Friday, November 16, 2012

Kwaaymii Mysteries

by Steve Reiss (Dalmdad Landscape Photography - and

A fictional mystery inspired by people's connections to Kwaaymii Point.  

I was sitting on my rock on a hill high above the Kwaaymii Point parking lot.  To my right, I saw the occasional car coming through the road slot and to my left, I saw the desert floor a mile below.

Looking 5000+ feet down from my perch
On the old road-cut, Tina and Kelly Anne were walking towards the picnic area, each holding an end of a red ice chest that had seen better days and was covered with stickers from Coachellafest, Burning Man, and the Doheney Blues Festival.  I called out to them and we exchanged waves.

"Need help with the ice chest?"

"No, thanks, Fred."  Tina had to yell so I could hear her voice over the wind.

"Have a great day!"

"You too!"

I went back to sketching and making notes in my diary, just enjoying the fall weather, when I saw a bright yellow convertible pull into the Kwaaymii Point parking lot.  A young man and a young woman got out of the car, grabbed each other's hands, walked over to the cliff edge near the trail head and began looking over.

Trail Head
I remembered seeing that car.  Who could forget that bright yellow paint?  I could not, however, recall the couple.  I thumbed through my diary.  Then I remembered them.  I slipped my diary into my vest pocket and slowly hoofed it down the hill to meet them.


“Awesome view, huh?” I said as I approached the couple, kicking up some pebbles to make noise, trying to not scare them.

“Yeah.”, the man said.  “Where did you come from?”

“I was sitting up there…” I pointed towards the top of the hill.  "If you don't know where to look its hard to see me up there.  I like it that way; no one bothers me when I am up there.  Hi, I'm Fred Johnson."

"I'm Sean.  This is my girlfriend, Ileana."  We all shook hands.  Sean and Ileana looked about half my age, but twice as happy as I ever looked.  Ileana did not say “hello”, but she gave me a wide friendly grin as we shook hands and said everyone calls her 'Lily'.

"Has he told you two yet?" Out of nowhere, Greg appeared and injected himself into the conversation.  "Did you tell them, Fred?"

"Tell us what?" Sean asked.

"They just got here."


"Greg, please just be quiet for a moment.  I was trying to ease them into it."

"Ease us into what?" Lily asked.

"You guys are dead.  So dead!" Greg said, ignoring my plea to shut up.

“Huh?” Sean said.  "Greg is it?  What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about how you drove Lily's car over her and then off this cliff."

"Greg, shut up. Sean, Lily…please ignore him."

"It's a free country, Fred.  No one elected you president of Kwaaymii Point."

"Again…What are you two talking about?" Sean asked.

“Well, I was just trying to help you understand why you are here,” I said.

“We are here because we wanted to go hiking.  I can see that the decision to come here to do that was a big mistake.  The guidebook didn't mention anything about middle-aged stalkers hanging around the area and harassing hikers.”

"I never intended for this to happen this way."

“You never intended for us to get pissed off when you played some demented practical joke on us?”

“I could not be sorrier to say it is not a joke.”

“I guess you are implying we ghosts?” Lily asked with doubt.  "There is no such thing as ghosts.  Ghosts are purely manifestations of the limitations of human perception."

I nodded my head slowly, trying to convince them I understood their confusion.  “Lily, science does not have an answer to everything.  So, yes, you are ghosts.”

“That is BS," Sean said as he looked down at his watch.  "Forty-five minutes ago we were eating lunch in Julian.”

“You are imagining the past,” I said.  "Your past."

“You two picked the wrong couple to play your little game.  I produce and direct horror movies and Lily has advanced degrees in physics  We have heard it all and don't find your sense of humor at all funny."

"Qué carbón!

“Huh?” Fred asked.

“She called us bastards.” Greg said.

“I was being kind.”

"Imagining the past?  Am I imagining the ice cream stain on my shirt?” Sean said.

“I can’t make you accept that you are dead.  I can only tell you that you are dead and try to help you make the transition.”

“Trying the Sixth Sense, "I see dead people" plot on us?  Not very original."

