Western America is stunning.
Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Sedona, Zion, Bryce Canyon, the California Coast, Western Colorado, the Land of Enchantment are landscapes that conjure powerful emotions. I still can’t articulate the allure that drew me to Arizona. It’s real though. Others out West from out East understand.
And I’ve not even seen the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Oregon, Washington, Montana, the Black Hills, and many other places. But God made them all grand. Granted, seeing those lands is not necessary for salvation. But, God did make them, and his artistry is supreme, and there’s a part of me that feels I’m missing out for not seeing landscapes that made mankind change the way he looks at the world.
Amidst all these Western Lands roamed Navajo, Hopi, Apache, Paiute, Shoshone, Comanche, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho… fir trappers, military explorers, cavalry, soldiers, pioneers, cowboys, miners, buffalo hunters, farmers, gamblers, rustlers and hellions in all forms that made Manifest Destiny one hell of a story regardless of how evil you think it was. And truly, I think there was once felt a promise of a better life out west, real or not, whose power still ripples down to us in the 21st century.
It’s easy to get romantic about the West – especially the Southwest.
A 19th century generation of explorers were touched by a German named Alexander von Humboldt who taught mankind to see Nature in a different way. They were motivated to…
“…grasp the profound unity in nature – to be master of some overarching, transcendent, romantic secret about the whole earth and cosmos that seemed to give a final meaning and direction to those efforts that began in the eighteenth century to know the mind of God through knowledge of His every manifestation in nature.” (1)
And thus many men turned their eyes to the American West to search for Humboldt’s vision. And having read the words of others touched by Humboldt – Wordsworth, Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, Muir, Twain, Cooper, Powell, Fremont – I can’t help but to imagine exploring the Southwest with his adventurous zeal.
But I’m kind of a wuss. Excuses abound. Life gets in the way. I procrastinate, and wonder if prudence is just the fear of venturing boldly into the unknown.
Now I sure as hell ain’t sharing the crap that enters into my mind which holds me back. But adventure is calling.
So, perhaps you can better understand why some random chapter in The Lost World of the Old Ones contained some of the most appealing words my eyes have ever beheld. It was an exact adventure I would have loved to experience myself: navigate daunting and beautiful land to discover a secret lost to history.
Again, the words below – referring to the federal army’s 1863 war against the Navajo that caused a band to hide from them in one of the last unexplored places of the Western Hemisphere – grabbed my throat:
For 150 years, the secret hideout has remained pristine wilderness. Prospectors and explorers tried, but no Anglo has yet conclusively rediscovered that sanctuary among the sandstone domes and slot canyons. For more than two decades, I had studied the scraps of history and the threads of oral tradition about Hoskinini’s escape. And by 2013, I thought I knew where the hideout was. (2)
Now, I don’t know exactly what the landscape on the Navajo Rez Dave Roberts traversed looks like. But I’ve been close, and seen photos, and seen Google Earth, and know it contains confounding rocks and colors that produce ecstasy and dread. You can die easily in the part of the Rez Roberts went to go looking for Hoskinini’s Hideout. You can die easily in a lot of places there.
So where is this place?
Well, Roberts usually withholds precise information like this. He doesn’t want to flood the areas he writes about with tourists. He’s gotten in hot water before.
But, he does reveal, one, it was west of Navajo Mountain and, two, that he could see Cummings Mesa from the canyon he thought may have been that Hideout.
Where the hell is Cumming’s Mesa?
I didn’t know. But, I got out my trusty DeLorme Road Atlas of Utah, and found Navajo Mountain, and looked around it to see if Cummings Mesa happened to be labeled, and it was on page 60.
Rainbow Bridge isn’t too far away. That’s why I say I’d been close to here.
Furthermore, Roberts was looking for “a nice little stream with grass.” How he thought he found the route to the place he doesn’t explain. Where he ended up I don’t know. However, why not use Google Earth? Why not first find Cummings Mesa on Google Earth and then, east of there, look for that stream of grass?
That’s what I did.
The white line is the Utah-Arizona line. Navajo Mountain is exactly 100 miles west of the Four Corners. North is the Colorado River impounded to make Lake Powell. Somewhere west of Navajo Mountain is where Roberts searched.
This is a 3D image from Google Earth. This part of the Southwest looks like a Martian landscape tortured by strange forces of erosion. It was a good place to hide.
On page 60 of Utah’s DeLorme Atlas is the same area. Note Cummings Mesa. The red circle is where I believe Roberts searched for Hoskinini’s Hideout, and perhaps found it.
Now, I won’t recite the whole chapter. You can read it yourself.
It’s not filled with Indiana Jones feats. It’s more like a travel narrative, interspersed with historical references, except in wilderness. He describes the joy of finding pools of water which would last for months. He came across OLD Navajo hogans – mud and log structures Navajos built across their Dinetah – built in unusual close proximity to one another that suggested extenuating circumstances – like been hunted by an army.
Finding those hogans would be cool. After all, to us in the 21st century, the times when those hogans were built are gone. They exist only in the mind now. But hogan relics are concrete. Their sight and touch makes imaginings of those times more real. And scraping your leg to find a hogan next to a small creek in a red canyon in the middle of nowhere is a real experience similar to those of the real Old Ones. Add heat, cold, thirst and the sound of flowing waters, and the landscape fills many blanks of your imaginings.
Man it would be fun to do something like that if I weren’t such a wuss.
And Roberts does add some drama. Feeling trapped in a canyon, he was about to give up the search when…
We burst out of the corridor into the mian canyon, then followed it northward. Twice we had to chimney across deep pools in V-shaped slots, but within half a mile the canyon opened up. Now we had easy hiking on the sandbar, and on either side, broad terraces of alluvium hinted at fileds where corn would grow. And yes, we now walked beside a nice little stream of grass.
I stopped for a moment to stare at the horizon. On all sides but one, nearby cliffs towered over the meandering canyon, hiding it from all but the most dogged of invaders. Only from the west, where the distant rim of Cummings Mesa loomed three thousand feet above us, could a scout with field glasses have spied on this Navajo enclave. But no soldiers in the 1860’s ever reached the top of Cummings Mesa… (3)
Was this the hideout? Who knows. But it’s a damn intriguing story. It very possibly could have been right below…
Yes. The landscape is that gnarled and crazy. Google Earth is not exaggerating.
(1) New Lands, New Men: America and the Second Great Age of Discovery by William Goetzmann. P 183. 1987 Penguin Books.
(2) The Lost World of the Old Ones by Dave Roberts. p 174. 2015 W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
(3) The Lost World of the Old Ones. pp 182-183.