“Let’s check the weather,” Isabel said as she and Max approached the visitor center the next day.
“Hey, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” Max responded. “Look, there’s the shuttle bus. Run!”
The driver had already closed the doors but reopened them when he saw Max and Isabel jogging toward him. They clambered on.
They seemed to be falling into a pattern: Hike, find a body, rest day. Hike, find a body, rest day. Today they were in the hike phase and were meeting Dallin Miller for a trek to Observation Point. Though not as famous as the Angel’s Landing Trail and the route up the Narrows, the hike to Observation Point was another one of Zion’s iconic experiences. The strenuous trail ascended more than 2,000 feet in four miles. It ended at a point that jutted from the East Rim and gave hikers a spectacular bird’s-eye view down the sweep of Zion Canyon.
Dallin was waiting at the Weeping Rock shuttle stop, in spotless chinos, a blue-checked long-sleeved shirt, and a brimmed sunhat. Isabel had been surprised when Max told her he had invited the assistant curator to go hiking with them—Max wasn’t naturally drawn to conventional people. “He sure knows his history, though,” Max had said. “I can pump him for information.”
They launched themselves up the trail, which traversed the rocky, terraced slope. After a mile, the Hidden Canyon Trail veered right, and the threesome turned left. Isabel followed the two men up a second series of switchbacks, half-listening to their conversation and keeping her eye out for wildflowers.
“When did tourists start coming to Zion?” Max wanted to know.
“Is that when the railroad came through?”
“Yes. The Union Pacific built a spur line. Tourists could go to Zion, Bryce, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon by taking the train and then a bus.”
“How about car traffic?”
“The … the highway from Springdale to the East Rim was finished in the thirties. They bored a tunnel through the cliff.”
“So you’re saying Zion Canyon was pretty isolated until the twenties.”
“From the outside world.” Dallin hiked steadily as he talked. Isabel was impressed with his conditioning, as she was feeling rather breathless herself. “There were farms down on the canyon floor, and there was a trail going up the East Rim here that the Paiutes used.”
“Is it visible?”
“We’ll be following part of it. John Winder, one of the early settlers, used this trail, too, to move stock. It was precarious. He was always losing cattle over the edge.”
“I bet,” Max said. “Instant hamburger.”
Isabel smiled, but Dallin didn’t seem to get the joke. Isabel had encountered men like Dallin during her dating years—smart and blah. Dallin’s halting, monotone voice lacked emotion, and his movements were stiff. Isabel had noticed he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. That was no surprise to her. As much as women liked stability, passion was far more alluring.
“There … there was a cable works here on the East Rim at the top of Cable Mountain,” Dallin continued. “Settlers had a lumber mill at Stave Springs, and they used the cable to lower the lumber to the canyon floor. So there were people here. But they were clustered at the bottom of the canyon. The surrounding terrain was so rough it remained a wilderness until the railroad opened it up.”
“And the white people who were here were all farmers? What about mining?”
“There wasn’t any serious mining activity.”
“How about the adventurers—you know, the solitary gold-diggers?”
“Treasure hunters sometimes came through.”
“Like … ?”
“There … there’s a legend that in the 1500s, the Spanish sent an expedition to look for a city of gold, but it couldn’t get across the Grand Canyon. And the Native Americans spoke of a white shaman who lived in the canyon and guarded a treasure of some kind.”
“What about the hiker who fell into Hidden Canyon? Do you think he was looking for a pot of gold?”
Dallin stopped, head lowered. “Dead men don’t reveal their motivations.”
“And the woman whose body I found? What would she be doing on the East Rim of Zion Canyon in 1910, carrying a miner’s lantern?”
“Probably supporting her husband in some way. Maybe there was an accident.”
“Wouldn’t there be a record of that?” Isabel interjected.
The curator glanced at Isabel. She caught a glimpse of his eyes, a pale, lifeless blue with the pupils retreated to black pinpricks in the sun’s glare. “Who would care? People died in this place all the time. Still do.”
