The Selected Quirks of Madjag
The Madjag Chronicles were compiled as memoirs and mental snapshots of my experiences during the 1978-1982 guerrilla growing years in Madjag Canyon and beyond. Importing weed from Mexico, lining up connections with the Colombians, and living for months in Jamaica to set up a 1/2 ton Ganja flight were some of my subsequent adventures. In recent years I have been a medical marijuana grower, a pollen chucker, and an Admin/Moderator for several online cannabis forums.
RCC’s Excellent Adventure
You need to know how conservative Arizona was in the Barry Goldwater days to appreciate what it was like for me to meet a total stranger at the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport baggage claim, see him grab his suitcase off the carousel, and pull out several thousand cannabis seeds in colorfully labeled packets that he was about to hand to me. I was used to managing a fair amount of healthy paranoia, the kind that tempers one against leaving roaches in the ashtray or smoking a joint in dense traffic where you might get made by a plain-clothes policeman, so in this instance I for one was confused and getting ready to split.
Standing beneath the airport surveillance cameras smack dab in the middle of the baggage claim area and watching him hand me 3,000 Skunk #1 and Afghani #1 seeds was beyond my comprehension. I looked in all directions. Was this a setup? Should I just boogie? How could this guy be so blatant and not be worried about the cops?
Answer: He was from California where paranoia didn’t mean Arizona State prison.
Thus began my friendship with RCC as well as my introduction to how Cali guys ride….at least in 1978 or thereabouts. We left the airport quickly in my 64 Buick Electra, a true chrome lead sled, and shot up Interstate 17 to the Verde Valley on our escape. We had met through his article in High Times magazine and I had only corresponded with him through letters, that’s right, real letters, snail mail, and his plan, much to my surprise, entailed the personal delivery of my seeds. I believe his decision to deliver in person was based partly upon his curiosity concerning what I was up to way out in the deep canyons of Arizona and partly because I was his largest single customer up to that point. Mailing 5 Grand’s worth of seeds was not an option. How could you insure them?
The going price was $2.00 per seed and had been discounted to $1.75 because of the 3,000 seeds we were purchasing. I could have bargained to pay less, however I was so jazzed at the idea of getting such powerful, “certified and true-breeding” strains that I honestly didn’t care. With these seeds we would blow away the current Arizona market as well as the new market we were considering, Manhattan. My Rasta connection Ricky was interested and I knew it would only take a few test tokes to convince them that this smoke was beyond anything they had ever encountered, Lamb’s Bread and all. When Satta, the boss Rasta, finally took a few tiny draws on a New York needle and went ballistic, I knew we were in the car.
We landed my 1964 Buick 225 V-8 in short order at my house and I felt a lot better. Close calls of that sort of bizarre nature were uncommon in my world because we ran a tight outfit at Madjag. Loose lips sinking ships or any of the crew making the wrong kind of friends was not allowed and was peacefully enforced. We looked after each other and our success up to that point was enviable though not legendary. To hit that next level of brilliant success would have its own new challenges, even while being especially careful. Legendary moves would require even greater awareness in order to stay invisible on the home front. Just like the movies where one guy just has to tell another “friend” about his special secret, we all had to remind one another that we were not in it for fame or money alone. It was the lifestyle and freedom that really made our lives so sweet. Like the National Security Administration’s (NSA) motto, “Never Say Anything”, we worked hard at being silent.
Besides being quiet and avoiding parties and bars, hiding in plain sight was the other side of the coin while being guerrilla growers. Everyone we knew wanted to know what we did for a living. Lying gets old though we did it anyway. Selling Mobil Solar’s photovoltaic panels during those days was a nice cover and offered the side benefit of blending in with the local alternative energy people and passive solar builders as well. I even made some money at it and learned quite a bit that would come in handy later in life when I put up my own small stand-alone PV system on my remote land’s cabin. When RCC fell into our world he knew none of these things about us. He merely knew we were growers from AZ who he wanted to meet in person.
The seeds were truly outstanding, freshly minted Afghani #1 and Skunk #1, the stuff of High Times legends that we wanted to lovingly plant in our gardens. In today’s world in which dozens of online cannabis seed companies offer an unbelievable selection of outstanding seeds, remember that back in the 1970’s the weed seed business was basically nonexistent. You got your seeds from the seeded weed you bought or from friends. Meeting RCC was a dream come true for us. His seeds were the result of his closest friends’ Afghani, Indian, Nepali, and Colombian herb collections followed by lengthy grow outs that utilized serious phenotype criteria and genetic selection. Mr. Santa Cruz himself was equally very interested in our experiences and enjoyed the photos we had taken in our previous years’ gardens. Though he wasn’t ready to visit Madjag canyon on this visit, he promised he’d return during the summer season in order to examine our work in person. It was 4 or 5 months until he returned so we did the obligatory Jerome and Sedona fly-by tours for a little fun on this initial visit. RCC fit in anywhere and our first meeting was a smoky success. We could hardly wait to get him back and into our canyon world. We were sure he’d be blown away by the raw high-desert nature since his previous experience had been solely with the various California-style gardens in the deeply forested Redwood areas of the southern San Francisco peninsula or the dense rolling hills of northern Cali’s Emerald Triangle.
