It took me awhile to fully grasp what I found, but a miracle happened, practically within days of my departure. Soon after I tidied up my life in the Golden State, packed my ’83 Nissan 4X4 with camping gear and headed south and east to Prescott, Arizona and a brief stopover with a 12-year-old soulmate of mine, I was drawn almost immediately into our high desert canyon country like a high-pressure vacuum.
I was physically grabbed by a tangible force and sucked into the root of the world. The last leg of that drive where I ended up so late and in the dark at the end of that long day, and turned onto an unmarked dirt road to throw my sleeping bag on the ground and crawled in fully clothed, was the last day of my old life. I knew something had changed when I awakened in that desolate landscape of rock and scrub, and felt the resonance of the earth rise to meet the sun in the vast empty of our very own Valley of the Gods, below Cedar Mesa, the place I knew instantly and as clearly as only a blind man can see, is the heart and soul of the world.
I have spent many days and weeks and even a couple of months exploring the canyons that drain off of Cedar Mesa. I discovered the ancient ruins of the Puebloan peoples who were as many then as live in the region today. I explored them as one who came upon them quite by accident and surprise, and discovered the mesa and canyons and the treasures that are still and quietly awaiting discovery for any who will shed for a moment their civilized ways. I heard the sound of the flute in the canyons, before I was told of the Kokopelli and the flute clan. I knew the spirit of the old ones long before the tribes petitioned and won the right to preserve and protect their sacred lands. The Puebloans, Dinétah, and Ute are the true caretakers of this unspoiled wilderness they preserve and protect by leaving everything as it was when the old ones left to perform their spiritual migrations and recover their souls. Their only visits to the mesa are sacred rituals of cleansing to purify themselves in a world now overrun by the bilagáana.
I awakened that morning as refreshed as I had ever been, and so ready to discover the destiny that surely awaited me just around the next hoodoo and whatnot. I came into Bluff to have breakfast, and saw the same Navajo man leaning against the hitching post I had seen going into the restaurant. I approached him and asked if there was something he needed. He said he was waiting for a ride, and I offered to take him wherever he wanted to go. He took me up on the offer and said he was going to see the doctor at the clinic in Montezuma Creek. He had a couple toes that were frostbitten from his job riding herd for a rancher in Colorado that winter. We talked and smoked cigarettes the whole way. I told him of my search for an unspoiled wilderness where I could live alone in a cave and learn from the spirit of the land, of the forgotten dreams of my own ancient ancestors. He reassured me that I would find it much sooner than I could have ever imagined, and that he knew some great fishing holes he would be happy to take me to, if I came back to find him when my search was done. “Ask anyone,” he said to me, and I know in my heart I’ll remember his name when I do return for that promised offer. I left him at the clinic with the rest of my pack of cigarettes, and headed back to Bluff.
I didn’t waste much time. Blanding and beyond, and up into the Blue Mountains, and into the only brick and mortar realtor in San Juan County at the time, Lex Realty, and into the office of the greatest real estate broker in the history of the world, the one and only F. Bennion Redd. This kindly old, soft-spoken, gentle man with the demeanor of your favorite grandfather, invited me into his paper-strewn sanctum sanctorum and embraced me as surely as he would embrace his own son. We spoke for hours as I poured my heart out to this man, and he chuckled and smiled at my enthusiasm for a slice of a world that was long gone in the Americas where we could once stake a claim by simply planting our boots. He explained that the Homestead Act was repealed and the most time I could pitch my tent anywhere on federal lands was three weeks, before the BLM would force me to find another bit of our desert ecosystem to squat upon for another three weeks.
Bennion was a father many times over, and had almost 40 grandchildren in his life. He had nothing in his inventory at the time that even bordered our federal lands. Nonetheless, I stayed awhile to listen and learn about this neighborhood into which I had only just arrived that morning, until... (stay tuned).