“Tell me about it,” Max muttered.
Dallin turned abruptly and walked on.
Isabel followed behind the two men as they continued climbing. Max chattered away—about geology, bird life, the mummy, and Wayne’s chances of finding the first draft of the Book of Mormon. Dallin answered direct questions when asked but otherwise didn’t say much.
A half hour later, the trail leveled out and rounded a corner. The men pressed onward. Isabel paused and all thought vanished from her brain.
She stood at the threshold of a slot canyon. The hiking path ran along a ledge on the right side, hugging a sheer garnet-colored cliff. To the left was a deep drop off, but just how deep was hard to tell. Tentatively, she leaned over and peered into it. The gray rock swirled wildly, twisting and turning, so that it was impossible to see straight to the bottom of the slot canyon. The water must have come—must still occasionally come—roaring down from farther up and had relentlessly pushed against the stone, boring ever downwards. The churning force had left its mark, just like a fingerprint. She could almost see the water, but the water wasn’t there, only the evidence of its passing. It was eerie and beautiful. There was an incredible sense of motion, and yet everything was still.
Isabel proceeded slowly. The canyon was cool and shaded. Vegetation, fresh and green, sprung from the cliff next to her. She recognized penstamon, Indian paintbrush, phlox, Virginia waterleaf, holly, false Solomon seal, and some kind of lily.
Max was standing at the far end of the canyon where the trail crossed a dry creek bed.
“Is this Echo Canyon?” Isabel asked.
“Listen,” he said. He cupped his mouth with his hands and hooted like a barred owl. The sound reverberated off the cliffs.
They gazed silently down the narrow cleft, listening to the notes fade away. “How can something as inert as stone seem so alive?” she asked.
“Actually, there probably is life in these cliffs,” Max answered. “Geologists have found bacteria a kilometer down in solid rock. They have no idea how it metabolizes.”
“So the rocks are alive. I thought that was just … poetry.”
A cool, light breeze rustled the leaves of the Gambel oaks.
Isabel looked around. “Where’s Dallin?” she asked.
“Oh, somewhere up ahead. We’d better hurry.”
“You go on ahead. I want to take another look at the flowers. I’ll catch up.”
Isabel was paging through her flower guide when she heard footfalls behind her. She turned to see Old Fossil plodding up the trail, his eyes on the ground before him. He slowed for a moment when he noticed her and then slightly picked up his pace.
“Good morning!” Isabel said cheerily. “You wouldn’t happen to know the name of this flower, would you?” She pointed to an orange-red flower with four petals.
He stopped. “Monkey flower.”
“That’s right! How could I forget? But I never could see the monkey face.”
Old Fossil’s eyes darted forward, like an animal wanting to escape.
“Your name is Frank, isn’t it?” Isabel asked gently.
He glanced at her, surprised. Then he nodded and looked away.
“Did you … did you know Mar-Dean?” she asked.
He thought for a long moment. Then he nodded again.
“Really?” Isabel was shocked. She hadn’t expected an answer. But Old Fossil wandered all over the park. Maybe he knew how Mar-Dean died.
“One of the Sisters,” he said.
“No, no. Those are different women. Mar-Dean lived up on the mesa. On Jesse Cage’s ranch. Did you see her recently?”
He glanced at her again, squinting. The skin on his cheeks was furrowed and brown, like a plowed field. His aqueous blue eyes showed intelligence, though it seemed buried deep within him.
“Maybe you saw her near Orderville Canyon?” Isabel probed.
Old Fossil stared ahead, down the trail. Isabel followed his eyes, but all she saw was swirling gray stone.
He shook his head and shuffled off.
The trail doubled back. Soon it became a lot steeper and emerged into the dazzling sun. Max stopped to wipe his forehead and glanced up. The sky was deep blue against the tan and red rocks, with hundreds of puffy white clouds that looked like heads of cauliflower. He spotted Dallin above him. Pocketing his blue bandanna, Max trudged on. He liked to establish a breathing routine. Two steps for each breath in, one step for each breath out: 1 and 2 in, 1 out; 1 and 2 in, 1 out. It helped him deal with the monotony and maintain a steady pace so he didn’t get too winded.