RCC had flown home to his seed lab and our work intensified. The early season chores of hiking in supplies like 5-gallon gas cans for our 5 HP Briggs & Stratton centrifugal pump, a larger tent that had been spray painted in perfect camo colors, and more Yellow Front foam slabs for our tent camp’s sleeping accommodations were soon underway. We needed a lot more blood meal and bone meal this year because we were going to plant two gardens simultaneously. A second pump, a second tent, and basically doubles of everything that we had been using in the years before would be necessary. The gardens were several miles apart so we had totally independent camps and equipment stashes. The thought was (a little optimistic, but hey) that should one garden get popped and we were aware enough to know about it, we could still pull off the other. We could then enter from an entirely different direction and avoid any surveillance, too, thus insuring the success of at least one garden. We were aiming for 100 mature female plants per garden, an estimate that was not entirely outrageous since one of the gardens that we would be using had yielded around 90 mature female plants the year before.
Hiking 50 pound sacks of blood meal or bone meal for an hour through a dense juniper-pinyon landscape, dropping 1600 feet over refrigerator-size boulders into a remote canyon, and then continuing the passage for another hour along the tall riparian forest of the canyon creek was not only difficult and dangerous, it was repetitively tiring. It would swallow many man-hour workdays that could be better spent preparing the two gardens on the spot, pruning the adjacent brush, and turning/fertilizing the soil. We would need ten 50 lb. bags each of blood meal and bone meal, 200 feet of 2” heavy-duty industrial rubber hose with fire hose spin-on fittings, and at least six 5-gallon gas cans filled to the brim. We learned the hard way that gas cans had to be triple-bagged in trash bags and sealed closed with duct tape so that the fumes caused from the repeated shaking of the cans during the strenuous hike would not permeate our lungs and clothing. Before we discovered this fact even our cheese smelled of petrol. The blood meal and bone meal were also candidates for bagging because of the eternal stench that they could impart to one’s hair and clothing. Nothing like waking up in the night for a sip of water and smelling blood meal and gas everywhere in the pristine wilderness! Hey, learn as you go, right?
We definitely needed an alternative. Helicopters were discussed because our old friend John could pilot one with ease. After speaking to him and discovering what it would cost we ditched that hallucination. He would have to qualify in whatever ship he wanted to rent by spending 10 hours training with an instructor in order to be certified in that craft. Then there would be the rental price itself, easily in the thousands. No, we had to figure another way or get real busy lugging those 50-pound pack loads. Time was of the essence. I don’t know how the concept arose, but one of the crew suggested an airdrop. Fly in low and slow and drop the bags. How cool would that be!
None other than Mr. C turned out to be the man who would pull it off. Pilot, adventurer, and all-around deviato, Mr. C set us up with a test drop of involving only two 50-pound bags. He thought it wise to give it a check first and evaluate the flight approach as well as the actual drop zone. We took the front passenger seat out of his famous modified, tail-dragger Cessna 185 and went for a spin. In addition to wrapping the fertilizer bags in multiple trash bags and duct taping them thoroughly, we also took off the passenger door so I could crouch down inside the plane and hold the sack outside against the fuselage ready for the drop. At his signal I would release the bag and we’d watch it tumble toward the garden.
First we flew the canyon rim from top to bottom several times to make sure that there were no ranchers, hikers, or forest service employees lingering in the vicinity. All was clear and the test drop was on. Mr. C brought his 185 around and started a deep descent into Madjag Canyon, keeping the drop zone in sight by using a small inner canyon ridge as his place marker. I laid on the floor, slipped one bag out the door, and held on for dear life. The angle for holding the bundle was not exactly safe or comfortable and I suddenly realized that we had not accounted for the air drag pushing on the bundle and working to tear it from my grip. Is this what aerial smugglers go through when they make weed drops in the desert?
