The Trap, Part One by Patricia K

Recapture Canyon in Autumn2 by Saul Karamesines

Crossfire Canyon is my name for Recapture Canyon, a canyon in SE Utah that has flared up into one of the many hotspots for the debate over public lands use and access.  I moved into Recapture’s vicinity at the end of 2005 and have been present for most of the drama that has unfolded. Some of my next door neighbors have been involved, and because I spend a lot of time in the canyon, I have at times been presumed to be involved.  Recapture’s nearness to my home and easy access has made it  increasingly important to me as “home ground,” even if, at times, it’s not a very peaceful place to roam.

Friday, January 13th, 2012. I hiked out of Crossfire after a pleasant winter stroll through the canyon. Noon had barely passed but the day looked much older.  Even though the solstice had begun turning up the light three weeks earlier, in the canyon, daylight still passed stubbed off at both ends.  By noon, the low-flying sun made it nearly to the canyon’s west rim, and by one o’clock, five o’clock shadows began darkening the western cliff faces.

On the final upward stretch where the cliff of a small side canyon pinches the trail against a rocky rise, I paused to consider my options.  At one of the trail’s narrow points stood a Utah juniper hosting a small video camera aimed across the trail. I wrote about finding this camera and about my reaction to it here.  Since discovering the camera just before Christmas I’d begun walking behind it to avoid having my image collected without my consent.

Also, I chose to tell neighbors and other interested parties about its presence. I made a point of informing Dustin, my neighbor whom the BLM prosecuted and fined thousands of dollars for his role in building the infamous trail upon whose trailhead the camera now trained its unblinking eye.  In fact, I showed him pictures of the camera that my kids and I took shortly after finding it. Why tell Dustin?  Because several months earlier he asked me if I thought the canyon contained cameras and I’d told him that I doubted it.  When I realized my mistake I wanted especially to be truthful with him.  He’d straightforwardly told me and my husband that some members of the community–including, I believe, people in his immediate family, near neighbors–believed that I was the informant who had ratted out him and his father-in-law Ken to the BLM.

Also, I thought the camera a trespass in the canyon about which others should be able to make informed decisions, should they wish to travel in its vicinity.  Telling my neighbors about the treecam was not a rebellious act nor one based in need to avoid detection; I openly greet most travelers I come across in the canyon, including BLM staff and officers, whom I supposed had planted the camera.  Sometimes, I even hang out with them down there if they’re doing something that interests me and don’t seem to mind my presence.  But in this digital age, where photos can wind up in places or hands not intended and certainly not wanted, I believe we’re too profligate with lenses and act unthinkingly in our tendency to engage in an unguarded photographic trade. My own image is unusual and I’m inclined to protect it, and that’s about it.

I didn’t know how far my revelations of the camera’s whereabouts had traveled.  In the small town of Blanding, Utah, near where I live, such news draws high interest, especially in the wake of the BLM and FBI’s heavily baited Operation Cerberus, which in June of 2009 netted 16 Blanding residents on antiquities law violations and precipitated the suicides of three people involved, including Dr. James Redd, a beloved town doctor, one of the main targets of the investigation and my neighbor, and the BLM’s own paid informant Ted Gardiner, who supposedly earned $7,500 a month for his participation in the sting and paid a reported $335,685 to buy allegedly illegal artifacts from targets of the operation (May 27, 2011).

I don’t know why Dr. Redd committed suicide; in reporting the details of a current wrongful death suit that Dr. Redd’s wife Jeanne filed against agents in the BLM and FBI, the Deseret News quotes the suit as alleging “excessive, overreaching and abusive treatment” plied against the doctor.  The Deseret News further quotes the suit as asserting, “They intended to use his goals to try to get him to admit to a crime he did not commit using his own fears as their weapon of choice knowing that their weapon was deadly.”  Ted Gardiner’s suicide has been suggested to be the result of an unstable personality suffering extreme remorse for his actions.

Altogether, it was a wide sweep for a small town, snaring in the process some artifact dealers who allegedly did sell artifacts illegally acquired to support other illicit trade.  To the best of my knowledge, the doctor was not one of those, but the informant had especially targeted him and his family in the sting, some speculate because in a previous case against him he’d been acquitted of similar charges.  After the high profile raid and Dr. Redd’s suicide, the local museum, The Edge of the Cedars, received a windfall of donated artifacts from rattled ranchers and other residents who had built private collections from the Ancestral Puebloan culture’s leavings on their land. Gleaning artifacts from private land remains legal in Utah, a privilege of property ownership, but some folks decided to stay on the safe side and washed their hands of cherished collections, some of which contained rare and stunning items.

But back to the Crossfire Trail. In September of 2007, the BLM closed Crossfire’s access points to off-highway vehicles (ATVs), including the trail Dustin and his father-in-law Ken had re-engineered.  Then in 2010, Dustin and Ken were arrested for their roles in “improving” the trail, even as Blanding reeled from the ill effects of Operation Cerberus.  In a show of support, Blanding residents raised what they could to help the two men pay the combined $38,000 fine. So I think it safe to say that, with as many groups having stakes in the public lands use and access fight as there are, any bit of information becomes a checker on a hot tin checkerboard.  I was about to discover how my own words might have been put into play.

Before entering the camera’s range, I left the path and circled to the back of the tree to see if the camera remained in place.  The camouflaged-print plastic box containing the camera’s internal mechanisms hung low on the tree’s trunk, and the lens was perched on a tree branch above the box. Yet as I neared the back of the tree, I noticed that the ground behind the camera had been disturbed–in this case, I noted a puzzling lack of detritus such as normally covers nearly every inch of ground beneath and around junipers and piñon pines, and I observed that the box’s position had shifted a little.

As I wondered what this might mean I took a step onto the earth directly behind the tree. A strange noise startled me–an unnatural sound I’d never heard in the canyon nor anywhere else in the desert. It sounded like a chain rustling or some other metallic device engaging.  Instinct worked faster than thought but not fast enough. My mind barely registered the noise and had begun to respond with a warning “Uh-oh” and shot of adrenaline when in a split second the rustling turned to a metal clack.  I became distantly aware of pressure on my right foot. I scrambled to find a focal point for all the undecipherable sensory information hitting my brain in rapid sequence.  What direction should I look?  Was there time to duck?  If so, which way?  Was it over or was there more to come?  Not knowing which way to turn to avoid whatever was happening, I froze in place, waiting for … what?  The worst?  Everything grew quiet and still.  My awareness returned to the pressure on my foot and I looked down to find the first three inches of the toe of my boot caught in the jaws of a small foothold animal trap.

Read Part Two here.

[Edited 7/4.  Originally, I said that 24 people were arrested in Blanding.  That wasn’t correct.  Twenty-four people were arrested in total, 16 of which were from Blanding.]

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Patricia Karamesines has won many awards for her poetry, essays, and fiction, including from the University of Arizona, the Utah Arts Council, and the Utah Wilderness Association. She is the author of The Pictograph Murders (2004 Signature Books), which received the 2004 Association for Mormon Letters Award for the Novel. Her poetry appears in the landmark anthology Fire in the Pasture (2011 Peculiar Pages). She writes for the Mormon arts and culture blog A Motley Vision and is the founding and managing editor of the nature writing blog Wilderness Interface Zone.

7 thoughts on “The Trap, Part One by Patricia K”

  1. Well, I’m hooked. What a fascinating (and tragic) narrative. And something that in some ways seems so minor, but clearly has wide ranging effects.

    Also: way to build to quite the cliffhanger. Yowza.

  2. I am a little frightened for you.please tell me you have all your toes, still. The burning question in my mind is, which side is responsible for the trap? Was it BLM trying to catch someone messing with their setup, or disgruntled locals sending a message? And as lightly as you treat it, Patricia, that had to have been an ordeal, when the neighborhood mistakenly assumed you were the informant.

  3. Thinking a little bit more about this (something I should maybe do before I comment :) I thinking it couldn’t have been BLM who set the trap. That a government agency would put something like that where someone could stumble on it seems very unlikely to me. So it must have been the locals, huh?

  4. Jonathon: Waiting for what? ;)

    Mark: My thoughts exactly.

    Sarah: Thank you for worrying about me. My feet remain intact, though my dignity got a bit mussed. I’m at least glad I didn’t startle to the point where I tripped myself up on the gadget and fell on my backside (or worse, my face).

    As for the neighborhood assuming I was the informant: I’m accustomed to people thinking the worst of me. It isn’t that bad … really. Keeps things interesting.

    As for your supposition that it couldn’t have been the BLM–I think you’re correct. More as soon as I can set the post up.

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