But Dallin was pulling ahead. Max shifted to a lower gear, stepping and breathing faster: “1 in and 1 out; 1 in and 1 out….” It didn’t seem to matter. Dallin gained more distance. Max saw him pass into the sun, and when the trail curved around a buttress of rock, he disappeared.
Now Max was determined to catch up. Dallin was a lot younger, but he didn’t look like an athlete. Heck, the guy was a bookworm!
Once more into the sunshine. Max rounded another steeply sloping bend and then stopped, panting. Hah! There was Dallin, maybe a quarter of a mile away and higher, sitting with his back against the rock wall, and …. Max could just make out a movement: hand to mouth, hand away, pause, hand to mouth, hand away. Dallin was smoking! “Well, I’ll be darned,” Max thought. “I didn’t know Mormons were allowed to smoke. This is my chance to catch up with him.”
He trudged on. Sweat streamed from his temples, into his eyes and onto his sunglasses. Max didn’t mind the heat, but he hated to sweat. He was one of those people with sweat glands on steroids. Half the time, he’d be the one in a room sweating while everyone else was as cool as a cucumber. Now he chugged upward like a steam engine, dials pushing into the red zone, rivets straining, steam hissing through cracks in the boiler. Finally he reached the spot where Dallin had been lounging.
Max felt deflated. Maybe he would have to accept Golden Geezerhood after all. He couldn’t even keep up with a smoker. And maybe he had been talking too much. Maybe Dallin had forged ahead on purpose. That was the worst thought.
Hearing a footstep behind, Max turned. Another hiker approached: a tall, scrawny man, slightly hunched, with an unkempt beard and long, stringy hair. He wore a grimy long-sleeved shirt half-tucked into black shorts, and old black leather hiking boots, with dirty white socks slithering down like earthworms shrinking from the morning sun. And, most amazing, on his head sat an old-fashioned pith helmet. It was an apparition—like finding Livingston, long lost in darkest Africa. Except Max had seen him before. Old Fossil.
The man’s furtive eyes danced around Max for a moment as he passed him and then looked away. He tramped rapidly up the trail.
Passed first by a bookworm, and now by old Robinson Crusoe! Max was really starting to feel ancient.
He slowed to a moderate but steady pace and in another hour reached the top of the mesa. Though there were scattered trees, there still wasn’t much shade. The soil was sandy and parched, and while some trees were green, others were blackened skeletons. Must have been a big fire, Max figured, maybe the year before. He paused. A breathtaking view was opening below. And to the southwest, over Angel’s Landing, he could see the puffy clouds merging into thunderheads.
It was about a mile to Observation Point. The trail moved away from the rim and across a long stretch of dry brush, with scattered clumps of large yellow daisies. Max was hot, but the light wind was drying his sweat, and he was resolved not to rest until he reached a grove of trees in the distance, near what he thought must be the end of the trail.
He arrived at noon. Max lowered himself onto a flat apron of red rock near the point, with a view on three sides. Straight ahead, across the abyss, rose the angular faces of eroded cliffs. Lower and to the right stood Angel’s Landing, stretching upward like a little brother on tiptoes. Far below, Max could see the campgrounds, the Virgin River, and a few buses creeping along the road.
For a few minutes he drank in the view, and then slid back to a shady spot, where he pulled out a sandwich—ham and cheese on rye, with lots of mustard. Savoring the pungent mouthful, he watched an ant carry away a crumb, struggling over the top of his boot.
Izzy puffed up.
“Hey there, Izzy. Have a rest.” Max moved over.
“Are you kidding? Look at those clouds. We have to get out of here. A storm’s coming.” She yanked out a sandwich. “And what the heck were you guys doing, by the way? Having a foot race to the top? First of all, I didn’t count on doing this hike by myself. And second, when I noticed those clouds, I wanted to turn around and head back, but I couldn’t catch you to tell you what I was doing.” She bit off an enormous mouthful of bread.
