For a split second, as she is inching her way across the log, Danelle Benson thinks she sees a mannequin. Someone has carted a mannequin up Little Cottonwood Canyon and has thrown it in the creek.

And then Danelle squats down on the log and screams.Josh Jackson is following on the log. He thinks at first that Danelle is losing her balance and starts to grab her. Then he sees it, too.

It is the arm of a man, they think. A man wearing a white glove.

Their friend Ryan Schneider is already across the creek. From where he is standing he can see the body better. It is a woman's hand, whiter than skin.

The three teenagers find themselves unable to move or speak, transfixed by the arm draped over a tangle of logs, the creek hollering around them.

Later, some deputy sheriff will tell them how stupid they were to even try to cross the creek. But Danelle has already figured that out. Inching her way back across the log and then across the part of the creek where she must wade, bracing herself against a smaller log, she keeps imagining herself being swept away. She can see now how it would be: The water, as determined and indifferent as a semi- truck, would barrel past her, would shove her and toss her and, finally, drown her.

And then it would stash her away, deep under a rock ledge or in a web of sticks until someone else, out for a pleasant afternoon, might discover her. Eventually she would be found because the creek is getting lower, day by day. It can't hide a person forever.

But it can keep secrets.

Record snow

In Utah, the winter of 1993 brought record snowstorms, followed by a spring of heavy rain. Then came the summer of unusually high water and gruesome surprises.

On the last day of May, a Virginia tourist stood on the banks of Big Cottonwood Creek and saw a man's body tumble by; on the last day of June, an Arizona tourist, standing by the edge of Little Cottonwood Creek, saw a woman being dragged along by the current.

It began to seem as if the creeks were being directed by Steven Spielberg and scripted by Stephen King. It began to seem as if some giant tentacle was pulling people into the water.

In the 30 days between Memorial Day and the beginning of July, five people drowned in Big and Little Cottonwood creeks. In Utah County, a 6-year-old Salt Lake boy standing on the banks of the American Fork River slipped in and was washed away. Just miles away, another boy and the man who tried to rescue him drowned in a culvert in Highland. Two men were swept away on the Colorado River and a boy died in the San Juan.

And now, this week, five teenagers from a church youth group have returned from Zion National Park with a harrowing story of two adults sucked to their death in whirlpools in Kolob Creek.

Even as the snow disappears and the waters get lower, the statistics grow.

First victim

Allen Memmott was the first.

On Memorial Day, Memmott and his girlfriend, Sarah Allen, drove up Big Cottonwood Canyon for a nighttime hike near the Lake Blanche trailhead. They hadn't been there long when Memmott did something that Sarah Allen will never understand.

"I love you, hon," he told her, and then jumped, or maybe slipped, from the bank into the dark creek.

Memmott, said to be a good swimmer, was gone in a matter of seconds. It would be four weeks before two hikers would discover his body, wrapped around a tree in the middle of the creek down-stream.

In the meantime, as Memmott's body eluded probe poles and grids and search dogs, the days got warmer and the melting snow in the Wasatch canyons continued to pour out of the side canyons.

Having been trampled on by skiers all winter and cooped up by a late spring, the snow finally melted with a vengeance. It roared downhill in one last hurrah, on its way to level ground and chlorine and, finally, a salty inland sea.

Adrenaline rush

Saturday, June 19. The sun at the top of Alta Canyon is turning the snow into a trickle that, by 7:30 that evening, will pass by the spot where Geoff Boldon is standing on the bank of Little Cottonwood Creek.

Like a lot of 16-year-old-boys, Geoff likes to take advantage of any adrenaline rush that comes his way, a tendency that drives his mother crazy. Couldn't he just play tennis? In early June, right after school got out, she told a friend she was afraid she might lose Geoff this summer to some crazy accident.

On Saturday, Geoff and his friend Andy Sutherland ride their mountain bikes in Ferguson Canyon. After dinner at Geoff's house they decide they can squeeze in one more adventure - a ride up Little Cottonwood Canyon to an abandoned building at a place called Hogum Flat.

The stone building looks like a church but is really the remains of an old power plant, on the far side of the creek. The best thing about it, if you happen to be a 16-year-old who gets a rush out of death-defying experiences, is the rope.

Bright yellow and thin, the rope spans the creek from trees on either side, hanging about 8 feet above the turbulent water, like the beginnings of some circus act. A precarious knot about a third of the way across adds to the possibilities.

Andy goes across first, hand over hand, no problem. But Geoff, over 6 feet tall and 170 pounds, is bigger than Andy. About half way across, the rope begins to sag; even though he tucks his legs, Geoff's body touches the whitecaps. The water rams into his shins, like a defensive tackle bringing down a quarterback, persisting until Geoff loses his grip.

