Forget the Guard Rails

Documents the Bombing of Quartzite Falls

Falls is a white water rapid in Arizona’s Upper Salt River Canyon
Wilderness Area. The focal point of this rapid once was a hydraulic
keeper hole, which could stop, hold, and recirculate a boat, or a
person, for an indefinite amount of time. Due to the risks of being
recirculated, swept downstream into the next rapid, or drowned,
Quartzite Falls was respected, feared, and seldom navigated.

rafters used to choose between dragging their gear over slick ledges
around the rapid, or lining their boats passengerless through it,
which often resulted in lost gear, long waits and battered boats. To
many river runners, grappling with Quartzite Falls was a pure
“wilderness experience,” one which inspired personal
challenge and transcendental gratitude. To others, circumnavigating
Quartzite was an inconvenience.

1994 eight men led by river guide Ken Taz Stoner detonated 154 pounds
of fertilizer-based explosives to destroy the rock that created
Quartzite’s hydraulic keeper hole. The men argued that they
demolished the hydraulic in response to two recent drownings that
took place there. But it is apparent that Stoner had a personal
motive as a trip leader to neatly accommodate a commercial river
trip. (Note that the outfitter of Stoner’s commercial trip was not
involved in the demolition of Quartzite Falls.) “We’ve made
something safer,” he said. “That outweighs the destruction
of a natural resource in my mind.”

Kayaker Mike Stamps
retorts: “Quartzite gave you the opportunity, as it was, to find
out how you dealt with adversity and fear, and it gave you the
opportunity to die. There’s no replacing that. When you take
emotional experiences away from people, you can’t measure what you’ve
removed from their lives.

1995, six of the helpers were instructed by a federal court to
perform community service and pay restitution to the Tonto National
Forest Service. Another also served a 12 month jail term. Stoner fled
before sentencing.

was apprehended in Australia in April of 1996 and extradited to
Arizona, where he was sentenced in late 1997 to 42 months in prison
for fraud charges and his involvement with Quartzite’s demolition.

only way to make wilderness “safe” is for back country
travelers to hone their skills and exercise judgment. The purpose of
telling the tale of Quartzite’s demise is to encourage back country
travelers to raise their skills to meet the challenges of wilderness
instead of taming what’s left of our wild lands to meet the lowest
common denominator of human ability.

video will he submitted to cable and PBS stations, film festivals and
educational forums. For more information about how to support this
project, please contact producer Kristin Atwell at 650-813-9926 or

From “The Spray”, newsletter of the Colorado White Water

Reprinted From The Eddy Line, August 1998