, circa 1000 A.D. They preferred to paint their symbols on the rock, using red pigment that was made from crushing locally-mined hematite into dust; to give the paint its liquid consistency, they added their own urine and animal blood to the mixture. Dark red figures of people, gods, clouds, the sun, trees, and animals like frogs and parrots – whatever caught their fancy – ended up on the stone paintings.

After the Anasazi vanished, the occasional Paiute or Navajo had contributed to the panels as they passed through the valley. Their drawings were often done in charcoal and usually depicted people riding horses, undoubtedly the Spanish explorers of the late 1700s

The Mormons who settled the area in the 1860s weren’t much for drawing clever pictures, but chose instead to simply write their names and the date of their passage, and leave it at that. The children of these brave pioneers followed their parents’ lead and used the panel as a kind of log book while traveling the Honeymoon Trail, which led couples to the Mormon temple at St. George, Utah where they could be officially married.

Parrot Rock represented over two thousand years of human dreams.

With the twentieth century came the vandals. The modern Mormons merely signed their names across the panels. White trash losers just liked to take out their knives and try to deface what was already there. But this latest entry was perhaps the saddest type of all, at least as far as Jenny was concerned. The person who had recently spray-painted this site had been a young Indian boy, and it wasn’t the first time that teenage Navajos and Paiutes had desecrated this prehistoric shrine. METALLICA joined an already long list of heavy-metal bands: GUNS’N’ROSES, POISON, WHITE SNAKE, BON JOVI, KISS, AEROSMITH and DEF LEPPARD. Long-haired musical head-pounders were the newest gods of Northern Arizona’s Indian braves, who were drawn more to the outlandish costumes of the rockers than the ear-splitting music. To paint the name of a rebellious rock band on a 2,000 year old rock art panel was an act of open defiance.

Jenny closed her eyes and sighed. It was bad enough that white people thought so little of the ancient Indian art work, but for other Indians to show the same sort of callous indifference was indeed disheartening. But there was nothing Jenny Hatch could do other than catalogue the damage and move on.

Jenny looked down at her watch. It was already three-fifteen; the day was almost shot. Getting packed for this camping trip had taken a lot longer than she expected and she would have to push it if she was going to get any survey work done before the sun went down. The murder in Jumpup Canyon had the Forest Service running around in circles. Because it was connected to pothunting, she had been drawn into the crisis; everyone had consulted her opinion on the matter. The only way she had finally been able to escape the office was to print out a brief synopsis of the case as it applied to cultural resources and post the message on the bulletin board outside her office door.

Jenny pulled a note pad from her jacket pocket and wrote down a short description of the vandalism to the rock art panel. She felt numb from the strain of this crazy day, and would be glad when it was over.

The only route up on to the Paria Plateau was via the winding Buffalo Spring Road. Before turning left on to the sandy trail, she stopped to lock the front wheels into 4-wheel drive. Jenny felt a tinge of excitement as she gazed toward her project area atop the towering Navajo sandstone cliffs. Working in the field was the best part of this job, and for an archaeologist, surveying on the Paria Plateau was like playing in a candy store. For the next two days she would be alone on the plateau, where it was hard to walk anywhere and not encounter some Anasazi relic.

Jenny suddenly remembered that she was supposed to meet Linda Joyce by dusk. In the rush of getting out to the Paria, she had forgotten all about their appointment. She had driven right by the pinnacled hills of Bighorn Buttes and had not noticed Linda’s yellow truck. But that didn’t mean the bird watcher wasn’t there; she could have just missed her in the jumble of rock piles. Jenny would get in a couple of hours of survey work on the Paria, and then she would drive back down to the Buttes for dinner.

Linda had seemed nice – a little self-absorbed perhaps – but she had been through a terrible experience and was probably just gun-shy. Some soothing talk around a roaring camp fire and a few sips off the bottle of peach brandy Jenny had stowed away in her backpack, and Linda would be good as new.

Jenny smiled as she imagined the evening ahead. Camping with Linda would be fun. There were a ton of questions that Jenny wanted to ask the wildlife biologist about her work with predatory birds; but most of all, she wanted to know about the pothunting killer.

Looking up at the sky, Jenny noticed a golden eagle circling lazily on the thermals rising from the valley floor. The eagle never flapped its wings as it glided silently over the plateau like the shadow of death. How could you tell when an eagle was hunting and when it was just cruising? Now there was a good question for Linda.

