The Old Man and the Weed

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The box canyon where the sheriff's department spotted the marijuana pokes into the hillside like a finger out of the palm of Plum Canyon. It is about 300 feet from edge to edge. The fingertip is a sheer chalk bluff overhang, beneath which is a spring.

Decades ago, the Gutierrezes drilled a hole through the overhang, connecting a windmill on top to a holding tank underneath. The windmill pumped the water up out of the canyon and into a watering trough for livestock up on the mesa. But during the winter, cold winds collected and swirled beneath the cliff and drafted up the hole. The pipe froze regularly, so the system was subsequently abandoned.

Now the livestock-watering method is simpler. Raymond built a long curved trough at the base of the cliff, using concrete and rock and wood to create a wall about two feet from the rock face and parallel to it. The water collects in the narrow channel and then runs into a concrete holding tank, which Raymond built forty years ago. A gasoline pump sucks the water out and into a black PVC pipe, which carries it to the trough above. A wire runs from the pump's spark plug to the top of the cliff. When the metal watering tank is full, Raymond yanks the wire, shutting off the engine.

Raymond also built by hand the main trail down into the canyon. It is so steep and exposed that on that early September day when they dropped out of the sky, several of the law-enforcement officers declined to make the trip down to identify and remove the marijuana. The path follows a line of rocks, into which Raymond has cut scoop-shaped handholds and sunk several iron pipes for easier purchase. "The police said I used this to grow my marijuana," he says. "They didn't consider I made it to get down to my pump."

Raymond is bowlegged and uses a stick for balance. But he nevertheless steps surely down the trail, carrying on a running commentary. Grasshoppers pop and whir in the underbrush. His voice echoes against the rocks.

"I wrote in the rock over there when I made this trail--it was in 1960," he says. "Either that, or I was sixty years old. I can't remember.

"This here's some grapes. Years ago we used to make wine with the wild grapes; I don't know how much they're growing anymore."

"You're going too fast for me," he calls to Dugan, who has descended ahead. "I've been drinking too much pop. My belly's gettin' too big for this."

The concrete water holding tank sits up on an earth shelf, below which a slope drops gradually to the canyon floor. At the bottom, an overturned metal watering tank is visible through the brush. "Down here," says Raymond, "I could keep the twenty head Dad give me without feedin' them--lots of grass, water. I used to have an iron pipe that carried water from the holding tank to the watering tank, but it kept freezing and bursting, so I just put in garden hose."

When they reached the bottom of the canyon, the police also made note of the hose. "The hose was fully covered and engulfed in the undergrowth of the canyon floor and appeared to have been in that location for multiple years of use," Langford wrote in his report. "I followed this hose and found that it ended at one of the marijuana cultivation sites."

The feature of the canyon setup that Raymond is most proud of is a cable-and-pulley system used to ferry items between the top and bottom of the gorge. "Don't call it a cable," he says seriously. "It's an elevator. It's my invention."

A thick, wrapped-wire cable runs tightly and at a steep angle from a cluster of rocks on the mesa down to the spring. A pulley rig holding a hook rests on the cable. It is attached to a thread of thin wire that is wound around a spool made of a tire rim mounted on an axle atop an old telescope tripod. Add an ordinary bucket to the pulley system and the contraption becomes a small funicular.

"I used it to haul cement to the spring," says Raymond. "I used it to haul engines--I've had five engines down there to pump water. I used it for tools, gasoline. That's what I used it for.

"Of course, they said I used it to haul marijuana."
Indeed, after the deputies cut down the 178 pot plants at the floor of the box canyon, they used Raymond's invention to haul them up to the mesa. They loaded the plants into a truck and drove them away to be destroyed.

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer

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