“I was trying to catch Dallin myself, which I never did,” Max said, rising to his feet. “He must have turned off onto another trail.”
“Without telling you? That’s weird.”
Max studied the clouds. He hated to jump to a panicky conclusion. Thunderstorms were often local affairs, and this one might pass them by.
Observation Point was still in full sun and so was the canyon floor to the south. But a great curtain of clouds was surmounting the mesas on the opposite side. Intently, Max watched a point on the wall of clouds. Hmm. Not moving sideways. Then he picked out a rocky outcrop on the far canyon wall, which was in the sun. At once it fell into shadow. That meant the storm was advancing straight toward them.
The first peal of thunder sounded. Max glanced around. Half the hikers who had been resting at the point were already gone, and the others were quickly packing their daypacks.
“I told you we should have checked the weather forecast,” said Izzy. Her face crinkled with concern. She slung the strap of her pack over her shoulder. “I’m getting out of here. You can stay and toast your buns if you want to.”
Max felt a pang of guilt as he watched her disappear back down the trail. In truth, he had forgotten that Isabel was tramping up behind him, and it hadn’t occurred to him that she might not like doing it alone. She was so independent most of the time that her desire for his company almost always surprised him.
Another rumble sounded. Once more, Max examined the sky. The clouds under the front formed a flat ceiling about a thousand feet above the canyon’s West Rim. Though dark, the main mass didn’t appear especially menacing. But then Max noticed that a skirt of clouds—extending from the ceiling right down to the ground—was rapidly approaching. It advanced like a forest fire, with a wall of smoke blowing away from Max and then getting sucked back up into the main mass of cloud. Only it wasn’t smoke but a mantle of rain. Max had never seen anything like it, except in photos of tornados.
Max loved storms, and this was shaping up to be a great one. But as a promontory, Observation Point was an obvious lightning rod, and he didn’t want to be on it when Thor started hurling his bolts. Several trees in the area showed the spiraled scars of old lightning strikes. Max decided to retreat to a lower spot on the mesa. There might be some risk of getting hit by lightning, but it’d be worth it. Besides, he had faced more risk driving through the Las Vegas airport than he did here.
A great shadow swept across the point as the first drops fell, and the wind freshened. Max smelled the pungent aroma of cedar. Or was it ozone? The desert was giving off that burnt smell that arises when the first raindrops splatter a sun-baked parking lot. He took off his hat so it wouldn’t blow away, pulled on the thin windbreaker he carried in his pack, and began to walk down the trail.
He felt an eerie sensation. Whoa! His hair was standing on end!
The wind? Max pushed his hair down but it lofted again. Then he heard a crackling sound—sparks were jumping off his outstretched fingers!
“This is no place for me,” he said aloud and began to run.
There was a flash, and Max felt an explosion so intense the pressure thumped on his back and chest. The surrounding mesas reverberated like vast drums, and his ears rang. He looked over his shoulder and saw smoke ascending from a tree.
He ran faster, as fast as he could on the uneven trail. Large drops smacked the dust.
Soon the rain fell in sheets that swept across the blue-gray landscape and drowned out the view. A cold wind hit, and the trail filled with rivulets, in some places ankle-deep. This section of trail sloped only slightly, and Max kept jogging, his thumbs hooked under the straps of his daypack to steady it, ignoring the soaking he was getting.
After 15 minutes, he reached the place where the trail began a steep descent on a thin ledge that had been blasted from the cliff face. There, huddled beside a large boulder, was a young woman in a purple shirt and white shorts that were smeared with mud. Her arms hugged her shoulders, and she rocked back and forth, crying.
Max dropped down next to her. “Are you OK?”
She gave a choked wail. “I… started down the trail … and I slid. I nearly fell… over the edge. I can’t walk! It’s too slippery!”
