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Three Climbers at Zion National Park and a Monkey Wrench

Submitted by fjielgeit on 2007-03-28 | Last Modified on 2007-04-01

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 12 | Comments: 18 | Views: 7966

by unknown unknown

I'm reading Ed Abbey, his Monkey Wrench Gang book, published in 1970. Ever read Abbey? I hadn't read this treatise on deconstructionism -- bible for the Earth Liberation Front, introduction to eco terrorism -- in ten years. Seldom Seen Smith the river guide, Hayduke the bomber, Doc and Miz Abbzug the roadies. Kimosabe, too.

Too much fun, too much truth, too much gut wrenching pain -- our precious earth that we love is going to hell and pretty dam fast in some parts. PDQ my mom used to say before cancer ate her up. There is a melanoma devouring our mother Gaea, too. But that is another story for another day.

I want to tell a tale about three friends from Sacramento, CA, on a Christmas college break road trip in 1977. Tony, Terence, and I -- Dave -- in a Dodge van visiting the four corners. For the novitiates out there, the four corners is the geographic region in America where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico merge. It's mystical out there. This was our first time. Always a first time.

We began by heading to Salt Lake City, Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons for some ice climbing. Good conditions. We stayed with my childhood friend, Joann, in Provo. Good reunion. Onto Moab and Dead Horse Point overlook, north rim the Grand Canyon. Even an Ansel Adams photo cannot do this landscape justice. You must take it in with all your senses. The size alone engulfs you like a pair of heavenly breasts. Zion National Park was in our gun sights, virgins on that valley's river. Here is where the story gets illicit. Here is where Abbey comes in.

We three were Abbey fans, at least intellectually. Desert Solitaire, and his simian shenanigans. His book, Journey Home, I had just begun to read, and we'd soon be heading west. We were on the road to Zion, 2AM at best recollection. Art Bell time. East entrance high on a ridge. We wanted to get to the valley of the promised land before the sky opened up and buried us in a zero degree snow storm. We got to the entrance station excited like kids on December 25. The government green gate was closed and locked tighter than an explosives locker vault. Or was it?

All three of us are tool men, logical, problem solvers. We wanted in. Now! Nobody was watching (no surveillance cameras back then). Using our combined, synergistic, powers of applied mechanical engineering (professor, climber and skiing mentor Joel taught us this), we saw the flaw in the design. With ratchet and box end tools we unbolted the hinges, moved the hindrance aside, and drove in. We put the erector set back together. High fives all the way around. We were proud of our ingenuity. We had become monkey wrenchers.

Most of us have at least a hint of anarchy in us, which is akin to malarkey only worse. We three compadres were no exception, except unlike the monkey wrench gang which did the right thing before incorporating (discussion of business objective, policy statement, game plan, rules of sabotage), we operated on impulse and necessity which prompted creative thinking, and acting.

Though we did not think of it, we were now illegally inside a government reservation. We didn't care, we were in, beginning the drive through the long tunnel, drinking Henry Weinhard beer, listening to Jean Luc Ponte jazz. At the beginning of the cave driving fast. Hell, we had the road to ourselves.

Around a bend in the huge conduit smack dab in front of us was a work crew changing out light bulbs!

"Oh shit" in unison. We could see the whites of the native Americans eyes on the ladder, big as cue balls, mouth as round as the man in Munch's painting, Scream. Workers dove for cover.

Tony shoved the break pedal through the floor board, did a high speed 180 degree skidded, bounce-off-the-curb turn, and we ran like scared rabbits with coyote on our tails, heading for the way in which was now our only way out. PDQ. No red lights yet. Tony and Terrence threw their beers out the window. I finished mine as I was in the back (no sense waisting a good pilsner).

We got to the scene of the first crime, unbolted, drove through and rebolted in in two minutes flat. The red lights were now upon our collected asses.

In a mind meld we agreed to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing less. Tony volunteered to be our spokesman as it was his van, he was driving. Terence nor I objected. We had Joann's chocolate chip cookies in a coffee can available as bail, bribe. Smokey Bear found us all lined up on the baricade, hands in plain view drivers licenses out. We knew he'd already called 10-86, crime in progress.

The ranger was so upset he was shaking in his boots. So were we. "You idiots could of killed that guy in there!" We were sheepish in front of the wolf who had Tony by his cajones. Terrence and I felt our scrotum's shrink. We waited for Tony's nuts to be crunched and hemorrhage. Pause.

Funny thing about Ed Abbey. This old sage was once a ranger himself. As Hayduke did in the Monkey Wrench fiasco, I bet Ed ate his share of red Navajo clay. "Good for the digestion." Mr. Abbey also knew that Federal government, state, county, and tribal agencies were not going away any time soon. So like the great philosopher / warrior Wang Tzu, or Sun Moone (I forget his name), Abbey suggested, Know thy enemy. Mr. officer was in charge, he was now our elder, guide. We had errored; how could we amend our ways?

That said, we three eaws waited for the death of our trip: arrest, transport to jail, arraignment, hearing, possible release on bond. A psychic castration. The Man took our names, license numbers, and next of kin.

I suppose our child-like faces and honesty helped a little. The cop had calmed down and we showed him how easy it was to dismantle the swing arm mechanism. With that bit of confession Tony was out of his jaws. Terence and I felt our sacks relax. He thanked us for the cookies and drove back into the cave from whence he came. Whew, I needed to drop a big dookey.