Then the water continues bashing him, twirling him like a demonic amusement park ride. It hurls him into boulders, and then drags him on for more.

Geoff is a good swimmer, but even a good swimmer in water that white and swift is in for an impossible time. White water is white because it is filled with air, frothed up from being tumbled over the rocky creek bed. In water that airy a person tends to sink rather than float. Even in a life jacket, it's difficult to keep your head up in water like that.

And then there's the cold. Just hours away from being snow, the water is so frigid it takes only a minute or two to numb you so thoroughly that your arms and legs are useless.

As Geoff falls into the water, Andy begins running along the creek bank, trying to keep up with him. About 15 yards downstream, in a place where the water is calmer, he tries to reach down and grab his friend. But the water pulls harder, yanking Geoff around a bend.

Andy runs back upstream, crosses the yellow rope again, then runs along the hiking trail until he finds a place to get uphill to the road.

Meanwhile, Geoff rides the current. Mostly he keeps his eyes closed, but occasionally he sees the bank shoot by him and a tree limb that might be something to grab at if he could move his arms better. In his mind he hears his mother's voice warning him to be careful.

Suddenly, he feels his head pulled under to stay. His foot is trapped between two rocks. He's running out of air. Let it all be over soon, he prays.

Jim White is driving down the canyon when he sees a kid by the side of the road waving his arms. By now it is almost 10 minutes since Geoff fell into the creek. White, in Utah just two weeks, finds the California part of his brain thinking "carjacking" as he approaches the man. But then he remembers he's in Utah now.

From where he and Andy stand, the creek is barely audible. Then, suddenly, way in the distance, they hear a cry for "Help!" They run down the hill, over fallen logs and underbrush, toward the cry. In a little clearing just ahead, Geoff is leaning against a rock, shivering and dazed.

"I'm no great person," Geoff would say say weeks later, taking a reporter back to the place where he had climbed out of the creek. Given a choice between reading "To Kill a Mockingbird" for an English assignment or renting the video instead, he will always choose the video. "I don't go to church. I don't volunteer my time to the handicapped or anything like that.

"But there must be some reason I'm still here, and I'm really anxious to figure out what that is." He says he is sure he felt God lifting him out of the water that day.

Geoff was flown out of the canyon and taken to LDS Hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia, abrasions and internal bleeding.

That night on the news there were pictures of paramedics carrying him up the trail on a stretcher. The news of his rescue flashed on the screen right after a clip about a 12-year-old boy who had drowned earlier that day at Pine View Reservoir.

The crash

The next weekend, on a Sunday evening, Jim Riddle is riding his mountain bike on a trail along the south side of Little Cottonwood Creek. When you're that close to the water, the noise is louder than the freeway at rush hour.

Suddenly, though, above the din, Riddle hears another noise. A crash. He throws down his bike and runs toward the water, where a white compact car has plummeted 60 feet, landing right side up in the water.

Witnesses say later that the car, traveling slower than the speed limit, moved out to pass an even slower car but continued in a straight line right for the creek, catapulting off the bank.

And there it sits, nose upstream, rocking back and forth in the current, foamy water crashing at the windshield.

Riddle watches a young man and woman emerge from the passenger door. He begins wading into the creek to help but is repulsed by water so powerful it nearly knocks him over.

He sees the man hold the woman with one arm and reach for a tree limb with the other. Riddle tries to push the tree limb closer.

As the young man reaches again for the limb, the water shifts the unstable creek bed under his feet and pulls him down. In the seconds following, Riddle runs along the creek trying to catch sight of the man and woman. He hears a shout. And then they are gone.

Brett Ekberg, 23, and his new wife Kristie, 21, had set out that evening for a little ride up the canyon. "We'll be back soon," they told their landlord and their dog, Chelsea.

Driving down the canyon, Brett tried to pass a slower car. As he turned the wheel, a tie rod snapped, making it impossible for him to steer. He pulled on the emergency brake, but nothing helped, and the car plummeted.

Rescuers found Brett's body an hour later. It would take search and rescue volunteers with dogs till noon the next day to find Kristie. A German shepherd named Frita, sniffing the mist off the top of the current, would whine at a deep place in the creek, a signal that the body had probably been found.

Losing the newlyweds was a bittersweet tragedy for the couple's parents. They believe God called Brett and Kristie home. How else, they say, can you explain why Brett's car careened off the road at the only spot, for hundreds of yards in either direction, where trees would not break its fall?

For Jim Riddle, the lessons are more earthly. He sees people bring their little children down to the creek's edge and he wonders what they could possibly be thinking. Can't they see, he wonders, how deadly a creek can be?

