Drawing fire

By Matt Samet ,

I've been to Priest's Draw exactly once, and I'll never go back. While many rave about the quality of the limestone bouldering in this small defile near Flagstaff, Arizona, I never got close enough to the rock to find out. My then-girlfriend, Chiara, and I were on an ill-fated August road trip through the desert Southwest, with a stopover in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to do some house painting for my parents' friends. After Chiara was pick-pocketed at a Walgreen's, we puttered around town for a few days until her passport and wallet (sans the $500 in cash she'd just earned) turned up at a local post office. Then it was off to Jack's Canyon and Flagstaff, Arizona, on a tighter-than-ever budget. We pulled into Priest's Draw in late afternoon. Some "helpful" locals were playing hacky-sack at the first set of boulders. When I asked them for Beta, they pointed vaguely up canyon. I had heard rumors of giant roof problems and Hueco-esque caves, so I did some exploratory hiking while Chiara, completely disinterested, waited in the car. Sauntering along a rough dirt road, I heard the sound of gunfire, but figured it was coming from afar, off behind the rim of the shallow canyon. Moving deeper into the Draw, the gunfire getting louder, I spotted a series of deep grottoes on the right — was this the Promised Land? I left the road and crossed an open meadow. Nearing the rock, I began to realize that the gunfire was issuing straight from one of the caves. Undeterred, I pressed on, until bullets started whizzing past, above, and beside me. Bastard — I was being shot at! Whether I had interrupted someone's shooting practice, becoming a convenient target myself, or whether I was up against a bona fide psycho, I'll never know. I was too busy running for my life, zig-zagging through the grass before diving, commando-style, into a deep arroyo. I slithered, then walked, back to the car, the gunshots growing (thankfully) more distant. I told Chiara what had happened, but she just shrugged. Completely frazzled, I insisted we stay in a motel that night instead of camping. When a couple of crackheads returned to the adjoining room at 2 a.m. and began trying to beat each other to death with whiskey bottles, Chiara and I slipped off to our car and drove homeward through the night, stopping only long enough to call 911 on our way out of town. I haven't been back to Arizona since.

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