Max thought she looked fit, but she was soaked to the skin. In fact, her undies were on full display underneath her wet clothes. He pulled his mind off that topic, pondered the situation for a moment, and said, “This is no place to stay. You’ll get cold. I can help you down. You can walk on the inside and hold onto my arm. Do you think you can do that?” She nodded faintly. Max stood, offered his hand, and pulled her to her feet.
They set off slowly, but the woman quickly gained confidence and soon let go of his arm. The rain lightened up and the claps of thunder grew faint. Max asked her a few questions to distract her. Her name was Jenny, he found out, and she was hiking alone because her girlfriend had twisted her ankle the day before.
The trail curved and opened up a view. Max stopped to take stock of the situation. Patches of mist scudded against the far cliffs. Everywhere, water poured down the rock walls: some places in sheets and other places as little veils so lacy they vanished into thin air. And all around was the sound of rushing water.
Now Max began to think about a new danger, something besides lightning, hypothermia, and slippery trails. He remembered that about halfway up from the valley floor they had crossed the dry creek of Echo Canyon. He figured it was probably flooded by now, or soon would be. For a moment, he had a vision of Izzy being swept away. But no, Izzy was too cautious! He’d probably find her waiting above the crossing. She’d wait even if it were safe to cross! This was one time he hoped the yellow caution light that she carried around inside her turned on.
After thirty minutes, they reached the bottom of the steep trail and approached Echo Canyon. They couldn’t see the creek that ran into it—it was hidden under the rocks below them. But waterfalls tumbled off the cliffs and streamed down into the channel Max knew was there, and piles of muddy rubble had slumped onto the path.
In another fifteen minutes, they entered the slot of Echo Canyon. Here the trail had been blasted from vertical rock, and there was a broad overhang that provided welcome shelter from the light rain. Max heard voices ahead. When they rounded a bend, about a dozen bedraggled hikers materialized from the deep shade. He spotted Izzy and felt a big release of tension.
“Hey!” he said, patting her on the shoulder. “Glad to see you!”
She did not look happy. “I don’t like this, Max. I don’t see how we’ll be able to get across. And we won’t be able to stay here if the creek keeps rising.”
Izzy was right. The overhang kept them dry, but Echo Canyon was so narrow in this spot the overhang almost created a tunnel. In a flash flood like this, it could fill with water. He carefully stepped to the edge of the trail, tested his footing, and looked down. A hundred feet below, a torrent of black water covered with white foam streamed through the canyon.
Stepping back, he turned to Izzy. She had on her blue rain parka—trust Izzy to be prepared! But her hand clutched at the collar, keeping it closed tightly, and streaks of wet curls stuck out around the hood. She was shivering, and for the first time since it started raining Max became aware of the clammy wetness that was creeping down his back.
“There’s no way the creek will rise this high,” he said. “I know it’s cold here, but we’re safe.” He looked ahead. Echo Canyon was like a narrow apartment with two rooms. The “room” they were in had the overhang. The creek sprang out below it and then bent sharply and dropped into the second “room,” which was a very deep slot canyon. After coursing through that, it emerged out into Zion Canyon, where it took a long freefall. The trail crossed the creek just at the threshold to the second room—the edge of the plunge into the slot. Max remembered the crossing well. It was where he and Izzy had stood to listen to the echo of his barred owl call. But what had been a strip of dry sand only hours before was now a turbulent river, foamy and brown.
The other hikers stood in a tight knot, hands in pockets. Everyone wore shorts, though most had on some kind of jacket. For a while, they all seemed giddy, caught up in the excitement of a new experience. What a story to tell friends! But as the wet and cold took root, spirits soured. No one wanted to sit on the wet muddy ground and instead they stood restlessly in place, like cattle before the drive, anxious to move on. The exception was one lean, middle-aged man. He was crouched on his haunches by the wall next to a big pack, with a small stove cheerily puffing away. He had spread his bandanna on the ground like a miniature tablecloth, and neatly arranged on it were a case of matches, a spoon, a teabag, and a ziplocked bag of sugar. He had pulled a fleece jacket and pants over his shorts and looked smugly comfortable. Now he was spreading out a folded air mattress for a seat, carefully brushing off the dust like a fussy English maid.