Like the Monkey Wrench Gang at the end of Abbey's book, they -- we -- got off with a light sentence. If you want to play the game, you gotta ante up, and gamble. Expect the worse, hope for the best, do your job.

Looking back thirty years, this episode was a portal into the mystic southwest and an inward journey to my soul. I pen the first draft of this essay in my Isuzu Trooper using a history book on Anasazi Indians as my desk. I'm drinking a beer and thinking about another desert rat from Abbey's era, a pioneer of Yosemite rock climbing, Charles Pratt. Chuck's short story, View from Dead Horse Point (Sierra Club journal, Ascent, 1970), is on the other side of this scratch pad.

"A desert environment is maintained by an irresistible force whose nature cannot be penetrated by superficial effort. To gain any lasting worth from what the desert has to offer, we had to learn to put our piton and rope away and go explore in silence, keeping our eyes very open. It wasn't easy, we wasted a lot of time climbing until we got the knack." (CP)

The tres amigos went to the Four Corners, the xeric-Hopi-Athabaskan capital of the world, keeping our senses very open. After Cottonwood Canyons we didn't climb a pitch. We were tourists on a mission: to just be, to just see. We had the right idea. Still do.

You who sojourn to the southwest today to rock climbing areas such as Super Crack, Virgin River Gorge, or the Totem Pole in Monument Valley (the rock climb in Clint Eastwood's movie, The Eiger Sanction), do you ever think about the grand- fathers of our sport (or mothers such as Bev Johnson, Lynn Hill, Molly Higgins, Mia Axton)? They all were trail blazers -- the one up, the one in.

I told scofflaw, Warren Harding, another of the Yosemite golden ear climbing saints, this story at a Sacramento pub, Fox and Goose at Tenth and R Streets. He roared with hysterics. "Wonderful!" "My kind of madness." "Nice work getting through the green door ."

Nice work. I'm still not keen on overly restrictive rules for climbers to follow yet I see trouble like a tsunami wave coming: more climbers therefor many more regulations. The last time I went to Joshua Tree National Monument, oh my God the number of people was out of control!

One place I climb, there is a Native American pictograph barely visible. It is at the base of a common crag. The image is being scrubbed away by the modern eraser of climbing shoe rubber. It is too late for this ancient ink-on-stone tattoo yet my observation (understanding of indigenous people / art) was made possible by a 1977 excursion into the heart of the ancient ones.

The Zion policeman was a nice fellow after all. He chuckled at how simple it was to sneak in. Sorry, you who followed, I understand special-tool nuts were soon after implemented to avoid any further illicit entries. After he canceled his 10-86, our elder instructed us in the monkey business of breaking and entering: "Don't get caught."


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18 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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4 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable read... Thanks!
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I have a friend who questions the accuracy of this story, while quite interesting there are a couple of points that seem in error.

The problem is there is no gate at the east entrance to the park. The road within the park - the Zion-Mount Carmel Road - connects to Utah State Route 9 at the main park entrance and at the east entrance. As such, the road stays open at all times and was kept open even during the infamous government shut-down period a few years ago. Also there are no lights in either of the two tunnels along that road so there could not have been anyone in the tunnel replacing them.

Maybe the only thing that is correct with that posting is their tossing of their beer cans along the way?
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The story obviously takes place many years ago. Are you sure your assumptions are accurate for the time frame?
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The writer, from the story, also did not spend a lot of time carefully observing the workers. He might have believed they were changing a light bulb, when they could easily have been doing something else.
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4 out of 5 stars Thanks, that was an exciting take on a fantastic life journey. I really appreciate it.

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How might such an example, help access issues in our NPs
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Thanks for posting your tale, I liked it. It reminds me of my mid 20's when a good friend and I made trips to the Four Corners area trying to find a little bit of what Abbey had fallen in love with. We had our share of fun (and mischief) on those trips. Thanks again for reminding me of those good times.

To the nitpickers above......lighten the fuck up.
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4 out of 5 stars sweet story. and i dont care if its true or not, but ill just assume its true.
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5 out of 5 stars run to read. i think we all want to create a little havoc now and then. nothing beats havoc in the desert.
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Hayduke lives!
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2 out of 5 stars I think you missed Abbey's point. Mischief is not quite the same as mischief with a purpose and the desert landscape he loved wasn't seen from the window of a car.
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Are these people above serious? If so, would it be ok to ask them to leave? Give it a break. This over-analysis shit is rediculous. Find something better to do with your time.

Good article man, it was a fun read.
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4 out of 5 stars ^what he said, good job
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I thoroughly enjoyed the article. And yeah, we all need a little havoc once in a while.
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Finally! Someone submits an interesting article on this web site! Very good story, despite the fact that it's completely random. Even if you did create or exagerate some parts, it was enjoyable.
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Fjielgeit here, the author, or storyteller (?) on this piece: The episode really happened. There was a green gate at the entrance station and it was locked. We three youngins' actually dismantled the barracade and drove in. Mechanicle hackers we were. The tunnel, the service crew, and our turnaround did indeed happen. I enjoy the controversy this short story has created, gives me joy to know some of you you arm chair types or actual physical brutes can dispute or admire my claims. I look at any story at phenomenology -- I have no idea of the veracity of the event, but I'm 100% behind the telling. I didn't stretch the truth in the details. And it was not the first time nor the last that we -- I -- did some monkey business. You can call me kimosabe if you want, but I prefere Tonto. Fjielgeit.
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5 out of 5 stars Tonto- great story, thankyou very much!
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enjoyed it thanks

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