I first wrote this rather offbeat adventure story while floating in a canoe on Donner Lake in the California Sierras.
After working a couple of seasons as a lift operator, and really longing for something else, I came up with the Duncan Morency character as an alter ego. In the story, Duncan, a ski jaded ski instructor elects to take a primitive stone age survival course at season’s end. It is an effort to change his life, but in the story he gets much more than he bargained for.
Here’s the back story: In 1976 two buddies and I made a late season trip from Steamboat Springs to Dinosaur National Monument on the Utah border. When we got to the eastern entrance, the station was unmanned, and the wooden gate was closed. The entry road was unplowed but looked passable for my Toyota Land Cruiser. Not to be deterred we of course went around the gate and into the vastness of the park.
Several miles in we took a very unimproved side road called the Chew Boys Ranch Road, named after an original rancher in the area called Rile Chew. The road wound up and amongst steep canyon walls of red sandstone. It became more challenging by the mile, often on the crumbling edge of ledges high above the canyon floor. At times built up Ice would cave away into a small sink hole and it took great effort with jacks, winch, and levers to keep going. Several time during this we would remark that we might not be able to go back…but with hubris kept going.
Eventually we reached a turn along a high ledge that looked down onto a grassy meadow called Strawberry Park. This is the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers and figures centrally in the tale of Duncan Morency. This is where the seminar took him and his fellow students by helicopter for practicing stone age survival techniques. We descended into the valley and pitched our tents by the river. The scenes described in the story are straight out of this remote spot.
Things got rather weird soon after we pitched our tents. Huge flocks of geese would fly up the Green River honking incessantly. Deer would forage and graze just outside our tents in the early morning. A lovely primeval spot.
The second day we went for a hike and toward the downriver end of the valley we came to a conical, stand-alone black rock about thirty feet high. Bushes ringed the base of the rock and while looking for a possible place to try to climb it we found an opening at the base. Of course we belly crawled our way in and what we found there both amazed and rather terrified us. Inside a central chamber, quite large for the rock seemed hollow, was a metate stone with dessicated corn cobs on and around it. But then what we saw was chilling! Near the metate stone was a human skull, ancient by the look of it.
This was the inspiration for the lost tribe that kills off most of the party. This and a very suspect footprint found in fresh mud along the river’s upriver entrance to the valley. It was bigger than a size 11 hiking boot and was a bare footprint. Bigfoot? A bear? Another person? All pretty unlikely, but there it was. This is recounted in the story as Duncan and a young lady from the seminar try to leave the valley after the helicopter is destroyed and all the rest are killed in violent ways.
Later in the trip we hiked further afield and in a narrow canyon, high on one of the walls we found several petroglyphs. These were atypical inasmuch as they were crafted by drilling small holes, about the diameter of a pencil, directly into the rock in configurations that resembled comets and blank, bubble like heads with large, rounded shoulders. These were repeated several times over. The placement of them high on the cliff wall seemed strange. We went around and up to the top of the canyon and rappelled down to them to look more closely. The holes were all multiples of three; 3,6,9,18. We didn’t know what to make of it. The strangeness did not stop there though. Over the next few days, each time we elected to hike back to that spot, along the route where the cave was, out of clear blue sky, the wind would come up and the sky would turn gray, darkening swiftly. Each time we turned back, the sun and clear sky reappeared.
This situation gave rise to the old shaman character in the story. That and a course I took with anthropologist Michael Harner called Core Shamanism.
The ending scene in Dunc Ahn represents complete and total transformation and an embracement of the process.
There is quite a bit more to this back story and perhaps we will revisit it in the future.
It was 1980 when I wrote this story, long hand in pencil. Subsequently soon after my girlfriend and I broke up and along with a lot of photography she took the story. It was gone, but it never left my mind. In 1993 I rewrote it virtually verbatim. It was published in The Scarlet Leaf Review year in 2020. Look for it there in the archives.
Currently the story in its entirety will serve as an opening for a section of a trilogy that is progress. Dunc Ahn still roams the canyons and caves!