I’d just finished telling an old Navajo legend to the two couples on the tour – a retired Army Colonel and his wife, their daughter and her husband - when the sun reached the summit on the far side of the canyon. The intense colors bled into the landscape, and the gnarled mesquite trees and dusty jojoba bushes surrounding us morphed into ancient beings come to life.
The Colonel and his wife snapped some last minute photographs while I stowed leftover Danishes and the remaining coffee in the Jeep, and everyone piled back in to continue the tour.
"Where to now?" the daughter asked.
"Now we head back down the trail and follow along the dry creek bed. Keep your eyes open for wildlife."
I turned the Jeep around and started down the steep grade, avoiding the largest ruts.
"Everybody belted in?" I glanced in the rear view mirror.
"Ma'am, yes ma'am," came the reply. I smiled. Ya gotta love the armed forces.
We started to gather speed and I shifted into low. We’d traveled a few yards when an ear-splitting screech severed the early morning quiet. The Jeep shuddered.
I pumped the brakes - my foot hit the floor. Confused, I tried again.
The Jeep dropped into a free fall.
Panicked, I grabbed the gear shift and tried to ram it into low. The shriek of metal on metal pierced the air. I tried second.
We hurtled downhill like a rodeo clown on a pissed off bull. The Jeep hit a rut and tore the steering wheel from my hands.
The Colonel lunged across the console to grab the wheel. I held on with my left hand and used my right to haul on the emergency brake. No luck. The Jeep careened down the almost vertical trail.
We hit something big and rocketed sideways onto two wheels. Someone in the back screamed.