I was honored to be welcomed onto sacred grounds of the Hopi by their former tribal chairman, Vernon Masayesva, who for the past decade has led an honorable fight to protect the groundwater beneath Black Mesa from depletion by the Peabody Western Coal Company.
All along, there were plenty of political scoundrels to go after, maybe the biggest of whom has been Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. For more than a decade, New Times has blasted Arpaio for his incompetence, cruelty and gross waste of public tax dollars. I understand Arpaio is celebrating that I will not be reaming him any longer in these pages.
But he will never be home-free with New Times around.
While I was pursuing all these great stories for this newspaper, I made a crucial mistake. It was a mistake that cost me my wife, the mother of my sons, and for that I am profoundly sorry. There are few women of her stature.
My divorce left me stunned, depressed and sad. I threw myself into my work with even greater fervor.
That is when the greatest story of my life came my way. It was on the fundamentalist Mormon polygamists of Colorado City. I broke down the doors of a closed society and exposed a twisted theocracy based on coercing underage girls into polygamous "marriages" with much older men in the name of God.
Once again, New Times provided the time, money and backing to pursue a great story in this case, one that had been ignored for more than 50 years. I attacked with a flurry of public records requests that left Colorado City reeling. For three years, New Times pounded on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and on the politicians who were ignoring them.
The twisted, sick world we exposed spurred the FBI to put the cult's leader, Warren Jeffs, on its 10 Most Wanted list, and sparked the indictments of a throng of polygamists, including Jeffs, on sexual abuse of a minor charges.
Jeffs, after leading authorities on a nationwide manhunt for months, was finally arrested during a routine traffic stop in southern Nevada this week. He was traveling with one of his many wives, and a brother. In addition to the sex charges, Jeffs faces a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. It was unclear at this writing which of the two states in which he did his horrible deeds would get its hands on him first.
There is nothing I love more than exposing such scum.
But living at the tip of the spear is wearing.
A thunderstorm rolled off the South Rim shortly after noon, cooling the canyon and giving us a thankful respite from the heat. We enjoyed the afternoon, watching caravans of horses plod by with tourists trekking down to the river.
Since we had plenty of food, we decided to eat as much as possible before the second leg of our hike up the face of the South Rim. I had learned long ago that whenever the kids start to get mean, feed them.
The boys quickly recovered from the morning hike and set off for solo exploration of the area. They came back with fistfuls of snacks that they found stashed near the stables. They began playing cards and laughing. It was a good sign.
After lounging on the ground for several hours, Jeff and I caught our second wind. We took off at 3:15 p.m. for the big lift out of the canyon a 3,500-foot vertical ascent over 4.5 miles.
We all agreed to meet at the 3 Mile Rest House and the 1.5 Mile Rest House no matter what. No more bolting from the group, like the day before when the boys took off for Phantom Ranch. We could spread out and hike at our own pace, but we all would meet at rest stops.
As soon as we set off, the sun pierced through the storm clouds that had provided late-afternoon shade, and once again we were back in the caldron. But we knew the sun would set behind the rim at 4:15 p.m., so it would only be a short bake.
We reached the 3 Mile Rest Stop in a brisk 45 minutes and drenched our shirts in the water. The view across the canyon was spectacular. Scattered clouds drifted above the canyon, refracting the light into every shade of gray.
We took only a short rest, to keep our legs loose. Amazingly, it was getting easier as we got higher. We were prepared mentally and physically for the ascent, and it was no longer the monster to be mastered but the ride to be enjoyed.