Here in Gunsmoke, eastern Arizona, temperatures plummeted to a Pleistocene low of 104°F (40°C). Residents claim it’s not real hot yet, but Tripod, the town dog, got stuck peeing on a Jeep tire. Folks now call him Bipod.
Part of Gunsmoke’s Main Street started bubbling. Hot asphalt seeped like syrup into the canyon floor, revealing a full-grown Triceratops or perhaps only a 1927 Ford pickup. No one’s sure because the local fire & ladder truck sent to rescue it sank into the tarpit, providing some sort of metaphor.
Last Drop in the Bucket List
Lest you think Arizona is one huge, silicon-to-glass furnace, it does offer varied terrain. With that in mind, I opted to visit the Grand Canyon. It was then I became a killer.
After pumping a tankful of petro-chemicals, I crossed the San Carlos Apache reservation and threaded the switchbacks to connect with Arizona 188. About 3am with my Hawkeye Pathfinder GPS locked on Flagstaff, I headed north into the Tonto National Forest, where the deer and the antelope play.
Deer and elk were plentiful. I slowed for a doe and fawn here, a couple of yearlings there, and numerous adults. Think of elk as a cross between deer and moose. Bull elks average 700 pounds and top 850 (320/340kg). Cow elk weigh in about 500 pounds and max out at 600 (230/275kg). I mention this because…
There in my side of the road stood a doe. I shifted to the left lane and slowed to 40… 30… 20… As I was about to pass, she leaped dead center into my path, taking out the grill and shattering the windshield.
In the headlights of the car, I got out, knelt, and inspected her. She gave a confused little bark and lay quietly. She had to be in great pain. From time to time, she tried to struggle to her feet, not understanding when her hindquarters didn’t cooperate. She was beautiful and brave. My heart broke for her.
|photograph courtesy Layna Fields|
My rough ’n’ tough, not-so-little brother Glen would have murmured soothing words to her, stroked her, and held her head in his lap, telling her it was okay to let go.
While I'm good with animals, I'm no match for him. Me, I squatted and talked quietly, keeping a healthy distance from elk teeth in case she misinterpreted my words. I needn’t have worried as she poured out her story.
As young bucks are wont to do, her boyfriend had left her. Despondent, she’d thrown herself in front of the train, or rather lacking a railroad, in front of the nearest car.
A couple of hours later, a Coconino County deputy arrived. He combined a good mix of empathy, sympathy, professionalism and practicality. He put down the girl with a solid-slug shotgun. He dragged the elk from the road and down an embankment. “Good meat,” he said regretfully.
Following him, I limped toward Flagstaff as daybreak dawned over the forest. A couple of dozen more elk emerged from the woods to glare accusingly at me.
“Damn,” said a friend. “That’s Rambo Bambi.”
“Her name tag said Bambo.”
“My bro asked about the meat, as if a rooftop could carry a quarter-ton elk.”
Providing no night or weekend service, Bo’s Insurance Agency was smaller than average. When finally connected, much parlance ensued about the top priority, glass replacement.”
“Why exactly do you need a new windshield?”
“An elk went through it.”
“There’s no elk in it now?”
“So it’s not a real emergency since you don’t no longer got an elk in your front seat.”
“The deputy said not to drive until the window’s replaced.”
“Oh. Our job would be a lot easier if police didn’t offer advice like that. I reckon you got to take it to a glass shop and get an estimate.”
“What about a come-to-your-door windshield replacement company?”
“They have those?”
“Sure enough, Bo.”
“You don’t got deer insurance. That’s a $500 deductible.”
“Thanks for reminding me.”
“Listen, you find a game butcher to cut up the meat?”
Without mentioning minor details about the previous car, I rented a another. At Williams, Arizona, I took the train to the Grand Canyon.
Elk of all ages wandered through the Canyon village. They gathered around me and unnervingly stared. Spooked tourists cautiously backed away.
“What’s with you and the deer, buddy?”
“Elk,” I said. “I killed one.”
“He killed Bambi!” screamed a child.
“What calibre you use, buddy? Them’s good eatin’. Where do ya dress the meat around here?”
To my surprise, my phone picked up Virgin and AT&T cellular signals, all the more satisfying when those smug Verizon customers scratched their heads in frustration.
My friend Thrush had suggested I visit Sedona. After four days of waiting for a windscreen, I was free to leave Flagstaff. Knowing its lonely AT&T cell tower would fade at the city limits, I phoned to let him know I was on my way south to Yavapai County. I told him about hitting the elk.
“Don’t ask me about meat,” I said.
“I was just gonna suggest…”
Sedona blew me away. Is it sacrilegious to say its craggy red cliffs and chimneys of Sedona impressed me more than the Grand Canyon? Ignoring all the touristy stuff, God put on a great show. For once, I was able to get elk out of my mind.
The Verde Valley disappeared in the rearview mirror. I turned southeast into open desert toward Gunsmoke in Holyshiteitshot County in the southeast corner of Arizona. Evening set in. While fueling up, an RV owner eyed the car, still with tufts of fur.
“Bear?” he asked.
“They make good jerky. What did you do with the meat?”