Jenny laughed deeply. She was going to learn so much in the next few days.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 15 - Part 1

Jenny Hatch accelerated the green government truck to 50 mph and the Ford half-ton leveled off on the washboard road, a trick known to all dirt road pros. Once the vehicle got going fast enough, the tires skimmed so quickly along the surface that they didn’t have time to bounce off the peaks and valleys, making for a fairly smooth ride. She knew she didn’t have to worry about somebody coming along in the other direction. Forest Road #66 was primarily a straight, north/south road, about 30- feet-wide, and a driver could see for miles. Jenny glanced in her rear view mirror and the dust spume reminded her of the smoke machine that was rigged to the rear of James Bond’s Austin Martin in the movie “Goldfinger”. She gripped the steering wheel tightly and howled like a wild dog as her long red hair danced in wind rushing past the open window of the truck. Goddamn, it was great to be a government employee!

House Rock Valley was the only way a person could drive north or south across the Arizona Strip without getting blocked by a mountain, a line of imposing cliffs, or the cavernous Colorado River gorge. Within hundreds of miles there was only this one, mile-wide valley cut, carved by the run-off from receding glaciers 10,000 years before. This drainage channel between the Kaibab Mountain and the Paria Plateau had been dry as a bone – except during the occasional rain storm – for the past 500 years. The Indians had used this pass as a travel route between the plateaus for at least 4,000 years before the Spanish started combing the Southwest for gold and stumbled upon it during the American Revolution. When the Mormons took over in the 1870s, they also used thevalley to travel between the Arizona and Utah Territories. In the early 1900s, the highway builders cut a steep, switchback road across the eastern end of the Kaibab Mountain, and the House Rock Valley Trail slowly faded from use and memory. Cowboys were the only modern people who could find any commercial purpose for this sun-baked no-man’s land. They used the dirt road to drive their herds into Marble Canyon and up onto the Paria Plateau.

Jenny was traveling through a spectacular world of rock. Paralleling the road to the left, The Paria Plateau rose sixteen hundred feet into the air, vermillion walls standing like a fortress in the clouds. Imposing, sheer-walled cliffs of Kayenta sandstone blocked access to the plateau. Gigantic chunks of red stone littered the floor of the canyon like mountainous building blocks. Some were bigger than a house. And some creative folk had occasionally even carved out cramped openings between a pile of immense boulders and called it home, hence the name House Rock Valley.

Jenny Hatch was one of the few people on earth who really knew the history of this remote and desolate valley. Most local knowledge was full of hearsay and inconsistencies, but Jenny had spent her whole life collecting every piece of written and oral history about the area she could find. She had interviewed many of the old Mormon pioneers, and recorded their memories. An old cowboy named Hualapai Johnny and the Mackelprang family had run their cows through the valley since the early 1900s, and they were ripe with old tales of adventure and loss. And some of the surviving Mormon widows were always happy to share their husbands’ harrowing stories of mining the Vermilion Cliffs. Few other cultural anthropologists or historians found the House Rock Valley and Paria Plateau of very much interest. But to Jenny Hatch, this area played the most intriguing part in the Arizona Strip’s rich and colorful story.

Nomadic Indians of the San Pedro Desert Culture had used the area seasonally, starting around 4000 B.C. By the time of Christ, there were Basketmaker Indians living atop the Paria in small rock overhang shelters and pithouses. Around 900 A.D., at the same time the people of Europe were coming out of the Dark Ages and starting to build small villages, the Paria Plateau underwent an incredible population explosion of almost urban proportions. Nearly fifty thousand Anasazi Indians constructed pueblo villages all over the top of the plateau. There weren’t that many people living in all of Southwestern Utah and the Arizona Strip today. Somehow, the Anasazi had been able to flourish in an arid land comprised of little more than rock. Archaeologists had barely scraped the surface of this prehistoric miracle, and Jenny was prepared to spend her entire life delving into the wonderful mysteries.