"Sean, stop egging them on.  There are no such things as ghosts.  These guys are muy loco!"

“Or are you trying to pull a Matrix-joke on us?  Are you supposed to be Morpheus, telling us everything we ever knew was a mind trick?”

“Not everything; just what has happened between when you died and now.”
“So, you are dead too?”

“We are.  I slipped off a portion of the trail over there.  It was a long time ago.  I don’t know Greg’s story.”

“Uhm...That’s my business,” Greg said.  He was leaning back against some rocks looking oh so pompous.

“You both seem pretty alive to me.  Especially, you; for someone who fell down the side of a cliff.”

"Well, if you follow me over there," I pointed toward the collapsing rock wall on the old road-cut, "I will try to convince you."

The Old Road-cut (looking south)
The Old Road-Cut (looking north)

 "We are not following you anywhere.  If there were a cell signal out here, I would call the police."

“OK.  I will prove you wrong," Lily said. "If I am a ghost, than that man over there won't be able see me.  Hi!!” she yelled while waving her arms over her head.  She sounded so confident that she had figured out how to prove Greg and I were lying to them.

The man waved back and yelled “hello.”

“He’s dead too,” I said before Lily gripped on too tight to her confidence that she had figured it out. “That is RT.  He was a Harley rider  His riding club friends scattered his ashes over the cliff.  He and the club used to ride around here regularly.”

“Where do you come up with this stuff?" Sean asked.   "Its not even original.  Do you hassle everyone that comes here with your perverse sense of humor or is there something special about us?”

“Fine, I will go against all my years of science study and take a bite.  How did we exactly die?” Lily asked, putting "die" in sarcastic air-quotes.  “How did we drive over the cliff?  Heck…why would we drive over the cliff?”

“I’m not actually sure. But, the best I can guess is that Greg, here, killed you two.  Somehow he possessed Sean and made Sean kill you both."

"Bull shit!" Greg said. “That is a lie.  Fred is a liar.  You will learn that soon enough.  You have to look through his nice guy act. Lily, Fred es un metiroso.  Liar!”

"No, Fred is probably right.  Though we never will know."

"Now who are you and are you dead too?" Sean asked.

"I’m Ranger Bob.  I was here with Fred on the day -we think- Greg possessed Sean and made him drive the car over Lily and then off the cliff."

"Bob, why you doing this?" Greg asked.

“The car that is over there?” Sean asked, pointing back at the car over his shoulder.

“Yes,” Ranger Bob said.  “It’s all kind of complicated."

“Sean let’s get out of here.  These guys are freaks.  I can't believe we have played along with them for so long.”

“Agreed, but you know I am a sucker for the scary stuff.”  Sean reached for Lily’s hand and they walked back to their car.  Sean opened the door for Lily and then closed it after she got in.  Sean started the engine and then yelled back at us.

“This car works pretty good for one that went over a cliff.  A-holes!”

"Estupido!" Lily yelled.

Those were the last words I ever heard from either of them.  Sean ‘peeled rubber’ as he drove out of the parking lot and turned right onto Sunrise Highway, heading back towards Julian.

“That was pretty rude of you Fred,” Greg said. “ Trying to convince those nice people that I killed them.”

“Now they are nice people?  The last time you saw them you were badmouthing them; that they were disrespecting sacred ground...and you started the whole mess.”

“I was just joking with them.  You took it to a whole new level.”

“Greg, get out of my face," Ranger Bob said.

“Sean, I know you love ghost and horror movies and that is what you do, but you don’t really believe we are dead?”

“Lily, don’t be silly.  You tore their sick little joke apart.  If your PhD adviser heard you ask that, he would make you hold on to one of those sparking machines."

"A Van de Graaff?"

"That's it."

"Forget physics for a moment and the think of the practicality of it all.  When was the last time you saw a dead person drive a car... and... have an ice cream stain on his the same time no less.”

“Admittedly, never.  A conservative approximation of the probability is probably in the...”

"God are you smart.  Bones has nothing on you."

“Some people are just out of their minds."

