Drawing fire


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.