Monday, September 14, 2015
Chapter 2 (Updated 8/11/16)
It was July 10, 2016, when the Moab Sun News announced the passing of Willard Greer. As an eighty-three-year old former rancher in southern Utah, Greer wasn’t the kind of man whose life held a lot of interest to the tourist / adventure town of Moab, but this wasn’t just a standard obituary; rather, it was news about the public reading of a will and what it seemed to offer up to the great desert state of Utah as a whole.
Willard Greer was reclusive, but he was generally a well-liked rancher, save for his interactions with his neighbor Bill Smith. What’s more, he owned a lot of land. While it wasn’t a Jamaican beach front property to be haggled over by the mega-tourist industries that could make better use of the area that a small backyard deck sat on, what Greer owned was hundreds of acres of land that his cattle grazed on. Greer built his empire / what would pass for a small kingdom, on the fact that people like steak and hamburgers. Greer was only too happy to provide the meat for these delicacies to his customers, who were equally happy to pay whatever prices he asked for first rate beef.
Nevertheless, other than occasional drives to town for supplies or to spend time with his friend Abraham “Wolf” Owens, he never really had much use for the “bright lights of Blanding,” a comment that most people would laugh at, though for Greer, this town just seemed full of things and people that he had long since given up interest in – provided that they weren’t paying for his cattle or selling him the bare necessities he needed to live his life.
Despite the long connecting series of dirt roads back to this self-sufficient man from another time and place’s ranch being sort of kind of connected to a modern thoroughfare, the few people who went back to his neck of the woods never thought about what went on behind the range of buttes that naturally fenced in his animals. In fact, for years and years, only Greer, his family, his few friends, and his cattle, ever saw that there was a ranch in the midst of those mountains.
For those people that asked him about this isolation, he had a ready response.
“I like it that way.”
If they did see his hidden world, they would have been shocked to know that there were many petroglyphs and cliff dwellings, not too dissimilar from Mesa Verde and Canyon of the Ancients in the southwest of Colorado. However, the gate at the front of the property shut out the modern world’s nosey eyes and ears from what Greer never wanted them to know about. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that his only living son, and for that matter his other son (before he died), as well as his six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren didn’t have any interest in protecting this history, let alone running a ranch, much of this canyon would still be unknown since there would have been no reason to make a phone call to Representative Joseph Smothers.
Smothers was the most prominent of the State Representatives of the great state of Utah, a man who irritated Willard with his shirt and tie and “no good, lily-livered attitude,” which made him some “son of a bitch who needed to get his ass out here to come and take over the land’s responsibilities.”
Every time Willard’s son Harvey heard that, he just nodded appropriately.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” he would say, and really, he had no choice but to say it to the old man since it really was his fault that Smothers had to come out here.
For years, Willard played the patriarch role that his grandfather Ethan and his father Archibald once played for him. He had never known his great grandfather Harlan, but he would feel safe betting that it was him who began the tradition of retelling the Native American histories that they had heard in coming to understand what was here. Perhaps there were earlier relatives in the east who also liked these and other Native American tales, but that was unimportant to Willard’s life and responsibilities as a desert rancher.
And as a rancher, he was a man who knew how to make things happen.
To do this, there were three rules for what went on out on this land. The first rule was a rule of business. Make the customer happy, but don’t kiss his ass.
Early on in his ranching business, he had a customer who tried to renegotiate the price in the middle of the sale. Willard tried to be professional and reasonable about the situation, but as time went by, he felt like he was getting taken advantage of by “a city boy who disrespected him for both his youth and his cowboy attitude.” The man kept mouthing off until Willard finally looked out from under his Stetson.
“You came here with a price in mind. That’s the sale price. If you don’t like it, you can unload all of the cattle and leave my ranch and never come back.”
“Willard, Willard, let’s be reasonable.”
“Reasonable is not punching you upside your head at this moment. If you’re a man of your word, you’ll shut up, sign the check, turn my cattle into steaks, and never come back. If you aren’t, we can make this negotiation more forceful. If you think I’ve got time to deal with your bullshit, you’re wrong. I’m a Greer. I can beat your ass down into the desert, or I can take you to court. It’s your choice, but either way, you won’t be coming out on top.”
The man signed the check, and he never did come back. However, that didn’t stop other “greedy bastards” from coming back to take his place. They got a fair deal on quality beef, but they always would look at Willard like he was “breaking their balls.”
Getting their fair share was the Greer Way, and it’s the way his family did business before him. It was also the way that he hoped Harvey and Barry would be when they took over his business, too.
However, that dream never came to fruition.