The first inhabitants had been roving bands of hunters who preyed upon the plateau’s thriving deer, rabbit, and squirrel population. The only traces of them were the stubby obsidian arrowheads which dotted the landscape like black flowers. The plateau had been a reliable source of meat for these people, but not home. Much later, the Anasazi had used House Rock Valley as farmland where they grew corn, squash, beans and rice grass. The structures along the valley floor appeared to have been used for storage, rather than habitation. It was on the plateau where the Anasazi built their houses, primarily rectangular-shaped, masonry-walled pueblos with anywhere from ten to fifty rooms. For three hundred years, these hardy people lived on top of the plateau in numbers which boggled the mind. Around 1300, there was a mass exodus and the entire plateau was abandoned, never ro be re-occupied again. No one knew why the Anasazi left so suddenly. Perhaps there was a plague, or they were conquered by marauding nomads. The prevailing opinion of the experts was that a combination of drier climate and environmental degradation was the key to the mystery.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 14 - Part 2

Jason smelled a rat the size of a helicopter. There was no way both of the victims’ families would confuse uranium mining with the digging of a gravel pit. The local Indians had been conned during the fifties into allowing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to dump uranium tailings on the Navajo and Paiute Reservations. Many Indian children had subsequently died from contamination after growing up playing in the piles of supposedly harmless radioactive dirt in their back yards, and there wasn’t a Paiute living on the Arizona Strip who wasn’t intimately familiar with the shiny, gray-colored rock known as Chinle.

ASN was somehow involved in the Jumpup murder case. Jason nodded his head, smiling like a hayseed sheriff. The double-talking engineer was hiding something.

“As long as I’m out this way, I’d appreciate it if you’d give me a rundown on how your helicopter operation works. Todd.”

Tod scowled. “I do hope you aren’t accusing ASN of pothunting, Sheriff. We will no longer allow ourselves to be viciously slandered by people who have a hidden agenda when it comes to uranium mining near Grand Canyon.”

“Slow down, Todd. I don’t have a hidden agenda, and I’m not singling you out. I’ve got my people checking every outfit that flies helicopters in the area. Nobody’s accusing you of anything. Seems to me you’re pretty testy today, Todd. If I thought you folks had anything to do with this murder, then I would have demanded that you come down to the station for a formal interview. Frankly, I had no idea that you were going to get so defensive about a few innocent questions.”

Todd Krieter realized he had pushed too hard. “I’m sorry, Sheriff, but there’s a lot of money riding on this operation. And our investors get very nervous when they pick up their newspapers, or turn on their TV’s, and hear about their company raping and looting the land. It’s my job to make sure that terrible things like that do not happen. And that’s why I won’t stand for even the slightest suggestion that we do anything other than run a first class mining operation out here. ASN will, of course, do everything possible to help the police solve these brutal crimes. But I want you to realize that we are very concerned about any negative publicity that might come out as a result of this investigation. Unfortunately, we live in a world of appearances. I do hope you can appreciate our sensitive position, Sheriff. And, please keep this in mind if our name does come up with the press. That’s really all that I am asking.”

“Say no more, Todd,” nodded the Sheriff. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason why your name should ever come up.”

“I guess that’s probably all we can ask for,” said Todd with an awkward smile.

“I’m glad we got that straight,” said the Sheriff. “Why don’t you just give me a quick description of how many choppers you have, who operates them, where they go when they leave the mine, that sort of thing.”

Todd opened another filing cabinet drawer and removed a manilla folder. He silently leafed through the contents for several minutes without saying a word, then closed the file officiously.

“Arizona Strip Nuclear owns two helicopters. They are both Bell Rangers with a weight capacity of three thousand pounds. We can fit seven passengers and a pilot aboard each one as long as they do not have a lot of gear. We used them for recon operations during the early exploratory phase, but now that the actual mining is going full bore, they are used primarily to ferry supplies and personnel back and forth from the mine to Fredonia – just expensive busses really.”

“Do they have a set route they travel?” asked the Sheriff.

Todd frowned. “They don’t follow a road or anything like that. But hell, our pilots are no different than anyone else, and sometimes they stray a bit off course and take a little scenic cruise.”

“Have you been using your helicopters lately.”

“Well, one has been doing three shuttles a day between Fredonia and the mine. It runs in the early morning, at noon, and then around dusk. The other went on the fritz this past Monday and was taken into the maintenance shop at the Kanab airport for servicing.”

“Do you have a list of all your pilots?”

Todd opened the folder. “Of course we do. Would you like me to Xerox you a copy of the names?”

Jason smiled a big friendly smile. “That would be great, if you don’t mind.”

“My pleasure,” replied Todd as he removed a single sheet from the folder walked over to the copy machine.

Jason now had everything he was going to get from Todd Krieter. If he kept pressing, there was a good chance the engineer would go on the defensive again. It was time to leave.

As the Sheriff climbed into his truck, he glanced at the pilot’s list. Todd had scribbled a note on the top of the page: “Some of our owners have pilot’s licenses, and use the choppers during V.I.P. visits to the mine. But none of them have been here within the past month.”