I heard the word “now” and let go. I looked up and saw trees flying into my immediate vision. Before I could say a fucking word we pitched upward and barely cleared the trees on that inner canyon ridge that we had used for a landmark. Mr. C pulled up and up and finally when we were just above the canyon rim he said, “That was close.” I nervously began questioning him about the need for another test drop. He said it was no problem and we should take advantage of our time today. I agreed and we started a second pass. We duplicated our first drop with the exception that Mr. C pulled up much quicker and said “now” perhaps a second earlier. We flew out of the canyon and did a third fly-by, this time to see how well we had hit our drop zone.
It wasn’t too difficult to spot our drop. Since one of the bags was bone meal it had left a bright white blotch about 10 feet long and 5 feet wide across the open part of the alluvial plateau we had chosen for our second garden. Even without hitting a tree branch the bag had ripped open wildly and splashed its perfect white powder for all to see. I was pretty sure that it would be quite visible from the canyon edge as well as from our aerial perspective. Bummer….
We learned a lot from that test flight. We used our new knowledge of the drop approach to make sure that our next two drops involving hoses as well as fertilizer bundles would be successful, safer, and more accurate. In addition to a garbage bag around each 50-pound bag we also mummified the entire bag with a roll of duct tape per bag and then tied sturdy brown rope in a series of knots about 5 inches apart around the whole bundle. It looked like a woven net around a duct tape mummy bundle. It gave me a much better grip to hold onto until I released the payload and insured that even if the bag ripped slightly upon splashdown, crashing into a rock or sharp branch, it would not expose the bone meal’s brilliant color for all to see. It could tear but not explode.
The blood meal, being deep red-brown, wasn’t an issue nor were the 4 heavy 50 ft. coils of 2” black rubber hoses with the quick release fittings. We also compensated for the extra weight of an additional 300 pounds per flight and avoided any more close calls with that dangerous inner canyon, tree-lined ridge. Mr. C had survived more bizarre 3rd world air missions than I could ever conceive so I knew I was in good hands. Still, it helps to be cool, calm, and collected for this line of work and trust your friendly pilot without question.
Spring moved into summer. The breezy, cool 80F-degree days gave way quickly to the 95-103F heat. At least the day’s heat was offset by a nice 35-40 degree temperature differential after 10 pm. The cool 65-70 degree nights at the bottom of our canyon were almost always accompanied by an alternating up-canyon and down-canyon breeze that meant a cool night’s rest. The daily creek swim, staying in until you felt frozen, was a lifesaver, too, as the typical intense sun and crispy heat became the norm. Our new garden, the Anasazi, was fully stocked with a new pump and hose system, a new tent, plenty of gas for the whole season, and lots of organic fertilizer courtesy of Air Sinsemilla. Even Mr. C had agreed to accept 3-4 ounces at harvest time in exchange for the three flights he piloted for us. Sweet that was.
As we drifted off to sleep, talking about the day’s work and what was ahead, the nocturnal soundtrack of crickets took over as the daytime, hypnotic song of the cicadas faded away. The liquid breeze started its alternating canyon flow, and the occasional sound of night birds echoed throughout our domain. We were at peace.
RCC returned like a storm, arriving suddenly at my humble abode in his own rental car on one fine June morning. We greeted and sat around the living room where my second daughter had been born just a few years earlier, a cozy space where many a smoke had floated past the huge Two Grey Hills Navajo rug on the wall. What the house lacked in construction (it was 60 years old and though it had indoor plumbing, it still had the old outhouse in the back yard) it made up for in our numerous collections of worldwide handicrafts, local trippy art, unique mineral specimens, and Native American blankets and rugs. Cover the old wood paneling and make it your own space I always say.
RCC pulled out his trusty zippered leather pouch that opened to reveal 6 or 8 glass vials containing his favorite herb strains. Right then I knew I was in trouble because I was no record smoker, in fact, I was the tester for our harvests only because my smoking style was more typical of the average weed smoker than the other wizards in our crew who could suck down an ounce in as little as a few days or certainly in no more than a week. His favored Thai, Colombian, Mexican, and hybrid strains like Skunk #1 were described one at a time, examined up close with a jeweler’s loop, deeply sampled for aroma, and ultimately rolled into small joints for sampling. As he finished one joint and started on a second variety I found myself falling backwards through deep space. Turns out I was merely lying on the living room carpet with my eyes closed, but the disorientation from too much weed was pounding me out of consciousness. RCC was obviously one of the top 5 smokers I had ever met who could virtually chain-smoke any amount of any herb. I especially liked that he didn’t use the word “pot”, in fact he hated that word. He spoke of weed as “the Sacred Herb”, and still does today. “It shows respect,” he said. True dat.
