Thomas J. Crawford, 57, was ordered by the government to leave his home Tuesday.
It's been his home for the last 11 years.
Inside, he has a bed, books and clothes arranged on hangers. There are pots, pans and cutlery for cooking. The walls are a bit rough, though.
Crawford was living in a cave on public property in the Coconino National Forest, which is against the law.
His decision to live in a cave away from the hustle and bustle of city life was not
one typically seen in Flagstaff. He is not an alcoholic, or a drug addict, or mentally ill.
It was simply a philosophical choice.
Crawford was arrested Friday by law enforcement officers with the U.S. Forest Service for "using the National Forest for residential purposes."
According to federal court documents, a resident of Flagstaff called the Forest Service offices to report "a suspicious camp in a remote drainage on Mount Elden."
An officer went to investigate on Aug. 29 and found the site. He came across Crawford, but Crawford ran away. He was found a week later.
Crawford was in federal court Monday to answer to the charges. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year of probation, and he has been banned from the forest. During his hearing, he told the judge that he lived in the forest by choice.
Crawford was released from jail Tuesday morning. Two Forest Service officers picked him up at the county jail and accompanied him to his home to pick up whatever personal belongings he wanted to keep.
Although Crawford refused to speak with the Daily Sun, he did speak freely with the Forest Service officials who accompanied him to his cave to remove what he wanted. Everything left will be removed by a cleaning crew.
Officials know little about Crawford. He is from "back East." His criminal record contains only one infraction from the 1960s for draft evasion. Forest Service officials said he told them he has no family.
The journey to Crawford's Cave began at the parking lot of the Trinity Heights United Methodist Church at the top of Fourth Street. Crawford, clad in Army fatigues and sandals, led the team up a series of trails, through steep terrain to a wash with sheer rock faces protecting the entrance of a cave.
The entrance to the cave was suffocated with trash and other debris collected from Crawford's stay. Crates, clothes, towels, ropes, pots, containers and more littered the landscape.
At the camp, officers Chris Boehm and Mia Munoz asked Crawford if he had any weapons in the cave. Crawford said there were knives for cooking and a BB gun. Boehm secured the knives and BB gun before allowing Crawford inside the cave.
Crawford said most of the items around the cave were items he found on his treks through the forest.
He would make a trip to town once every one or two weeks to get supplies and water. He knows several people in the city who help him out by giving him work. They also give him household items that otherwise would be disposed of at garage sales.
"As you can see, I don't have a TV or anything," Crawford said. "I've got the sky, the wind, the rain, the canyon wrens."
He imitates the canyon wren's song perfectly.
Crawford said he has lived in the cave continually for the last 11 years — during summer heat and winter cold. Munoz wanted to know how he survived. He doesn't have regular work.
"By the grace of God," Crawford said. "How do you survive working without the grace of God?"
People would come close to his camp on occasion, particularly in May.
"In May, when the yucca flowers bloom, it's really beautiful around here," Crawford said.
Looking from the mouth of the cave past a huge, long-dead ponderosa pine, one sees south over the city. There is a quiet hum of automobile traffic carried on the breeze.
Crawford continued by saying that moths come around after the yucca blooms. And then, bats come to eat the moths. Some bats even take up shelter in the cave. He said his pets are deer mice.
He first came to the cave with only a poncho and a camping blanket.
"I've got an extensive wardrobe for a mountain man," he said, laughing, while looking for a change of clothes from rows of clothes on hangers hung from the cave walls. "I became sort of domesticated over the years."
Crawford changed clothes, packed a backpack, and grabbed three books. The titles on two of the books were "Practical Taoism" and "The Portable Dragon: The Western Man's Guide to the I-Ching".
He appeared unmoved by having to leave the rest of his belongings behind.
"My books are treasures, but it's time for me to change again," Crawford said. "It's kind of a 10-year cycle. It's time to get back to nature, you know?"
Munoz found a grinding metate near the mouth of the cave. Crawford said he found it on the mountain and had been using it to grind coffee.
He also showed them some worked "obsidian coins" he found on his many excursions in the mountains.
"This is a beautiful mountain," Crawford said. "You could explore it a lifetime."
Raquel Poturalski, spokesperson for the Forest Service, said a crew will be going up to the cave in the coming weeks to clean the site. An archaeologist will also be coming along to determine if the cave contains items of archaeological value.
Crawford will be staying with a "friend" in Sunnyside temporarily. He had no answer for what he would do after that, other than to say that he "operates day to day." He said people who know him and who are worried about him can e-mail him — they know his address, if not where he lives.
Daily Sun Chief Photographer Jake Bacon contributed to this story. Larry Hendricks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2262.
— Arizona Daily Sun