Some Thoughts on the Moab Ranger Shooting

25 November 2010

Update: 15 January 2011
There hasn’t been much in the news about Ranger Young lately, but he is currently at home, recovering, and doing well it sounds like, after being shot 9 times. We are glad to hear that and wish him the best. Follow the RangerBrody link below to donate or to get to his Facebook  page to read more.

Update: 08 December 2010
A New York Times article addresses the bigger problems that some rangers face every day, now that so many of them have become law enforcement officers rather than a friendly face on the trail ready to discuss the flora and fauna. Meanwhile, Ranger Young’s condition has worsened (click the link below to read more about him.)

Update: 27 November 2010
The search area near Moab has been re-opened to the public and all law enforcement has pulled out. The manhunt has been scaled back to only ranger patrols through the area. There has been no new sign of the suspect for days, all this according to online news reports. Also, a website has been set up for Ranger Young where donations can be made towards his hospital bills- visit rangerbrody.org.

25 November 2010 post:
It has been a while since I have had the time to sit down and write.  I apologise to those looking for more from us. The coming holiday season is keeping us quite busy these days at our retail store. Today I had hoped to focus on something like rock art, or desert plants, or summer plans on this Thanksgiving day, but the recent shooting of the ranger near Moab has my attention. Events like this leave me wondering about the state of our world, especially when they happen in a place like Moab where I don’t expect such things, and to a park ranger whose mission is to make sure visitors are safe in their adventures on the slickrock, rivers, and in the canyons.

I do not have any more information than can be found on the Salt Lake Tribune website, or anywhere else online. It is the policy of law enforcement agencies to give out just enough information to keep the public safe and help in their search for suspects. How they come up with what is “enough information” sometimes baffles me. In this case I am of the opinion that more information released to the public would be better for all of us, especially now that the search for the suspect is being scaled back and the public allowed back into the area. There is undoubtedly more information available to those in Moab.

For those unfamiliar with the event, a Utah state park ranger making a routine check on a vehicle at the Poison Spider Trailhead parking lot was critically wounded on Friday night, 19 November at about 8:40 pm. He was able to return fire, apparently a lot of fire, and then call for help. Ranger Brody Young is in a Grand Junction hospital and is stabilising, again according to news reports.

Why Did it Happen and Where Did the Suspect Go?
The motive for the crime, if it can be called that, seems clear enough- the suspect is a disturbed, angry, antisocial person who was described as “a cannon ready to go off”. It seems that Friday night was just when it finally happened.

As for my theory on the suspect’s whereabouts- this is the part of such an event that captures my interest- having only news reports to go on, and nothing first hand, everything I write is pure speculation. I am familiar with the area, having biked, hiked, driven, and floated through on many occasions. I am also familiar with the fact that people can disappear in canyon country fairly easily. The history of the area is replete with such stories. Many of those who “disappeared” were later found dead; case in point being the quick disappearance in 1998 of the trio that killed Cortez, Colorado police officer Dale Claxton.

According to news reports the present manhunt is being scaled back, the searchers having had no luck in finding signs of the suspect for a couple of days it would seem. Reports now state that the initial track followed may not have been that of the suspect. The suspect’s vehicle was found “a few miles” away from the location of the shooting. On the map that would be right around Bootlegger Canyon, a route out of the area. The rail line from the potash plant downriver runs right through the canyon. There was mention in news reports of searching the railroad tunnel there for the suspect.

There are many other possible routes out of the area, some well-known and well-traveled, others only known to canyoneers and explorers. Those well-known routes could be easily covered by law enforcement, for example traveling down Potash Road you can easily make it up through Long Canyon onto the mesa top, or continue to White Rim Road and on through Canyonlands National Park. Not so with the countless unmarked routes up and out of the area.

I found the possibility of floating out of the area mentioned only once, in relation to canoes at a ranch in the search area. I am sure the river was well-searched by air, if not by boat (I found no reference to this in reports). Floating out late Friday night, under the near-full moon, covering 10 or 15 river miles would give access to many more possible exits.

Limited Information Released
A recent report states that the suspect is in “pretty good” physical condition. This is an important part of the equation. Reports make little mention of equipment, another important consideration. A backpack with “some clothing and canned goods”, along with a .22 rifle, was found a couple of miles from the vehicle abandonment location. Knowing if the suspect likely had a daypack that was not found in his car, or that his sleeping bag was not found for example, would reveal a lot about the suspect, and his probable condition.

