Photography: John Francis Peters

Bullhead City, Arizona Was a Retiree Paradise. Then Came a Biblical Plague of Flies.

Meet the small, greasy insects upending life in an idyllic community.

Brendan Borrell
OneZero
Published in
15 min readJun 5, 2019

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WWhen Craig Vallon and his wife Denise moved to Bullhead City, Arizona, in 1973, he thought he was the luckiest man in the world. The two had met as teenagers in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Denise was a party girl, and her wealthy family had hoped she’d settle down with a doctor. But Craig proved irresistible to her: A sportsman with the stature of an NBA player, Craig’s career aspiration was to become a real-life version of his childhood idol, Tarzan.

Like many other residents, the Vallons were lured to this small city on the lower Colorado River by the low cost of living, the nearby casinos, and the outdoors opportunities. Craig and Denise were educators, and Craig liked to give talks costumed as Jedediah Smith, the legendary Mojave mountain man who helped blaze what would become part of the Oregon Trail. After his retirement, Craig enjoyed sitting in the back room of the house, which was stuffed with hunting trophies, and watching the river flow by through floor-to-ceiling windows.

In the spring of 2015, Craig began to notice a few moth-like insects flitting around under the lights outside. They were about the size of houseflies, dull brown in color with long fuzzy wings, big black eyes, and whiplike antennae. With each passing evening, their numbers grew. Soon they became an uncountable mass, a swirling, kinetic cloud that hung over the river’s edge like a new state of matter.

Caddisflies cluster together on a window at Denise Vallon’s home, Bullhead City, AZ.

During the day, the insects would settle on the windows, their grimy black silhouettes marring the view like dead pixels on a television screen. When the flies took flight again, they left behind grease marks on the glass. Denise complained that the swarms were so thick she couldn’t have dinner parties outside. They’d stick to the hamburger patties coming off the grill.

Craig learned that these insect interlopers were caddisflies, a native species that thrived in places with clean, clear water. “Caddis,” as they’re known to…

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Brendan Borrell
OneZero

Journalist based in Los Angeles. Working on a book about the coronavirus vaccine race. www.brendanborrell.com