She's gone

Two days later, Jan Schneider takes her Judith Krantz novel and drives up Little Cottonwood Canyon. She parks, leaves her keys and purse in the car, and walks down to the water, not far from where Kristie Ekberg's body had been found.

It's June 30 - 30 days and four drownings into the worst water year that Salt Lake County Sheriff's search and rescue chief Thad Moore can ever remember. Later that evening, a man and a boy would drown in a culvert along the Alpine Highway near Highland.

It's about 5 o'clock when Sarah Donoho, her husband and another couple from Arizona, on a drive down the canyon from their hotel at Snowbird, decided to pull off the road to get a closer look at the creek.

Donoho walks up to the creek's edge, where a woman is sitting on a large rock, near a sweatshirt and a book by Judith Krantz.

"It's really fast, isn't it?" the woman says.

Donoho agrees and turns to pick her way around some rocks and trees. When she turns back a few seconds later, she sees the woman caught in the current, rushing past her.

"She looked right up at me," Donoho remembers later. She says the woman didn't scream and didn't look panicked, but she says that might not mean anything. "I didn't know her, so I don't know how she would have reacted. Maybe she was stunned."

Like the death of Allen Memmott in Big Cottonwood, and the drowning of a Midvale man named Kerry Schiffman in Little Cottonwood on June 26, Jan Schneider's drowning will always be a mystery. And a reminder that any mountain creek, even in the second driest state in the nation, can deceive you.


After so many years of drought, so many summers when a person could so easily wade the creeks (although, actually, it is illegal to enter a watershed), we have for-got-ten to be awed by our waterways.

This is not the Midwest, after all, where a mighty river can wipe out towns and livelihoods. And, even though it has been a high water year in Utah, we have patted ourselves on the back, proud that we've kept the creeks within their banks. There was no "State Street River" this year.

The years since the Flood of 1983 have made us complacent and blind to the warning signs of nature. Maybe we would pay more attention to a sign at the mouth of a canyon alerting us to deadly runoff. "High water, stay away from the banks," the sign might say, the way signs warn us of avalanche danger and snowpacked roads. We might pay attention.

Last weekend, an hour after the body of his young son was recovered from the American Fork River, Blair Fenton read a statement to the press. He had written it in longhand sometime during the 10 days it took rescuers to find Michael's body, during the long days when there was time to reflect on what his death could teach another parent.

"In the days since his drowning, we have seen many people playing near the river, oblivious to the danger," wrote Fenton.

The creeks, all white water and white noise, keep seducing us. We can't see what's lurking underneath, in the places where boulders skim by like beach balls, where the floor is slimy and constantly shifting.

We walk a little closer to the edge. We get swept away.



Waterway safety

Stay a safe distance from waterways, particulary keep children away from them. Looks can be deceiving.

What to do if someone falls in a waterway:

-Don't try to jum in to save the person. You could become a victim yourself.

-Encourage the person to keep his or her head above water and move with the current to the edge, where a foothold can be gained by grabbing trees or other underbrush.

-If possible throw the victim something to hang on to that floats, or pull the victime out with a rope.

-Attract attention and call for help.


Deaths in Utah Waterways

13 people have died in creeks, rivers and canals since May.

Paul Henry Shields, 77, Salt Lake City, and David Roy Burt, 70, Layton, disappeared May 29 after their boat broke up in Cataract Canyon not been recovered and park officials, who conducted another search last week, aren't hopeful about finding them.

Roy Allen Memmott, 37, Midvale, died on May 31 when he jumped from a bridge in Big Cottonwood Canyon. His body was recovered July 10.

Sheridan Black, 14, Douglas mesa, died June 2 while he was tubing on the San Juan River near Mexican Hat.

Kerry Schiffman, 38, Midvale, died June 26 after apparently falling into Little Cottonwood Creek. Brett Ekberg was found unconscious in the creek. He died at LDS Hospital. Kristie Ekberg's body was discovered the next day.

Jan Schnelder, 40, Sandy, died after she fell into Little Cottonwood Creek on June 30. Her body was discovered on July 8.

John C. Whipple, 38, Highland, died June 30 after he jumped into a Highland irrigation canal to rescue Eric Larsen, 10. larsen also died after he slipped into the canal.

Michael Fenton, 6, Salt lake City, diet after falling into the American Fork River on July 8. His body was recovered July 17.

Dave Fleischer, 27, and Kim Ellis, 37, both of Millcreek, died July 14 after being sucked into whirlpools in Kolob Creek in Zion National Park. They were part of an outing with a Salt Lake church group.