Again, I can only speculate on the suspect’s whereabouts. It cannot be ruled out that he made it far out of the area before searchers made it in on Saturday morning. A healthy, fit, prepared person with maps and knowledge of the area could cover 10, 15, even 20 miles in a day, less of course at night and under adverse weather conditions. But it must be remembered that this person was desperate, and desperation can press a human to do seemingly unattainable things. Conversely, history would caution us and state that there is likely a body to be found very near where officers are searching.

No matter how the suspect is found, dead or alive, I will likely feel a little different the next time I visit Moab, not quite so safe as I have always felt. I know this was an isolated event, and that we probably will not see anything like it again for many years to come. At least I can hope that.

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Dirty Devil River, Desert Explorer Update, Four Corners Fugitives

26 January 2008

Dirty Devil River Float-
I made a decision this week to float the Dirty Devil River earlier than I had originally planned. Since I am going to ride the White Rim in August, the plan now is to float solo at the end of May, over the last two weeks of the month. I had thought about floating in August, but was worried about the flow of water then. In May that should be less of a problem. I am giving myself 10 days to do it, but will allow two or three days extra in my itinerary in case I find canyons that must be explored. From all the information I have found on the river, much of it, in the upper reaches at least, seems to be a muddy stream. But I am sure there is plenty to see along the 90 or so miles of the trip from near Hanksville down to Hite. There are some really amazing canyons along the way, judging by the topography on the map. Of course I will carry a pack and hiking gear; I will likely carry a larger pack for an overnight or two if my research and map reconnaissance deem it necessary, and I will make sure they do.

Logistically the only hurdle to work out is a shuttle from Hite to the put-in above Hanksville. I will call Tag-A-Long Expeditions in Moab in the next week or so to see if they have any plans to be in the area at the end of May. It is probably too early for them to know their schedule for sure, but I will let them know that I am interested. Once I park my truck at Hite Marina, and get the ride to the put-in, I am free for the next couple of weeks to explore. I am really looking forward to the float, even though it may be challenging in terms of navigation- dragging the boat across sandbars and through shallows, in the heat of the summer no less, will be a big part of the float from the little I have read about it.

Desert Explorer Website-
I added three new pages to the Cedar Mesa Trip Guides page on the website this week. Kane Gulch Ranger Station to Toadie Canyon Loop; Green House Canyon, Grand Gulch, Pine Canyon, Step Canyon Loop; and Coyote Canyon to Shiek’s Canyon Loop are now online. I will revisit them in the coming weeks to edit and add to the content, and post another photo or two once I locate the images.

I did some editing of the Backpack Foods Page this week, added more content, the first recipe. This page will see more work in the near future as well- I will add at least a few more recipes this week. As with all my pages, I create them and add to them as time allows. My goal is to at least post introductions on the topics that I feel are necessary and important to desert backpacking and hiking. Then I can work on them when I have the time, 10 minutes here, a half hour there. I still have much work to do to get the site to a point that I feel makes it comprehensive. I am about half way to my ultimate goal. So keep checking back.

Four Corners Fugitives Search-
This week I went back to my notes about the Four Corners Fugitives and began work on Chapter Five. It should be ready for posting this week. If you are unfamiliar with this topic, I will offer a summary:

In late May of 1998 a water truck was stolen near Durango, Colorado. Three local men, Jason Wayne McVean, Alan Lamont Pilon, and Robert Matthew Mason were ultimately responsible for the crime. On 29 May the three were spotted in the truck and stopped by officer Dale Claxton. They opened fire on the officer, apparently with automatic weapons, killing him before he could exit his police cruiser. The three then sped off into the remote Cross Canyon area along the border of Utah and Colorado, but not without other incidents. Mason was eventually found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot on 04 June, 1998, 50 miles from where they abandoned their escape vehicle. Pilon was found in the same condition on 31 October, 1999, not two miles form the vehicle. McVean was finally found on 05 June, 2007, just miles from where the truck was abandoned. He had died of a self-inflicted gunshot, probably the very afternoon of his escape.

To read more about the Four Corners Fugitives and the largest manhunt in western history, visit www.DesertExplorer.us .