The next rule was that no person who lived on this land had any claim on what another man left on the earth. They could grow things out of the ground or build on top of it, but they couldn’t take anything from it. Here, the long branches of the family tree always knew there were potshards and arrowheads on the land. Nevertheless, they all knew that these relics needed to stay at rest and remain undisturbed where they were first sighted. This didn’t mean that no Greer had ever picked one up and marveled at it, but it did mean that the Greers always set it back down.
This was what was right, and to this end, each generation was warned that there were greater consequences for breaking this rule than any other rule. What’s more, these punishments came from a source that ruled more definitely and viciously than even the greatest snake of a man who had ever threatened their way of life.
One time, it was said, Willard saw his longtime best friend, Charlie, pick up an arrowhead that had been lying back in one of the parcels of desert that they were tending. He had known Charlie for forty some years, but with one look out from under his trademark Stetson, he conveyed that the other man needed to put the relic down. Nothing else was ever said about it since the man did as he was instructed. After that, Charlie never had an invite to the open lands behind the ranch again, nor did Willard say a word to him about anything visible on them, much less the “Ghost World Kingdom.” This went on for the last quarter century of Willard’s life. All of this was over a small piece of chert formed into a triangular form for hunting.
Charlie did feel the sting of his friend’s rejection, but he also seemed to sense a fear under Willard’s hostility, which led the former friend to believe that Greer was worried more for his own sake than for Charlie’s. This made no sense to most people in light of the nature of the object, but Charlie just wrote it off as Willard being a strange bird with this “crazy-ass Injun nonsense.” At least that’s how he accepted Willard’s snub.
Less than an inch by an inch of rock was enough to get worked up over when it was over the right things, or at least that’s what it seemed to Charlie and Willard.
It should not be assumed from these episodes that the Greers were an angry people, but as these stories demonstrate, the family had a sense of right and wrong that just was, and if that led to anger, so be it. As the stories got out, people who would interact with them on Greer territory knew not to cross the line that led to hostility and rage. Willard, especially, was tough but fair, and he was definitely loving to his family and friends, but anyone who took from these Native American ghosts what didn’t belong to them…
They were marked.
With that, they could just as easily become a ghost as well, and quite frankly, Utah is a big wide-open place for disposing of assholes and loudmouths and prying eyes once and for all. Some people might be familiar with mafia tactics in the Nevada desert, but the truth was that Utah held just as many skeletons under its dirt.
It was a well-known fact that Willard kept a snub-nosed Charter Arms .38 special at his side. It was fully loaded and ready to go in case the transgressor in question couldn’t be persuaded to be agreeable. The newspaper reporter from the Moab Sun News, the man who wrote Willard’s obituary, never asked for details on the rumors of Willard’s supposed tendency to fondle the handle of his holstered revolver during tense negotiations and intrusions onto his land, so this fact would have to remain a mystery for all those people who never caused Willard to offer options for their mistakes in judgment. In addition to this omission, the reporter also didn’t seem to ask Harvey many things about his father. This upset the younger Greer, but Harvey chalked it up to the man being a self-righteous S.O.B. who had no right to the truth of his father’s life anyway.
Despite their tough cowboy ways, the Greers were very accepting of many of their Native American neighbors as people, which was definitely much different than many of their neighbors; however, they never trusted the tribes enough to tell them about these artifacts in public conversation. That was the final rule. Anybody who wasn’t a Greer was to know nothing about the canyon, and even some Greers were never allowed past the barn on Willard’s farm. Sure, there were Native American friends, and some of them came to the ranch, but they were a select few who were treated in a colorblind way that the average “intrusive” members of the Ute, Hopi, Zuni, Apache, and Navajo tribes, as Willard referred to them, did not get to be assimilated into the relaxed familial air that filled the house that the family lived in.
And there were always tribes from every nook and cranny of the Four Corners region looking for a guided museum tour in Blackrock and this surrounding area.
In this same way that Willard Greer had no use for these people, “real” Native Americans, as he called them, men like Abraham “Wolf” Owens, also referred to these common, meddling men as “no-good-niks who only acted like Indians when it allowed them to fulfill the express-written purpose of using it to smear ‘Whitey.’” Here, to Willard, they didn’t care about their people’s history unless it was about how they had been relegated where they were. Owens felt that these men would turn the land into a business to benefit their own wallets before they’d give a damn about protecting it, if truth be told. Give them a chance, and they would build casinos, hotels, and tourist traps filled with chain restaurants to take the American people’s dollar while scorning them as soon as they walked out of the business.
