"So, little yellow and orange... little nippy one, have you been crawling on a rainbow?"

    Danny Rivas spied the beautifully beaded lizard sunning itself on a boulder. The creature curled defensively, flicking its tongue between warning hisses.

"Cut the squawking, I'm not going to hurt you," he said, carefully reaching toward its head with a stick. "Besides, you're the one with all the poison. Yeah, I know about you, you're a snapping turtle without its shell. Hey, are you listening?"

    The animal quietly focused on the end of the stick.

"...Because if you are, you're the only one. Nobody listens to me...ever, except maybe Digs...and Grandfather." He sighed deeply. "That's the trouble with all of them. They don't care about me. And why should they? I'm just a dumb little punk, anyway."
    Again the lizard hissed and snapped in his direction.
    "Okay, okay, I'll mind my own business," he muttered, "but do me a favor, will you? The next time you see my father...or those pinheads at school, bite them, and tell them Danny sent you. Maybe that will wake them up, got it?"

    Heavy rain clouds in the mountains and a rushing sound behind him went unheeded. He tossed the stick aside as the lizard lumbered into the safety of a crevice.

    And then, suddenly engulfed in a torrent, he was swept away by a muddy wall of water, coughing and choking as he swallowed the flow into his lungs. Bobbing branches struck his head and uprooted prickly pear speared his arms. He lunged at the bank of the wash, but a jutting snag of mesquite roots passed just beyond his fingertips. He gulped air as he rolled, flailing his arms to keep his face above water. Beneath the surface, rocks and thorny ocotillo scraped and tore at his flesh.
    He quickly became disoriented in the swirling, boiling tidal wave. It took all of his strength to stay upright, fighting the sandy bottom with his legs. He gritted his teeth, loudly cursing his carelessness.
    "Gila monster, you didn't warn me," he gasped.
    Down the channel he plunged, growing steadily weaker from the pounding of the rocks and debris against his body. Casting a frightened eye at the steep side of the wash, he tried desperately to move toward it. But he was caught in a jam of brush as the powerful current pulled him back into midstream.
    "Grandfather, I forgot. I'm sorry ..."
    It was then he realized nature's fury would not release him; no matter how hard he struggled, and he began to let go. Gray shadows clouded his eyes and a buzzing sound increased to a shrill ringing in his ears. He let his body relax, to drift and float freely.
    "Is this what it feels like, Grandfather..." he asked from the edge of a dream, "...to make the final journey?" But there was no answer, only the faraway sound of rushing water.
    His chest slammed the fallen sycamore tree with tremendous force, knocking the air from his lungs. In desperation, he threw his arms across one side of the massive trunk. There he clung precariously, gasping for breath, as the cold down current threatened to pull him under again. The muscles in his arms burned from the strain, yet he managed to hold on.
    "P-Please, I can't..." he mumbled, gazing weakly at sky spirits overhead.
    The surge lifted him and he lost his grip. Caught in a giant funnel, he was sucked beneath the tree. Breaking the surface, he crashed heavily into a tangle of dead branches. A firm hold on an overhanging limb kept his head above water, but his leg was wedged tightly below the surface. He was trapped in the flow, unable to break free, while the litter from the wash continued to batter him. Without hope and exhausted from the struggle, he lowered his head and cried.
    The growling came from directly behind--low at first, then building to a snarl. He turned sharply toward the sound, unsure of how close. Wiping tears and muddy grime from his face, he tried to focus his eyes on a dark form just above him. There, in the twisted wreckage of the sycamore, was a dog. It was a very large dog with a long nose and a dusky brown coat. Danny shifted his weight to get a better look. It bared its teeth, shying back slightly.
You are not a dog, he thought. You're too big...and your teeth are too sharp.
    He could see that it was trapped, as he was, but not in the same way. The animal's legs were free, while tightly cinched around its upper torso was a thick nylon rope. The long ragged end of the cord was wrapped in a maze of branches close to Danny's arm.
    "It's a snare. Old Coyote, you've been here for a while, haven't you?"
    The wild dog pulled on the line, whining and snarling. As it continued to resist, the rope became ever tighter around its body.
    Danny studied the end of the cord. By reaching up and untangling the knotted mess, he could release the coyote. And he saw a chance for himself.
If I hold on tightly, you will try to pull away. Are you strong enough to free my leg? he wondered.
    It was a slow and difficult task unraveling the wet strand with one hand, while he held himself up with the other. As he worked, he carefully wound the cord around his wrist. At last he was ready to release his unsuspecting ally. He pulled repeatedly on the line, watching the coyote intently.
    With a yelp and a gnarl, the animal yanked back on the cord. It began to backpedal, digging its paws into the rough bark and biting at the noose around its body.
    "Please, Coyote, don't bite through the line!"
    Slowly he felt the pressure release around his leg. It was working! He closed his eyes in silent prayer as the creature tugged and jerked on the rope. Inch by inch, Danny's body was dragged from the water. With a final push of his feet, he escaped the current and crawled cautiously up the branch.
    The dog was not yet free and continued its desperate tugging and growling. Each time it felt pressure it yanked even harder.
    Danny felt his hand grow numb as the wrist cord tightened, cutting off circulation. Glancing at the animal, he saw that the rope had hiked up its body, allowing it to apply more tension on the line. He tried twisting his wrist to unwind the cord and release his hold.
    With a sudden snap the cinch broke from around the dog's body, freeing it from the deadly snare. It whirled about in confusion, nipping at imaginary threats. Gradually it calmed and began to move slowly back along the trunk of the tree. It watched him as it went, the foam of frantic struggle dripping from its mouth.
    And then, the wild dog's nose caught the wind. And it was as if Danny were no longer there--invisible. It lifted its head, gazing off into the distance. For a brief moment it stood listening, and then turned silently, disappearing over the bank into thick shadows of mesquite.
    He lay exhausted among the limbs, his bruised and bleeding body shivering with cold. But he was alive, and thankful the animal had chosen not to attack him, for he hadn't the strength to defend himself.
    A vision of the tiny ranch house where he lived on the San Xavier reservation south of Tucson, Arizona flashed before his eyes. He could see his sister, Sophie, sitting on the front step laughing with her girlfriend. The old white Ranchero parked in the dirt driveway belonged to Amelia Simpson, a neighbor from Pan Tak. She was always there the first of each month to have her hair trimmed in his mother, Cecilia's, makeshift style salon. His father, Tony, had left early in the pickup, probably to haul gravel to that landscaping job in the city. Everything seemed normal around the yard, except that he, Danny Rivas, was nowhere to be found. Did anyone care? And there was his friend, Digs (he could call him that, but he was Diego to those at school), standing out by the gate, searching the terrain with his eyes.
    "Digs, I'm here," he sputtered. "You won't believe it...a coyote..."
    Who would believe his tale of deliverance? He closed his eyes to the water rushing below him and slept.  