"Like you and your dad always say...Loco!

“What about that RT guy - he dead too?”

“A parking lot filled with ghosts or zombies?”

“Silly, huh?  I'm letting the scary movies you make me watch poison my analytic thinking.”

“Yeah, but you know what?”

Lily looked at Sean, “What?”

“I am taking you for a fantastic dinner tonight.  Boy, we will have a story to tell our grand-kids in 50 years.”

“I love you, Sean.”

“I love you, Lily.  Always will.”

Sean finally noticed the car riding their bumper.  The driver was beeping his horn over and over and flashing his lights.  Sean looked down at the speedometer and saw he was driving slow while he and Lily were talking.  Sean pulled over to the right and waved the driver around.

As the driver passed, he gave Sean the finger.  “I guess he is a ghost too.”

“Everybody is a ghost these days.  Its the newest big thing.”

"You and your air quotes.  Has Professor Venkman ever seen you do them?"


It was a couple of weeks after the big blow up with Sean, Lily, and Greg.  I regretted the entire event.  I should not have let Greg goad me on.  I had written about this a lot in my diary and was writing even more about it now.  I was in a rut lately.  I sat alone in the picnic area away from a family with two small kids and one humungous dog, which at first I thought was a miniature pony.  Despite the off-and-on fall breezes, they were having a bbq, and the entire picnic area smelled delightful with the smell of charcoal and cooking hamburger.  Man, I could not remember the last time I had a hamburger.

 I heard the "beep-beep-beep" of a backing up truck. Against the noise of the barking 'pony' and the picnicking family, I could not tell what was going on, so I walked over to the old Sunrise Highway road-cut, where the truck, a flatbed with a small crane, was trying to squeeze past the highway-style barrier separating the old road-cut from the Kwaaymii Point parking area.

As I approached the noise, I saw Ranger Tom P. walking towards the truck.  He did not look happy.  The driver stopped the truck and climbed down to talk with him.  I stood back, looking for Ranger Bob, but he was nowhere to be seen.  There was about 15 minutes of intense conversation between Ranger Tom and the driver. Then Ranger Tom left.  All I heard was Ranger Tom making it clear to the driver that his patrol would bring him back in three hours.  I then walked further down and saw the driver climb back into his truck and continue backing up, just clearing the barrier.


Page B12, The San Diego Daily Post (November 5, 2012)

A strange coda to our recent article about the apparent murder-suicide of  Sean Pugh, 26 and Ileana 'Lily' Torres, 25, at Kwaaymii Point in the Laguna Mountains of eastern San Diego County has developed.  During the dark moonless night of October 31, a large marble monument to the victims appeared at Kwaaymii Point.  Ranger Tom Palintzer of the California Department of Forestry reported that while the installation of permanent monuments are prohibited on public land, the Department of Forestry only prevents the construction of new monuments and does not remove monuments they don't actually catch being constructed.  Several monuments of varying complexity and size have been constructed at the site over the years since county road S-2 (Sunrise Highway) was moved inland, away from the cliff-edge ridge the road previously occupied.

Though the Torres and Pugh families refused to comment on the monument, they have strongly spoken out against the multi-agency report that concluded Pugh hit Torres with her own car and then drove them both over the 5000 ft cliff.  The families claim that confusion over which state and federal agencies had jurisdiction over the accident site caused none of the agencies to take the investigation seriously.  This claim was vigorously denied by no less than the five different agencies. Ranger Tom Palintzer, speaking on behalf of the commission that produced the report said that it is unfortunate that the families do not feel they received certain answers.  However, law enforcement now considers this matter closed.

While there are at least six markers at Kwaaymii Point, none are related to the characters of this story. For the longest time, I could find no information on any of the memorialized people. Even a Google search for as uncommon a name as "Richard Zadorozny" in combination with the equally uncommon term "Kwaaymii" produced no substantive results.

However, in a final pre-publication search for this article, something finally came up.

Priscilla Lister, a freelance writer from San Diego, wrote the following as part of a larger piece in the U-T San Diego on August 19, 2012:


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