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.

That Jaguar Thing

I saw Sugar Minott tear up Reggae Sunsplash in 1986 at Jarrett Park in Mo Bay. Dynamic Sounds produced this 45 disc and it was a top hit in JA in the early 1980’s. And boy howdy did the herb men hustle back then. There were no Amsterdam genetics saturating the Jamaican market at that time, just pure Jamaican landrace. Have to love the Jaguar, too. The producers chose a great mascot for this top single.

Some of my Rasta friends who visited me in Arizona could not grasp the desert. Most of them had never been outside of the New York city area and their memories of their Jamaican home were deep green and lush. Landing in Phoenix at Sky Harbor and stepping out into the 112 degree dry desert air was a mind-blowing experience.

I took my good friend Ricky to Jerome and gave him an insider’s tour. A 6’5” Rasta with thumb-thick dreads down to his butt, he was quite the hit amongst the local hippies. Even some of the usual suspects at The Spirit Room took a few double-takes. I remember how two little kids hid crouched between parked cars and took his picture as we walked by. Rick stopped and said something nice to them in his Jamaican patois, laughing as he spoke. The kids ran off giggling. Rick has a beautiful, soft heart.

Ricky was the Brooklyn Rasta ambassador who brought two uniquely different worlds together. Like myself, he felt comfortable traversing both the white and the black worlds and could make things happen peacefully. On this trip he began to blend the inner city and the desert worlds. When I took him to Box Canyon on the Verde River near Sycamore Canyon on a hot summer day and we went swimming with my two young, adventurous daughters, Rick told us that he couldn’t that believe such places existed in America. He had seen photos and scenes in movies, however that day changed him in a way he still speaks of today. He went back to the natural world for the first time since he was a boy in JA.

The Jaguar is coming back to the natural world of Arizona, too. Some believe it never truly left. More than 60 recorded Jaguar kills took place in the state between the 1870’s and the 1970’s. After the 1970’s verified sitings were rare until Warner Glenn, a second generation rancher and lion hunter, came upon one in March 7, 1996 while on a lion hunt in the Arizona Peloncillo Mountains. On that day he became the first person to photograph a wild jaguar in the United States. His book, Eyes of Fire, chronicles the event with a dozen photos. I highly recommend it. In 2006, in the Animas Mountains of southwestern New Mexico, he had the great fortune to see a second Jag. Lightning strikes twice….can you believe it?

Warner describes the difference between a lion’s response to being cornered by dogs in contrast to a jaguar’s response in his interview on the “Southwest Jaguar” internet blog:

“SWJ: How does a jaguar at bay react differently from a mountain lion in the same situation?


A mountain lion will growl, spit and hiss at the dogs, facing them in a threatening manner and at times reaching out with a quick thrust of a paw trying to sink its claws into the dog pulling it into biting range. To avoid being caught, the dog has to jump back quickly, then resumes its barking. The dogs can remain in fairly close range to the lion, who is usually in a half crouch or lying on his belly with its head up and threatening, with mouth open and snarling.

A jaguar seems to remain in a standing position and with head lowered, uttering a low coughing type growl until a dog gets too close. At this point the jaguar makes a quick, fast charge for 15 or 20 feet, attempting to catch the dog, who has to be extremely quick to escape this charge. With the charge, the jaguar lets out a loud roar, ending with a couple of low coughing noises and if he missed catching the dog, he then returns to his bayed position. If he catches the dog, the dog is going to get hurt bad. The jaguar means business, he is not bluffing.”

When I began my search for the perfect growing site I explored a half-dozen canyons along the Mogollon Rim that held promise. A few of the canyons that I examined were being used by growers I knew from Jerome. Those canyons were so long and deep combined with difficult access that I thought that perhaps there could have been a safe spot that others hadn’t found on their earlier recon missions. It was only later that I discovered that what I thought then was remote and difficult access was actually just the opposite. Luckily I didn’t follow suit by sharing a canyon with those guys. They lost it all at harvest, including their freedom.

Another canyon under consideration I had used once before and it still held promise. It was being saved as a last backup because it was a little too easy to access and had much more dirt road traffic nearby. The final few I that hoped would make the grade were virgin canyons that required much more work to explore and if chosen would entail a lengthy access drive and rough hike each time any one of them was visited on a growing schedule. Their remoteness safeguarded against easy discovery and virtually eliminated “tourist”, casual hiker, or hunter exposure, however it would mean a whole lot more logistical work in advance followed by a year of three-day visits weekly. At that point in my life I knew in my heart that I wanted an intense, new adventure, so a strange, remote canyon experience fit the bill no matter how strenuous it would be to pull it off.

I was about 3 miles up an exceptionally narrow and hidden canyon when I ran out of daylight and had to make camp. It was actually a long tributary of another canyon and I realized then that my exploration hike was going to take 2-3 days to fully explore just the bottom half of it. It had year-round water, the primary criteria necessary for growing a crop. I had chosen to explore all of the candidate canyons in June, the driest month of the year,  just for this reason. What good is remote and bulletproof if your water source disappears in the driest part of the hot season? In Arizona, unlike the conditions for my friends in Jamaica, you can’t count on rainfall alone for watering your plants. You need to irrigate.