* * *

   "Sophie, someone's knocking. Get that, will you?" Cecilia shouted from the kitchen as she wrapped the woman's hair in a towel. The rapping on the door came louder. "Uh, where is she? Sophie...Excuse me, Amelia, I'll be right back." Shaking her head, she padded away in slippered feet.
    "I told him Danny wasn't home, Momma," Sophie announced from beyond the screen. She wrinkled her nose at Diego Ramirez, who stood awkwardly by. "See? You should always listen to girls. We don't lie."
    "Hello Digs, Yes, this time she
is right," chided Cecilia, giving her wide-eyed daughter the stare. "Danny left maybe two hours ago. I don't know, he was angry again about something...wouldn't talk about it...just took off. It looked to me like he was headed for Little Wild Horse Canyon." She pointed at the rugged hillside rising above the desert green. "It's been raining up there most of the morning, and I sure don't like it. It's lunchtime and his stomach usually wins out over his head. I'm sorry, Digs, are you hungry?"
    "No, that's okay, Mrs. Rivas, I'll go to meet him."
    "Not a bad idea," she nodded, casting a worried look at the dark thunderclouds above Helmet Peak. "There'll be some of my fry bread waiting...when you two get back."
    "No problem, Mrs. Rivas, no problem..."


“…action we associate with thriller writers like Michael Crichton…a flavor of story-telling, narration, and a touch of the archaic that one might find in a native story. Hunton’s work is animated and compelling.”

     Philip Baruth, award-winning commentator, University of Vermont professor, author of The Dream of the White Village

Rounded Rectangle: Home
Rounded Rectangle: Books
Rounded Rectangle: Bio
Rounded Rectangle: Study Guide
Rounded Rectangle: Links
Rounded Rectangle: Blog
Rounded Rectangle: Open Books

Gila Monster

‘chiadag’ in O’odham, is one of only two venomous lizards in the world, patterned in yellow or orange, and black beaded scales. Their jaws are powerful and their bite is tenacious. They hold onto victims tightly, injecting a continuous flow of venom. They are to be avoided when encountered. Their numbers are greatly reduced in recent years and they are protected by law in Arizona. The O’odham hold them in high esteem, believing the beautiful creatures to be a gift of the sun god, thus the colorful bands.

The ‘man-in-the-maze’ is the most cherished symbol of several southwestern tribes; the Hopi, Navajo, and Tohono O’odham people show great reverence for its meaning in life and death. There are varying interpretations of the design, all closely related to the creation story. Here are two from the O’odham:


The man is I’itoi, Elder Brother, and the first man to walk Mother Earth. He represents the human seed and the maze is the womb of Mother Earth. And so, he is seen emerging to walk the land. Near the summit of Baboquivari is a sacred cave where the O’odham believe I’itoi emerged. The cave actually exists as a sacred shrine. The interior is scattered with burnt offerings and other gifts brought to I’itoi. Author’s note: I have never visited the cave, since Baboquivari is a challenge to climb and the cave is difficult to access, but I know it’s there based on numerous climber accounts.


The symbol can represent a person’s journey through life. The figure of the man represents each person beginning their journey. The maze contains many twists and turns, or choices made in life. The center represents a person’s dreams and final goals. When the center is reached, a person’s goals have been achieved and the sun god blesses them and allows them to pass into the next world. Before a person passes, they step back into the small recess, away from the center, where they contemplate what they have accomplished before they cross the last threshold.

“I wish more authors would write books like these for young people. Hunton did his homework in researching the books. Main character Danny is a very believable twelve year-old, and his adventures make me want to go out and experience the desert more myself. As a middle school librarian, I search for these kinds of stories to recommend to my students. I look forward to reading the whole series. Bravo!”


Jerri Blackman, librarian - Valencia Middle School, Tucson, AZ


“These books introduce heart, spirit, and soul to adolescents. The ties to American Indian culture and mythology are great!”


Peggy E. Gillard, Assistant Principal, Colchester, VT Middle School