Max noticed that Izzy was enviously eyeing the whole set-up. “Don’t get any ideas,” Max said. “This kind of situation happens once in a lifetime, and I’m not hauling that much gear every time we go for a hike.”
“What do you mean once in a lifetime? Disaster strikes you every forty-eight hours!”
He put his arm around her shoulder. “What disaster? We’ll be out of here in no time.”
Two hours later, they were still there.
Concern for appearance had long disappeared. Some of the hikers were now sitting, their bare legs slick with red, greasy mud. Trail mix and energy bars had been shared, and if anyone had any food left, they weren’t talking about it. Instead, conversation centered on how to cross the creek.
The rain had nearly stopped, and Max joined a group of guys who were venturing down the trail to get a closer look at the crossing.
Three men in their twenties were especially impatient, probably because they were the ones without raincoats. “I wonder how deep it is,” one of them said as they looked out at the churning water.
“It doesn’t look that bad,” said another. “I’ll swim if I have to!”
The problem was no one could see the bottom of the creek. The water was the color of chocolate milk and coated with foam. On top raced a scum of sticks, splinters, and bark whirling around in little whirlpools.
“I’m going in,” said guy number 1.
“Wait,” said number 2. “Grab my wrist.”
The first guy waded in, holding onto his friend’s arm. The water came to his waist. He leaned against the current, facing upstream. “Man, it’s cold,” he said.
Number 2 followed him into the creek and held out his arm to number 3. They moved clumsily together until the first guy was half-way across, above his waist in brown water and struggling to stay upright in the heavy current.
Max was worried. Here the canyon was at its widest, which meant that down canyon the water was much deeper. If anyone were knocked over and swept downstream, within seconds he would not be able to stand. Neither would he be able to grab a tree or a branch since the banks were solid rock. Almost immediately, he would disappear into the deeper slot canyon, which had vertical walls hundreds of feet high. And even if he survived the churning water and the log jams filled with broken branches that were as sharp as spears, he’d be flung over the long cascade at the end of the canyon. For a moment, Max remembered the corpse in Orderville Canyon, broken and scraped. Then he snapped back to the present.
“Come back! This is crazy!” he shouted. “There’s a waterfall downstream!”
The first guy turned his head. “Relax, Dad. I’ve got it under control.” He took another wobbly step and abruptly sank nearly to his chest. The current began to tug him downstream. He twisted behind his friend, who kept a steady grip, and regained his footing. Then the friend pulled him closer, as if he were reeling in a great fish.
“Let’s move upstream and try again,” said guy number 3. They did, and clasped together, stumbled towards the far bank, supporting each other across the deepest part. One by one, they rose out of the water, pulling their clinging shirts away from their skin. Like athletes stretching, they rested one foot and then the other on waist-high rocks to drain their boots.
“At-a-way, bro!” said number 2 to number 1.
He raised his fist. “Margaritas, here we come!”
Then they turned and disappeared down the trail, without a look behind.
A couple of men in their thirties stood next to Max appraising the crossing. “That didn’t look so bad,” one muttered to the other. “Let’s go.”
“Look,” Max said, impatiently. “Those guys were lucky. You can’t see the holes in the bottom, and if you’re swept off your feet, you’re dead. We have to stick together. If we wait until the water drops some more, we can make sure everybody gets across. The more links we have in the human chain, the stronger it will be.” Max didn’t want to say it out loud, but he knew he’d have a hard time helping Isabel and Jenny if he were on his own. And he figured that in a group this size, there were bound to be a few others who were fearful or clumsy or both. A couple of the younger women, he had noticed, were wearing flip-flops.
The two young men exchanged glances. One of them nodded. “Yeah, I think he’s right. But it better drop soon. If I get any colder, my dick’s gonna disappear.”
“Yeah, well, no loss there!” his friend said, punching him in the arm. They walked back up toward the overhang.