My camp was simple – my sleeping bag on the sand with my pack for a headrest. I hit the sack early because I was real tired and the rich darkness that followed the advancing sunset in this canyon came quick and hard. Unless you plan to light a fire (in June?) and hang out by firelight, bedtime comes quite early. It was too hot to get in my bag so I got under its protective cover, a slip-on cover of waterproof nylon that acted like a thin sheet if you slept under it and on top of the sleeping bag beneath your body. It came as an option on all Holubar Mountaineering (Boulder, Colorado – bought later by The North face) sleeping bags and kept the bag clean and rip-free even when you tossed down on gravel, lumpy dirt, or sand. It should be an option for all bags today but I think most people sleep in tents and never throw down on the raw earth. Back then mosquitoes were rare in Arizona back canyons because there were no stagnant ponds, just flowing streams, and no towns with junk like old tires nearby for the skeeters to breed in. You just didn’t need a tent.

As I drifted into sweet weed dreams I was startled into full throttle adrenaline consciousness by the high-pitched sound of a large cat screeching at me. If you’ve ever heard a mountain lion’s cry, usually a female’s male-attraction call when it’s in heat, it sounds like a woman shrieking. The name for this sound is caterwauling; house cats do it too, and it will freak you out for sure if you’re lying naked in your bag with only a machete nearby for defense and it’s a lion going at it and not your friendly kitty.

I sat up instantly and starting yelling back. I put on my shoes and grabbed my machete. Being naked in the night heat was odd totally lame. I felt so vulnerable. If I had to fight or run in the dark I would be like a defenseless, blind animal being hunted down by a superior carnivore, a big hungry predator with excellent night vision and built-in weapons. Back then we used little, flat plastic flashlights that we could hold between our teeth while we handled water hoses and were watering our garden at night. Mining-style headlamps were big and bulky and the current, compact LED headlamps were not yet a reality. Those bulky C or D batteries left a lot to be desired, too. I didn’t have one anyway and my flashlight was still in my pack. I learned that night to always have a weapon at hand and to have a headlamp within reach at all times. Since then I have even slept with my headlamp loosely strung around my neck, ready for quick mounting and efficient use in total darkness. Carpe Diem (or Nightum).

I finally fell back to sleep after an uneasy 30 minute wait in total darkness, waiting for the lion’s next move. The cat had shrieked only for 10 or 20 seconds even though I swear it was a full minute or two. Once asleep I dreamt of raw energy, the ovals of light energy that Carlos Castaneda had described and that can be seen in every living being. The cat energy was deep red. Mine was blue.

Just about when my dream was heading deeper I was jolted out of unconsciousness by the same damn shrieking, only this time twice as close to me. The first round of sound lead me to believe that the cat was 50 or so feet away in the dense mesquite Bosque in which I had chosen to sleep. This round seemed like El Gato was literally just beyond my touch, in the thick shrubs and bush, say 20 feet away. It was truly loud and scary. My sandy gravel bedsite bordered dense brush that when combined with the black of night left no visibility at all  I could only guess at the cat’s location. I was somewhat better prepared this time, though, because I had fallen asleep with my flashlight in hand and I quickly blasted it toward the sound. I could see nothing at all, there was no movement, only the shrieking that continued this time for a much longer time.

I did loud, loud Tarzan calls, you know, like Johnny Weismuller. I have a knack for vocal imitation and I didn’t hesitate no matter how goofy it might have sounded. Besides, it worked damn well. The cat gave up rather suddenly and left. As I listened for its departing movement I heard nothing but the canyon breeze. They sure are stealthy. Shit man.

Months later, sitting around a campfire, my Wizard partner Don Wand and I kicked around names for our upcoming brand. The cat incident stuck out and somehow the mountain lion mutated into a jaguar, a much more fierce creature of the Sonoran desert. That cat had seemed crazy and angry, too, so it was definitely “mad”.

Mad Jag” was born that night and that canyon was chosen as our grow site because of its wild and powerful character. It fit all of our cautious standards.

The recent interview of rancher and lion hunter Warner Glenn that I linked to above explains the different sounds that jaguars and cougars make when under attack or disturbed. As much as we had hallucinated that maybe it actually had been a jaguar that I had endured, years later we heard the news that jaguars were truly back in Arizona based upon Warner’s 1996 experience, followed by this latest interview in 2006, and we knew that it erased the jaguar possibility. My cat had shrieked and didn’t cough. Still, it was a wild ride indeed and a good time was had by all.

Madjag Canyon turned out to be a winner that served faithfully for 4 great seasons. In adjacent canyons, not far away, busts took out friends and acquaintances who didn’t follow strict growing methods and rules of stealth. Our best year saw us tending two gardens a mile apart with 275 healthy Skunk #1 female cannabis plants growing in the hot, high desert sun. 125 pounds of manicured and pure, psychedelic smoke.

It’s almost hard to believe that we had the heart to make it happen, but we did. Ah youth…