“All hail the mighty dollar, master of all,” Wolf would say, which would always make Willard chuckle in his own unique way.
Blackrock Canyon was a place that needed protected from this. Both Wolf and Willard knew this, and they were close friends because of it. However, Willard acknowledged that view, but he didn’t seem to echo some national sense of security with his personal vendettas about keeping Native American leaders, shamans, and police types on the other side of the fence with the land developers and trespassers and the U.S. government as a whole.
“I have my reasons, and that’s enough,” he would say. People who didn’t like that answer and who wanted more, well, they could “shove it up their ass,” and that was that.
All of this was true for all of his life except for the time he planned on getting rid of the land at the end of his life.
In addition to this, even when the Greers would be led toward conversations with members of the local tribes, people who were truly concerned about the fate of the canyons, and this was something that would happen rather frequently, Willard would never take these men more than fifty yards out behind his house. All of these Native American men seemed to know that their ancestors once lived on this land, and that was good enough. If they believed that their particular DNA strains of people walked through these canyons, Willard would nod that he could accept that, but he never brought them into the deeper recesses of the canyons to have trips down Memory Lane.
“There are lots of family trees in this ground. Just because your skin is a certain shade and your family has been on the Colorado Plateau forever, well, that doesn’t give you status as preem-gen-ture in a world that’s been crumbling to dust forever and a day. Your ancestors are almost as much of Johnny-come-latelies as mine are. Get over yourself,” he would say, proud to have used one of their big words against them, even if he couldn’t really pronounce it.
Nostalgia was fine for other people, but for Willard, telling one person meant that pretty soon, it would turn into Whisper down the Alley and everyone would know exactly what was out there. Somewhere between the archaeologists and anthropologists and the hippies and bureaucrats and the endless stream of visitors and tourists they would bring with them, the field trips would also bring out the lawyers and career politicians and the hotel and gas chains. Everyone would want a piece of his land, and frankly, he was happy to walk amongst the ghosts of memories past with his cattle and children just like “the good old days when no other men gave a rat’s ass about what happened out in the dried up corners of some forgotten stretch of nothing.” Besides, these people had no clue what Pandora’s Box they were opening up.
And if the truth be told, Willard only went so far back in the canyon. For the most part, he avoided the canyon if he could. Harvey would outwardly remark how he never knew his father to go back to the deepest recesses of the land, and he also would tell people that he never had interest in seeing these places for himself. Both he and Willard respected the land, and they wanted it to be undisturbed as long as possible.
“There were enough disturbances on the land over the course of history. We don’t need to add any new history to the dusty remains of what was and still is.”
Owens felt the same way. Their words seemed to refer to it being like a cemetery that nobody ever needed to go back to. It was enough to say a prayer for the dead from the back porch as it was to go ten miles back into it to see the remnants of the world that used to and still was there. Besides, it was safer to see it from the back porch.
For all of the politicians and academics and new age types and modern day hippies and Native Americans he kept away, Willard wasn’t able to keep death away. Thus, when he came down with a brutal pancreatic cancer, he began proceedings to sell the land to the state of Utah for a fair value that could be divided up equally between his family members while trying to ensure some protection for it, and if truth be told, protection from it. Representative Smothers was happy to take the call because it represented something else he could put his name on. At first, Willard couldn’t figure out if their prestigious honor was the right to care for the land or to cut the ribbons that opened up a park that would somehow showcase the new owner’s name. Somehow, he always knew that Smothers was dirtier than the canyon’s floor and an even more dangerous snake than slithered through the brush.
Nevertheless, he would always tell the family, “Out of sight; out of mind.” For his sincerity, even he couldn’t believe this.
When he found out that many of the artifacts would essentially be offered up as a truckload sale for local museums, the deal was too far done, and while he really wanted to make it a fight, something he knew he could win, he thought differently about it since the legal headache for his kin just wasn’t worth it.
“Higher powers than me will take care of these vermin. You mark my words that when this story is done, we’ll know a thing or two about righteousness,” he laughed.
Despite this refrain that went on until his dying day, this sale was something that made Willard wonder if he was doing the right thing. The more he thought about it, there were just so many implications of what would happen to everyone involved. In the end, all he knew was that Harvey wasn’t willing to be a rancher anymore, and Barry, well, that unfortunate incident involving his untimely death in Florida removed him from the family once and for all, so he didn’t have an opportunity to reconsider his refusal to become one with the family’s greater purpose and place in Blackrock Canyon.
