Page 2 of 3

"I chewed his ass out," says Blumm, "but I didn't think it was the end of the world. That section of the river does not present any health hazards. He's not navigating any difficult rapids in the dark."

Then Blumm wrote to ranger Widner, "Ken informs me he had no idea he was in violation of any rules."

On May 2, 1993, river ranger Kevin McCombe watched as Stoner's group started to line its boats before another group was out of the eddy below the falls.

"A boat was shoved off from shore upstream and it got away from the boatmen," McCombe tells New Times. "The rescue rope, which was tied on the boat, became taut and swung across and almost took off the head of one of [the other group's] boatmen. It was a very rude act, and not following the proper river etiquette."

In his report on the incident, he noted, "Only the keen attention and fast reactions of guides on the other trip prevented potentially serious injury."

Coincidentally, that trip was the one on which Stoner met his partners in crime, including Richard Scott, who is an alleged demolitions expert. According to investigators, they joked about blowing up Quartzite Falls while on the trip.

The next weekend, on May 8, ranger McCombe showed up unannounced to accompany Stoner's trip downriver. Although he remarked on the efficiency and expertise of Stoner's crew, he wrote that "they can be kind of pushy with other groups at the Falls." Furthermore, he faulted them for joking with clients that they had never run the river before, for skimping on telling clients how to cope with possible emergencies and for other minor matters.

But McCombe concluded in his report that the two-day itinerary pushed the limits, and wrote, "While evidently marketable, these trips are reckless and discordant."

Blumm, displeased with the evaluations his guides had gotten, decided not to give them bonuses at the end of the season. "Ken took it upon himself to go up there to talk to Larry and Stu [Larry Widner and Stu Herkenhoff, the Forest Service rangers to whom McCombe reported]."

Two weeks after McCombe's unannounced visit, on May 23, three rafters who were not on a commercial trip went over Quartzite Falls and flipped in the keeper hole. One was found alive the next day, huddled on the rocks beneath the falls; the other two were floating dead in the water, miles downstream.

Stoner faxed a copy of the news reports on the drownings to Scott, and they began plotting in earnest. Then, between August and October 1993, they hiked in to the falls four times and floated in once to set off explosions and break a chunk out of the quartz ledge.

They were not indicted until mid-October 1994, a year later. They were caught, according to ranger Widner, because someone bragged about the crime. And according to Forest Service sources, the informants who turned them in were so disgusted with the act that they refused to accept the cash rewards offered by the government.

Because water flow was scant because of a light winter snow pack, there was very little rafting done through the Salt River Canyon last spring. The effects of the demolition remain to be seen.

"I don't know what Quartzite is now," says Widner. "There may be less of a hazard. The pool is still there. I don't know if the hydraulics are or not."

It must be pointed out that the Forest Service investigators have cleared the owner of Desert Voyagers, Blumm, of having anything to do with the vandalism, but he is not without his opinions on the matter.

"It really doesn't bother me that Quartzite has been altered," he says. "What bothers me is the way it was altered, that it didn't involve the public process and input from other people. . . . It certainly had been mentioned in the past. Quartzite was a big source of frustration to just about everybody who had ever been through it."

Stoner has not talked to New Times about his motives. He had agreed to a meeting, but failed to show up.

"He's not a flake," Blumm says in Stoner's defense. "A lot of river guides are flakes and real hotheaded. I felt he was more mature."

For the record, Blumm only half-accepts Stoner's rationalization about saving lives. "It certainly wasn't a mindless act," he says. "There was a tremendous amount of thought that went into it. Now, what pieces of the puzzle came together to make him do this is something he's got to tell you."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Kiefer