Vaya Con Dios

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There was only one option: I wanted to discover if there was anything, something, a strand, a morsel, a pebble of truth that I could grab onto and try to turn the tide a bit.

Just a tiny bit.

The air was cool and the going was easy down the steep slopes of the North Rim. We arrived at Cottonwood Canyon by 10 a.m., the spot where I had reserved a campsite for the night. My sons were pumped — they wanted to keep going another seven miles to Phantom Ranch and the Bright Angel Campground.

Jeff and I were also infected with youthful vigor, having arrived at the resting point much sooner than expected. We kicked back for a few moments, refilled our water jugs and set off into the heart of the canyon in the heat of the day.

"This is when people get into trouble," Jeff said while we sipped some water mixed with Gatorade.

But his words did not discourage any of us from putting on our packs and moving on.

The deeper we pressed, the higher and narrower the canyon walls loomed above us. We were walking dead into a furnace known as The Box. It was July 21, and the temperature was climbing upward of 110.

My sons — attached at the hip as they have always been — took off on a rapid march to reach Phantom Ranch as the heat steadily increased. Jeff and I brought up the rear. Jeff began to stagger under the weight of his heavy pack. I started looking at the creek that was separated from us by a steep embankment, hoping to find an easy path to her shore.

We hiked from one shady spot to the next, silently wondering just how much farther was the security of Phantom Ranch. No one else was on the trail; it was late July, and only desert rats such as ourselves would dare to knowingly venture into such an inferno at midday.

We were creeping close to the edge — close enough to invigorate the soul. We paused to measure the water left in the jug and to carefully monitor the sweat on our brows.

Finally, we saw a pathway cut down the bank and we skirted down to Bright Angel Creek, stripped off our shirts and dunked them into the water. Putting the shirt back on, I shivered as the cold water seeped from the cotton and cooled my spine.

I knew we would make the next two miles.

I could only assume the kids were way ahead of us.

I had to let them go.

The Phoenix Gazette epitomized everything that was wrong with American journalism. The afternoon daily was gutless, pointless. But I lurched ahead anyway — reporting in the mid-1980s about how scores of migrant workers were dying in the desert trying to get to a large ranch owned by what was then the state's biggest bank — Valley National.

I even had a business column, briefly.

In my third effort, I wrote how more than 88 percent of the water in Arizona is used by agriculture and that the widespread perception that there was a water shortage was a mirage perpetrated by development interests intent on turning the desert into suburban hell.

That was my last column, as the managing editor was not about to allow some wild-eyed punk upset the status quo by revealing the secret to Arizona's rampaging growth machine.

I bolted from the Gazette, taking a $13,000-a-year pay cut to join the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, thinking I could get some decent clips under the direction of my former ASU journalism professor, the now-deceased Max Jennings.

I was lucky because the mother of my children, Barbara, never flinched at such a decision that did not make a bit of financial sense for our young family.

Mesa soon led us to Ohio, where I rejoined Jennings, who had become editor of the Dayton Daily News. I landed on the business desk covering banking and the automobile industry under the editorial direction of the great Jon Talton, now a columnist with the Arizona Republic.

Talton asked me to ferret out the mess created in Arizona by Charles Keating — who hailed from Cincinnati, where the daily newspaper was giving him a free ride. I soon found myself interviewing Edwin Gray, former head of the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation.

Gray told me about his meeting with five senators who had tried to get him to go easy on Keating's bank, Lincoln Savings and Loan. I wrote a Sunday front-page story for the Dayton Daily News that was the lead story on CBS News two nights later. Before long, the Senate Ethics Committee was investigating what became known as the Keating Five — then the biggest scandal in Congress since Reconstruction. Gray credited my story as the primary reason for the investigation.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty