This Way Down, and An Update From Moab

20 March 2016

We have been spending a lot of time in Comb Ridge in recent years, stopping in for a few hikes on nearly every trip. We have been in many of the drainages along the southern end, starting at the highway. But there are many more summer’s worth of hikes towards the north. One specific goal this summer is to find at least one of the crossovers into Comb Wash from the Butler Wash side. I understand that there are a couple of them. And I have a suspicion that we may have been in one of the drainages that leads to the other side. A few summers back we here high up one of the canyons, walking up canyon, when we found a small petroglyph panel that had a large ladder-looking inscription. To me it looked just like a kiva ladder. Did the ladder signify to travelers that they could climb down the other side if the followed this particular drainage? This is a question I would like to answer, to see if this was an ancient signpost saying “this way down”.

Kia ladder petro. Image by Gerald Trainor.

Kiva ladder petroglyph from a canyon along Comb Ridge. Scale at right of image is 10 cm.

Update From Moab
We were in Moab in January when news broke about the closing of another missing person case. On the evening of 19 November, back in 2010, Ranger Brody Young was checking on a car parked at the Poison Spider trailhead. The person in the car opened fire on him, hitting him nine times. Range Brody returned fire and apparently hit the suspect as he fled. The suspect’s car was found within a few miles, but he was not found. A manhunt ensued, but was unsuccessful in locating the suspect. Now, five years later, the body of Lance Arellano has been located. A college student home for the Christmas holiday and his younger brother did a systematic search of the area where the suspect was last known to be, and found his remains.¬† The brothers will split the $30,000 reward. You can read more about the incident on the Moab Times website.

You can read my original blog post and subsequent updates at the Desert Explorer Blog. For more on the 1998 Four Corners Manhunt or all of our desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website.

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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.