Thank God, they didn’t call me Dad, Max thought to himself.
He pushed a stick into the sand at the water’s edge for a marker. In fact, it was hard to know what to do. There was a cold breeze blowing down the canyon. It would not be a good idea to spend the night here. It looked like the picnicking Mr. Boy Scout had a tent strapped to his pack, but they couldn’t all fit into it, and he hadn’t shown any sign that he wanted to share his kingdom.
Max hunkered down on a rock and kept his eye on the stick. It was all he could think of to do. Within an hour, the water had dropped three feet. Max figured it would probably come up to Izzy’s thighs, and while the current was still strong, it wouldn’t knock her over. Even if it did, as long as people held tight, she wouldn’t go far.
He gathered up the group and they all trooped down to the crossing. Max picked out the burliest guy and asked him to take up the rear. Then Max waded in, clasping the hand of one of the stronger-looking guys. With Max in the lead, they made a long chain. As each stepped out on the other side of the creek, someone new stepped in. Max and another man helped everyone up the final rocky edge to dry ground. And while Izzy and Jenny looked pretty nervous, they made it across without mishap.
Izzy gave Max a squishy hug. Then she wrinkled her nose. “Boy, you’re stinky! You smell like burnt toast!”
“Oh, it’s probably from sitting on the ashes of the old fire that was up on the rim.”
She scrutinized his face. “Your eyebrows are singed!”
Jenny came up to them. “I want a hug, too.” She gave him a big one.
Max’s ego inflated. Guess he had a little charm left after all!
“Can I take your picture?” Jenny asked Max. “I want to put it on my website.”
“Sure!” Max replied: “Give them my phone number, too: 1-MAX-FIX-CHIX.”
He chuckled at his own joke and turned to Isabel, expecting a smile of appreciation. Instead she raised an eyebrow.
“I think you mean 1-MAX-GET-REAL.”
The sodden group slipped and slided to the trailhead with Max and Isabel in the rear. A few folks complained that the park hadn’t sent up a rescue crew, but not Max. First of all, he knew that the margarita-bound guys who crossed the stream on their own wouldn’t stop to report the group’s plight to the rangers. Besides that, there weren’t enough rangers out there to assist hikers across flood-filled creeks every time it stormed in Zion National Park. These risks came with the territory, and you simply had to use your head and deal with them.
So Max was surprised to find a white Park Service SUV in the trailhead’s parking lot when he and Isabel finally got there. The fastest hikers were clustered around Ranger Amber and were filling her in on the Echo Canyon ordeal. Ginny was there, too, in a dull green poncho that covered her from neck to knees.
The others credited Max with saving the day, but if Max expected praise from Ranger Amber, it wasn’t forthcoming. She listened and gave him a couple of assessing looks, but her face remained stonily impassive.
When a shuttle bus appeared, everyone hurried to jump on. Max held back.
“Say,” he said to Ranger Amber, “have you identified the body I found in Orderville Canyon yesterday?”
“Finding a victim is a very serious situation, Mr. Buckley.”
“Berkeley,” Max said. “Like the college. And, yeah, of course it’s serious. It’s the most serious thing there is.”
“And you realize we assembled a search and rescue team, which is a very costly operation.”
“I’m sure it is. I was on teams like that in my younger days.” Prickles of uneasiness ascended Max’s neck. “What are you getting at?”
She answered with a question. “Why did you send us on a wild-goose chase, Mr. Berkeley?”
“What do you mean?”
For the first time, Ranger Amber looked him in the eye. “Because we took that team up Orderville Canyon, to the place where you told us you found a body. There was no body there.”
“But I took photos! The sheriff has my memory card. Talk to him!”
“We did. He said all that’s on your card are landscape photos.”
“He’s wrong! I ….” Max closed his mouth without finishing his thought. “Look, the body must have washed down river.”
“Negative. We went up the Narrows and searched the entire route, just in case that might have happened. I assure you, Mr. Berkeley. A body did not come out of Orderville Canyon.”