My partner and I spent three days and 2 nights every week in the gardens once the 4-month prep phase was completed and the planting was done. One night for each garden with half a day at the front and back for getting in and getting out. The hike in or out varied from 1 ½ – 2 hours and there was always the drive to and from home that took another 2 hours each way. This year, after much thought and research, we chose to be extra careful and didn’t park our own vehicles at the end of any adjacent dirt roads or 4×4 trails near our canyon as we had in years past. Instead, we paid two lady friends to drive us, drop us off in the outback, and pick us up at a set time 2 days later. The Sinsemilla Taxi service. They took turns and alternated the weeks that they got to be the driver and use a different car, usually their own.
When we passed through the nearby small town on the route to our canyon area we laid down on the seats of the car so that any casual observer would only see a young, pretty lady driving by. It cost us $60 for each week’s round-trip plus a bonus package of 2-4 ounces after harvest, but it was a supreme bargain considering the issues surrounding vehicles being parked repeatedly in the same backcountry area or being frequently observed on these remote roads. The subsequent possibility of the plates being run by local authorities was very real once the word got out among ranchers, police, and forest service employees that vehicles parked at such remote points week after week could indicate growers returning on a schedule to work their gardens. They kept an eye out for such regularly parked vehicles, especially if it wasn’t hunting season or it was during the crazy summer heat when no one in their right mind would be out hiking. It stacked the odds against most Arizona wilderness growers because they just couldn’t get it together to take such elaborate precautions or simply deemed them as silly and unnecessary and did it the way they always had in the years before. But we made the moves that made the difference…..
I know of two such growers whose truck plates were run, found to be registered to an address in Jerome (our nearby hippie haven town) and were watched secretively until they completed their year, brought back their harvest, and were manicuring it in Jerome. It all vaporized early one autumn morning when the Prescott Area Narcotics Task Force (PANT) burst in the door and said, “Gotcha.” You can’t take too many precautions now can you?
RCC was back in town for the promised garden visit. He felt more comfortable making it a day trip and just to be safe, not camping out in the area. He was in good physical shape for the grueling round-trip hike and at our request had promised to not take any photos along the way or at the gardens. Looking back I wish we had actually encouraged him to take photos. He could have promised instead to just keep them for himself and to later give us copies. Today I would treasure those shots because RCC was, and is, a damn good photographer. We took plenty of photos ourselves over the years; however it’s always nice to have another person’s artistic energy at work, especially a veteran grower and weed connoisseur’s personal shots. Damn.
Our visit went smoothly and RCC was amazed. Not only from the standpoint of the engineering and security we had built into our project, but also the remoteness and desert canyon beauty in which we lived and worked within. At one point he said something that I’ll always remember. He said, “I can’t believe you are growing in dirt!” When questioned, he refined his statement and said that in his area of northern Cali the soil was full of humus and richly colored, spongy and moist, with a correspondingly fine yield. He considered 1-2 pounds per plant as a good baseline even under guerrilla growing conditions. Our night-time only watering system with its intricate spider web of hoses and flood zones impressed him, however he just couldn’t believe that the soil medium we were using was basically sand and silt, accumulated over the millenniums in the ancient alluvial flats just 20-40 feet above the deep canyon’s creek bottom. There were cottonwoods, sycamores, and a few varieties of deciduous shrubs adding their annual leaves to the decay on these flats, however not enough to make the soil even close to what he had always taken for granted back home in Cali as decent, basic soil. Crazy. remarkably, though, we averaged 6.8 ounces per plant of manicured, perfect bud. Almost ½ pound per plant under our remote guerrilla conditions. Not bad…..not bad at all.
We didn’t hear from RCC until long after our fall harvest. He was off on an exploratory jaunt to find a place where he and his partner could grow a really, really large amount of his insanely strong herb. I still like to believe that what he saw on his visit to our garden is what inspired him to plan his own remote plantation. I introduced him to a wealthy friend who had some remote, boat-only access land in the Ozarks. It seemed like a good fit. But that’s another story….
It turned out to be a true bonus year and our hard work was well rewarded. After that harvest was sold we were able to do many things that we had never been able to do before. A couple of months in Jamaica with the wife and kids were first on my list. Buying a nice remote ranch in Zane Gray’s Rim country would be next. Funny how money can do that. Still, we were humble and quiet, even though we itched to do a movie, a film that could capture the tough and exciting guerrilla lifestyle we were living. Perhaps we could get a current top star down here that would bankroll a documentary! We could grow for one more year and film much of the everyday action, intensifying certain aspects of the work in order to make it more captivating to the movie-going public. There could be helicopters, too. We could stage fake emergencies and illustrate how we would overcome such contingencies! It would be a winner at Sundance!