By Christina B. Farnsworth. Rather than bands of organized anarchists, the eco-terrorist can simply be the middle-aged white guy down the street.

Mark Sands pleaded guilty to burning eight custom and luxury homes, after a friend taped his incriminating confession during a summer moonlit hike along the Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Trail.

Like the Road Runner, Sands had eluded capture. He followed no predictable pattern and nearly outwitted police. He was a one-man band, the "Coalition to Save the Preserves (CSP)." The Arizona Republic reported Phoenix fire captain Ray Wilson saying he had no idea if the arsonist would be "a mutant jackrabbit, three teenagers in black hoods, or an old lady whose view would be blocked."

Victims rebuilt just to have their homes burn again. Police staked out one site, only to find out another house was on fire elsewhere. One house burned 45 minutes after its surveillance ended. An $85,000 reward went untouched. Finally, the arson task force built a fake construction site with video monitoring. Six frustrating weeks later cameras recorded Sands leaving a note signed CSP.

Police arrested Sands as he walked home along a trail. Friend Warren Jerrems bailed him out. Police matched Sands' DNA to letters sent to media. They persuaded Jerrems to wear the wire that resulted in the recorded confession.

Sands pleaded guilty to burning homes under construction in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Ariz., from April 9, 2000, to Jan. 18, 2001. The reason? To prevent building encroachment of mountain preserves. Punishment is 15 to 20 years, 85 percent of which must be served, and perhaps $3.1 million paid in restitution.