We began our trip driving up through the Rockies near Hesperus Mountain, the highest summit of the La Plata Mountains range. The prominent peak is located in San Juan National Forest, which would take us near the Town of Mancos in Montezuma County, Colorado. Hesperus is one of the Navajo People’s Sacred Mountains, and is called Dibé Ntsaa, which marks the northern boundary of the Dinetah, their traditional homeland and place of the Ute people. As we moved along these switchback roads, gaining elevation, occasionally there would be a break in the cedar trees, revealing wind-crested patches of snow reflecting the light of the midday sun. We discussed how the peaks of these mountaintops with sandstone formations at their tips could easily be used as places of concealment, observation, and defense—something we couldn’t help believe was strangely connected to the mysterious Anasazi and their “Alien Enemy” we had come here to investigate. As we discussed these possibilities while navigating a final switchback before our first destination, the drive suddenly became precarious, as lingering patches of ice clung to shadows on the asphalt and mule deer that had been feeding on the buffalo grass alongside the highway decided to cross the road in front of us, darting out from between the sagebrush and patches of snow. Carefully passing through that situation to the egress just beyond, we reached our assigned meeting place to find the Cherokee guide already waiting to take us behind the locked gates.
He was roughly five feet seven inches tall, with deep brown eyes, which studied us from under his wide-brimmed hat as we approached. His face, chiseled from too much sun exposure, hinted at what his forefathers’ classical Indian physique must have looked like with his long, black hair in the traditional ponytail. He extended a warm but small, brown-skinned hand, as Carl Olafsen greeted him with Yá’át (“hello” in Diné, the tongue of the Navajo). Carl understood that “Yá’át’éh” is “Hello good friend,” but he had been advised not to be presumptuous and to keep it to the shorter greeting.
“Nah, it’s Yá’át’éh,” our guide corrected, smiling again and shaking Carl’s hand, embracing it with both of his as he laughed.
As we gathered our gear, including camera equipment, our guide put on a backpack and our cameraman adjusted for light. Moments later, we headed out on foot, listening to Carl as he continued practicing what little he knew of the native tongue while never quite matching how gently the Cherokee man’s consonant pronunciations fell upon the ears.
“My mother was English,” the guide told us. “And my father was Cherokee. My brothers have followed the Christian way of my mother. I have followed the path of my father.”
The air was crisp but not too cold, with a light smell of cedars, as we set out along the course he would have us follow. While the team had thought it would be important for me to tag along, I intentionally strayed back a bit, letting Carl and Allie take the lead. This was my way of silently acknowledging any relationship we had with this man or the others we’d be meeting during this expedition as having begun with Mr. Olafsen and Mrs. Anderson—exactly what I had hired them to accomplish for SkyWatch TV. But it didn’t take long before I started rethinking that approach. Maybe I should narrow the gap for safety reasons, I thought to myself as the uneven route quickly required increasingly special care. The path was also getting steep, and I was puffing, struggling to keep up with my younger compatriots as I placed my bad leg carefully down along the safest parts of the trail. More than once I had to stick my hand out to steady myself, as loams of earth and plant life would slip away if I moved to close to the route’s edge. On one occasion, the cameraman right behind me must have slipped on ice, as suddenly his arms flailed, he teetered, then grasped at anything he could reach in order to catch his balance to avoid falling headlong over the hill. He captured a solid area with one foot, dug his heel in hard to correct himself, caught my shoulder, and used it to steady himself. I saw the expression on his face as he considered the incomprehensible river of rocks and brush he could have fallen into deep within the canyon below.
Just ahead of us after that was an avenue that stopped at a mountainhead, and I could see the path we were following turned sharply to the right there. Where it would lead us beyond that was obscured by a mix of pine and juniper trees, yucca, serviceberry, choke-cherry and Gambel oak; buttresses of something artificial could be glimpsed through breaks in the trees carved out against the rock wall ahead.
As we moved toward it, our course widened, leveling off onto a plateau that temporarily provided an easier gait. We moved quickly along this section toward the narrow opening in the trees, then started uphill again over an area still spotted with patches of ice and snow.
Eventually, the hillside steepened again and the trail zigzagged. I found myself dragging once more up the precipitous route, struggling to lift my weight, grunting and scaling the arduous hill like the old man that I am, until soon I really was physically spent. I paused, dropped my forehead against my arm, wiped the precipitous sweat from my brow, rested a few seconds, then pressed on until my heart pounded so hard that I thought it would explode. Breathing raspy, chugging the cool mountain air with increasingly painful gulps, I started questioning in my mind whether the demands of this mountainous trip were simply more than I had bargained for.