There were nine pilots listed on the sheet. B.T. Saunders was the last mane.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 14 - Part 1

Jason pulled into the ASN mine above Shivwits Canyon. The drive had been a dusty, bumpy bounce-along trip through land that dared you to get out of your car.

It was not Jason’s first trip to the uranium mine. Ever since ASN had set up shop, there had been problem. Environmentalists tried to sabotage the operation because it was so close to Grand Canyon. Miners from ASN had gotten into trouble while partying a bit too hard down in Fredonia. And then there were the accusations from several sketchy sources that the company engaged in illegal pothunting.

ASN was part of a conglomerate owned by a cartel of investors who used intermediaries to handle the actual operations. Anyone trying to track down the real owners of the company would end up with the French and Swiss governments, Japanese sugar companies, German banks, Wyoming cattle outfits, San Francisco industrialists, and private speculators like the Judge.

Jason had never been able to prove ASN was raiding archaeological sites on the Arizona Strip. On four separate occasions, hikers had witnessed ASN helicopters in close proximity to recently vandalized sites. In one case, there were even fresh helicopter skid marks in front of the looted site. But no one had ever caught an ASN employee in the act of pothunting. The general consensus among the local population was that maybe some ASN employees pothunted, but not most of them. Jason had never gotten too worked up over the pothunting angle – that was better left to the Feds to handle – but when murder became a part of the equation, that was a whole different matter. Jason was now very interested in ASN’s possible connection to the recent murders.

He had called ahead and so was not surprised when he saw the mine manager, Todd Krieter, come bounding out of his office to greet him before the Sheriff had a chance to turn off the engine of his Ramcharger. Jason hadn’t explained the purpose of his visit, but the miner had sounded a bit apprehensive on the telephone.

Todd Krieter was in his early thirties. He had a clipboard in his hand and had the polished air of the efficient superintendent. The isolation of the mine site demanded certain sacrifices, but the financial rewards more than made up for the lonely nights. Todd was a corporate yes-man, the kind of guy who always had the smarmy answer.

“Good to see you again, Sheriff. I hope this isn’t about what I think it’s about.”

“What’s that?” asked Jason as he climbed stiffly out of his truck and closed the door.

“That murder down in Jumpup Canyon. I heard about it on the news. And some of the men who just came on-shift from town mentioned that the word going around Fredonia is that it had something to do with pothunting and helicopters. Ever since those damn environmentalists started slandering us by saying we were pothunting with our choppers, we’ve had to defend ourselves every time somebody finds a raided Indian site.”

“Well now, I don’t think it’s that bad, Todd,” said Jason as he stretched his back.

Todd led the way back to the double-wide trailer that served as the mine’s main office. They walked up the wooden porch steps into the bland office filled with color-coded maps, survey plats, and geological cross-sections. On previous visits, Jason had seen a few secretaries and junior engineers working inside the office, but they had evidently been given other duties today so the two men could be alone. Several of the computers still had documents on their screens and the desks were littered with partially-filled coffee cups.

Jason laid his Stetson on a long table. “The main reason that I came out here, Todd, was to get some information from your personnel records concerning the two murdered Paiutes you mentioned.”

Todd mad a sour face. “Why would you think we could help you in that department?”

“Because I’ve been told they were working for you.”

“That’s nonsense, Sheriff. I’m sure I would have recognized their names if they were our employees. What were they again?”

“Charles Tizno and Willie Meeks.”

“Nope, I don’t recall ever hearing those names before. Who told you they worked for us?”

“Their families,” said Jason as he looked the clean-cut manager squarely in the eyes.

“They told you the men were employed by Arizona Strip Nuclear?”

“They said their husbands had been hired by uranium miners working near the Kanab Creek Wilderness Area, and since your’s is the only outfit that fits that description, I assumed they had to be some of your boys.”

“I’m afraid that someone has made a mistake, Sheriff. I can tell you right now that neither of those Indians were ever employed by this company in any capacity.”

Todd walked over to a wall of gray metal filing cabinets and opened a drawer marked A-M. “How do you spell Meeks?” Jason told him and he rifled through the files and came up empty. He moved over to the drawer marked N-Z, and repeated the process.

“Nope. Like I said, neither of them was employed by ASN. If they had ever worked for us, then they would be in these files. Whoever told you they were working for uranium miners in the Kanab Creek area didn’t know what they were talking about. Are you sure it was uranium? You know, there’s a small sand and gravel operation that’s set up out near Kanab Canyon. Maybe they were working for those folks.”