Between August and October of last year--sometimes as a group of five, sometimes just Scott and Stoner--the Quartzite Eight took four cruel hikes and one raft ride to the falls.
"The first two explosions . . . 28 pounds the first time, 30 pounds the next . . . there wasn't a whole lot of damage," Stoner says. "The third was 68 pounds, explosives the size of a beach ball."
That broke the back of the ridge. Final, smaller blasts performed surgery, trimming and cleaning. The ridge now juts only six feet across the river. Its fatal hydraulics are believed to be finished.
But in the process, Stoner has violated a natural setting.
"I feel bad about that because I do have respect for rivers," he says. "A lot of people, including some friends of mine, are disgusted that we did it. And I'm ashamed to have hurt their feelings in that way.
"But I made something safer. Lives will be saved. That outweighs the destruction of a natural resource in my mind."
Spring was a poor, dry season on the Upper Salt. Only a scattering of boats ran the river. So the wounds of Quartzite Falls went undetected until March.
That's when one rafter reported that the ride seemed different, not quite as intimidating. Then a length of fuse was found alongside the sharp edges of freshly blown rocks.
Explosives records led federal agents to Scott. Interviews with Tonto Forest officials and river outfitters pointed at Stoner.
For there had been complaints that Stoner, a guide for Desert Voyager Rafting Tours of Mesa, had been involved in arguments with other rafters portaging or lining boats around and through Quartzite. At a spot where jammed boats could produce five-hour delays in negotiating the falls, Stoner had been known to jump the line.
The speculation, some published, was direct. Stoner was said to have blown the falls to ease delays and move more people. Conceivably, that could add to his income and increase the number of two-day trips organized by Desert Voyager.
That, Stoner counters, is nonsense. He already works every weekend of the three-month season, so additional trips wouldn't benefit him. He earns $50,000 a year as a full-time engineer and only $3,000 as a part-time river guide. And he guides for pleasure, not profit.
Further, he blasted only one rock the size of a Volkswagen. That, he says, improved the safety of the falls without reducing their size, pace, level of difficulty or challenge.
"It's very possible we're still going to get three-hour waits with eight boats in line," he says. "The falls are still a big tourist attraction and people will want to stop there. This will remain one of the most exciting rapids on the river, and only the most experienced will choose to run it. Now they won't die doing it."
Pat Blumm owns Desert Voyager. He insists that he had nothing to gain by Stoner's assault on Quartzite Falls. His permit allows him to raft 286 people each season, and each season he carries close to the maximum.
"I know these guys were not hired mercenaries," he says. "We (river outfitters) have got too much to lose, nothing to win."
Investigators probed deep to find a financial link between outfitters and the Quartzite Eight. Stoner and Scott denied any connection and agreed to polygraph tests. A source within the investigation said both men passed.
It is generally accepted that the Forest Service would never disturb natural formations of a federal wilderness. There is no evidence suggesting any official of the agency gave Stoner a wink, a nod and tacit approval for the bombing.
Yet in the early '70s, after another drowning at Quartzite Falls, there were calls for correction.
"People came to us and said the obvious solution to this is to destroy it," recalls Pete Weinel, recreation director of the Tonto National Forest and co-author of its guide to the Upper Salt River. "So we looked at it and we said: 'No, that's really not the solution. The solution is to be careful and to be warned.' "
The Forest Service, he adds, does not consider Quartzite Falls a liability. A hazard, yes. But posted and well publicized and a calculated risk. And no victim's family has ever filed a lawsuit over fatal accidents at the falls.
George Marsic, owner of World Wide Explorations, believes risk is part of the river's allure.
Even when danger turns deadly and places such as Quartzite Falls become fatal attractions?
"Hell, yes," he says. "Each river has its own personality, its own reality, and (Quartzite) was part of the challenge.
"A Class 3 rapid can kill somebody. You can drown in a bathtub. That (risk) is part of the wilderness experience. John Wesley Powell would have never gone down the Colorado if he'd been worried about dying."
Yet, say Marsic and other outfitters, the Forest Service could have created a climate that encouraged Stoner's act. Budget and manpower restrictions have always minimized river management. Only this year, Marsic says, did officials agree to a permit system and limit the number of private boats to increase safety on the Salt River.