Then, something happened. We rounded a bend in the path and caught our first glimpse of something very huge and artificial coming into view a few hundred feet away, the magnificence of which instantly reenergized my resolve. In fact, all of the team members who had been ahead of me and the cameraman had stopped at that point and were waiting for us. They were in awe, as were we. We had been told of the more than four thousand archaeological sites and six hundred cliff dwellings ascribed to the Anasazi—a mysterious people that had kept no written records yet who built mesa-top villages and absolutely astonishing cliff dwellings within caves and under outcroppings in the sides of these canyons, but nothing could have prepared us for how breathtaking what they had accomplished really was.
Our Cherokee guide had obviously seen this before, as he waited for us to take it all in. Just ahead of us stood an outstanding complex that some archaeologists say was built long before the time of Christ and that had been suddenly and mysteriously abandoned at least eight hundred years ago (but keep in mind most everything about the Anasazi is anybody’s best guess). Clothing, tools, and even food items were included in the materials they had quickly left behind. This one location alone was a small city, three stories high and built right inside a sheer mountain wall, yet more than six hundred other such cliff dwellings lay ahead.
Among the many Anasazi settlements we visited that day (and equally as grandiose as the best we had seen) is a place called the Spruce Tree House. It is the third-largest cliff dwelling in the area, and I mentioned this one in particular because it is a site that YOU can visit at the Mesa Verde National Park! If you want to catch a glimpse of what we were investigating throughout this ancient and mysterious region, I recommend that you do go there. The Spruce Tree House is an amazing, 216-foot-long, 89-foot-deep,120-room structure, with ten gathering rooms, eight ceremonial kivas, and two towers, all built into the side of a cliff from stones cut and hauled from a river several miles away.
These compounds built into the high rock ledges along the Mesa Verde valley are constructed from very accurately cut stones that were set in mortar. Even after eight hundred-plus years of abandonment, the walls remain remarkably strong. You can also see the handholds and footholds cut into the cliff faces that served as the frightening climbing apparatus, which the inhabitants would scale along these sheer mountain walls in order to tend their gardens on the top of the mesa, where they grew beans, squash, and corn.
Hour after hour, as we advanced to study these structures, we couldn’t help but wonder why the Anasazi would have ascended such terribly dangerous circumstances to carve out such amazing fortresses. What they did was far beyond the need to provide for shelter and protection from cougars and bears. It would have been a thousand times easier to construct and defend their lodgings near the river from which the stones had been harvested—unless, of course, they were trying to defend themselves from something more dangerous than rival tribes, bears, and large cats. All we could imagine was that this tremendous amount of additional effort had something to do with the need for a literal citadel of fantastic defensible proportions.
But from what?
We believe we found the incredible…and scary…answer to that question later when viewing and deciphering the ancient petroglyphs the Anasazi left behind. They tell an amazing story, and it is one that corresponds quite well with biblical history. Even the medicine man we would visit the following day admitted this fact.
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As we went along, our guide also had theories about the Anasazi people, offering his assumptions about how they lived, how they constructed these cities, and why they departed in what seemed like overnight. He told us these thoughts as he led us farther into the hidden settlements where the public is not allowed to stand and showed us one of the kivas that did not have a roof on it (kivas were built both ways, some with roofs and some without). One kiva he brought us to was a round room, approximately eighteen feet across and built ten feet down into the floor of the ruins. Other kivas in this valley have roofs where a single ladder would have descended into the center of the space through a three-foot hole. He explained how the kivas were (and are) used for rituals, including how ceremonial tools that archaeologists found hidden in the niches of these ancient kivas had been used by medicine men to open the portals this book is studying, in order to contact parallel realities. Then he led us a short distance away to a hole in the ground where a ladder made of tree limbs tied together with leather straps was barely jutting up from out of the earth. This was another underground kiva, and he asked if we would like to enter it. Keep in mind that while we had spent days in prayer and preparation for this investigation, we paused at this point to think about this and to pray over ourselves. Kivas are thought in many indigenous belief systems to be a portal to another world, a place where the kachina spirit-beings can manifest and interact with medicine men (what some call a shaman). But the Cherokee assured us that inside this kiva, the hole in the floor that served as the symbolic place of origin of the tribe—what the Hopi call sípapu from which the peoples emerged from the underworld and where the dead still can be summoned according to their religion—had been plugged and buried. This was done when the kiva was abandoned and the tribe wanted the sípapu-doorway closed to protect entry into the lower world. Some medicine men—like the one we would encounter the following day—even say a “gatekeeper” exists just beyond the sípapu, and when the ceremony is performed, this gatekeeper might not let a person who is improperly prepared pass into the beyond, lest he or she should suddenly be afflicted by hungry ghosts that inhabit the domains of their ancestors.
Moments later, as we descended into this part of the ancient world, I found the wooden ladder to be completely smooth, hand polished as if from some long-forgotten, frequent use. The only light coming in was from the small hole we had just climbed through. Carl turned on a flashlight, and I noted the temperature was just a bit cooler than the outside air above. The roof was made from what appeared to be cedar logs; the walls were of stone and mortar. There was a ledge all the way around the perimeter to sit on, and we saw evidence of where a fire pit with a ventilation hole on one side had once existed. It was opposite a small niche on another wall that also had been filled in. Near the very center, we could see where the sípapu had once been, and we were glad that it was no longer there.
As the rest of the crew made it down into the kiva, it was hard to grasp the fact that we were in a ceremonial room that may have existed many hundreds—perhaps even thousands—of years before Christ had walked the earth in the flesh. It was also a place that may have been abandoned due to some of the same enemies Jesus and even the ancient Hebrews faced. More about that later.
After filming the interior of the primeval kiva and pointing out certain aspects for the upcoming television special, we returned to the surface, and our guide asked what else we were hoping to see that might need special permission. Carl told him of specific ruins that he had heard about, as well as (and in particular) petroglyphs of giants and other Old Testament-themed images that I myself wanted to see. The Cherokee nodded and smiled, and said, “I know the places you speak of. One of them is called the Sun Temple on the other side of the mesa. We don’t know what it was built for, but they left it unfinished. And I can tell you where to see the petroglyphs you seek on the reservation, but I cannot go there with you.”
The Sun Temple was indeed ruins that I wanted to see, because it is a large and significant site that holds much mystery in that nobody, including archaeologists and cultural historians, know what it was for. An eroded stone basin with three indentations at the southwest corner of the structure suggests that it may have been purposed as a sundial to mark the changes in the seasons. Two kivas on top of the structure, together with the lack of windows or doors elsewhere, intimates that it was not meant for housing, which has led modern Pueblo Indians to propose that it was some type of ceremonial structure probably planned for ritual purposes dedicated to the Sun God. The amount of fallen stone that was removed during its excavation is said to indicate that the original walls were between eleven and fourteen feet tall. These walls were thick, double-coursed construction, with a rubble core placed between the panels for strength and insulation. After studying the Sun Temple and comparing it to ancient Mesoamerican culture and edifices, it is this author’s opinion (which is as good as anybody else’s, since we don’t really know) that this site may have been intended as a place for human sacrifice similar to those of the Aztec and Maya. I say this for a couple reasons. First, Dr. Don Mose Jr., a third-generation medicine man we met with for a large part of a day during this investigation (more about him later in this series), told us that the oldest legends of the Anasazi, which he had been told by his great-grandfather(who likewise had been told by his ancestors) included stories of the Anasazi turning to sorcery, sacrifice, and cannibalism after they “lost their way” and were driven insane by a reptilian creature, which they depict with a halo above his head. (Images of this being are included in the petroglyphs we filmed inside the canyons, and I believe they likely attest to the fallen reptile [or reptiles] of biblical fame, which also misled humanity.) Second, blood sacrifice was a religious activity in most premodern cultures during some stage of their development, especially as it involved invoking the gods, and the “Sun God” was typically chief among them. This included animals and humans or the bloodletting of community members during rituals overseen by their priests. In fact, the Mayans—who may have influenced the Anasazi or vice versa—believed “that the only way for the sun to rise was for them to sacrifice someone or something every day to the gods.”[i]
We will probably never know for sure what the purpose behind the Anasazi’s Sun Temple was going to be or why it, like everything else these people built, was suddenly abandoned. Some evidence exists of a twenty-year drought from AD 1276 to about 1299, which can be seen in ancient tree rings, and some believe this may have contributed to the Anasazi having simply migrated away from the area. The big problem with this theory is that it does not explain why all the important foods, salts, clothing, and everything else that would have been so exceptionally important to the Anasazi were left behind. Another theory is that as the population grew, social divisions or war developed among some of the communities. But again, no evidence supports this conclusion, and the National Parks Department’s research, archaeologists, and even the native peoples themselves admit it is impossible to know for sure why these mysterious cliff dwellers were there one day and gone the next. Even the assumption by historians that the modern Pueblo peoples of the Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna are the descendants of the Anasazi is a theory that contradicts some of their own histories. A Native American cultural historian we interviewed told us that by the time his people first arrived in the Four Corners area, they found the Anasazi long gone and went looking for them everywhere. They did not know who or where they were, and when finally his people reached Chaco Canyon in New Mexico (which they assumed had been the Anasazi capital) in search of them, and found it also in ruins and abandoned, they sat down and wept over what possibly could have happened to such a great culture.
Thankfully, it was while contemplating these questions (and more) that lead investigator Carl Olafsen’s cell phone rang and on the other end of the line was a man who would definitely provide some of the answers. We had been hoping to get an audience with him—and had nearly given up when Don Mose Jr., the third-generation medicine man I mentioned earlier, called. Known to be sensitive to Christianity, this retired Navajo academic authored many of the Nation’s schoolbooks as well as cultural programs throughout the Four Corners area and, as we would discover, is a proficient Native American storyteller (oral-traditions historian).
UP NEXT: Confirmation of Giants, Global Flood