Originally, when Willard realized that nobody in his family, to include his daughters and their husbands, was up for the task, he asked Wolf if he wanted the land, but he said that he was “too old,” and it was time to say goodbye to something that had outgrown his ability to properly serve the land in the capacity it required. Willard nodded appropriately. For all of the things that Wolf understood, Willard knew that he didn’t understand the things that would permanently scar him. Over the years, his connection to this particular chunk of rocky land had impacted his soul and his future. Here, Willard felt good about Wolf not wanting the responsibility, but he also knew it wasn’t about what he wanted or didn’t want.
Blackrock chose its own masters, and in many ways, it had already made its choice.
Nevertheless, Wolf would respond to this request for overseeing the territory by stating over and over that he really did love the land, but he feared the land, too, and that was enough to walk away from the responsibility.
“He’s more right than he can begin to know,” Willard added. “Well, he’s right about everything besides walking away. I wish he could just man up as an interim caregiver until we can get Vincent Littleman up to speed with the canyon.”
As a result of nobody being willing or ready, Willard had to go elsewhere for a day in, day out caretaker. Being highly referred to State Representative Joseph Smothers by other powerful voices in the area, he was initially able to talk secretly about the contents of the canyon over his own personal recipe for iced tea served in mason jars on his back deck. The recipe specified certain amounts of tequila, vodka, rum, triple sec, and gin, which combined to give the drink a little more of a relaxing punch between friends. Smothers also spoke quietly to his colleagues about how it opened Willard up past his reluctance to divulge some of the more superficial details of the canyon and its contents. Here, there was a sense that the elder Greer would do what he had to do, even if he had to force himself to do it.
When the discussion about cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, granaries, and artifacts was over, it was explained that the house would be sold to Harvey Greer for a penny. Willard’s oldest son would receive the land with the stipulation that he sell the property for the family’s benefits after the father passed away. Here, Willard stated emphatically that he didn’t want to be the one to sign the lease, and that was that.
“We’ve held onto this for so long. Besides, I won’t be the guy to come to if you don’t get what you want when you give us what we need from this transaction.”
After that final talk and until he died, nobody from the government or that “damn fool learning institution in Salt Lake” was to step foot onto his land. Willard mentioned something about how he didn’t want to see what would happen when the university’s trucks came in and carried the past away. Smothers superficially and politely accepted that, knowing full well that if Willard said something was there, well, then something was really and truly there, so he would just get it all in good time. Besides, the old man was almost dead, so he would find out soon enough anyway what was meant to be obtained by him when he took over responsibility for these lands.
“Good things come to those who wait.”
Nevertheless, if he were asked privately to be honest about not pushing the issue further, Smothers would have said that he had sufficient reason to worry about Willard pulling out his revolver and using it on him.
“These dried up old desert fossils are too unpredictable for a refined gentleman like myself. Time will make all things good. All I need to do is to wait, and wait I will because when I do, I always get what’s coming to me.”
In the meantime, he would just anxiously pace around dreaming about Blackrock, licking his chops like a lion in wait to devour his prey.
As for Harvey Greer, he would do what he had to do, without much reluctance or hesitation, to give the state and the university a fair price. He was a good kid at the beginning and end of his life, but he was never really the same after coming back from the divorce in Florida. When he left for Florida’s scenic beauty, he seemed to have a sturdy, yet independent head on his shoulders, which was something he got from working on the ranch and carrying out his football days, but by the time his ex-wife Jen finished screwing around with his best friend and his having witnessed the aftermath of his brother’s murder, well, he was quieter and less inclined to have much interest in dealing with the day to day world.
Harvey had never intended to return to the desert, but he still did, and when he came back, he may not have wanted to be a caretaker of the land, but he quietly understood the Willard Greer way was the only way, and he went along with it because that’s what a son does, especially when he felt he didn’t have a choice.
“You could say I hear that old voice in my head directing me to a place that I have to be. I know better than to disobey it. We all do.”
He did this until his father passed away, quietly and with a definite end to the pain that the pancreatic cancer had caused him.
That last day of Willard’s life was anything but calm. In fact, it seemed that there were more storms in Blackrock Canyon that spring and summer than there ever had been in all of his years of growing up. The death occurred on the evening of July 8, 2016. The whole day had been dark with thunder clouds and vicious storms covering the canyon in waters. Flash floods seemed to rush through and signal the end of a great life with one last burst of power before the light finally went out.
There were no great final words. There was only a look that appeared to say, “I’m going to my ultimate destination. Leave me sleep until I get there.” Harvey obliged, and this was the end of Willard’s earthly journey.
The next morning, the storms eventually stopped and the sun reappeared, so Harvey prepared the burial plot on the Greer ranch with the rest of his ancestors to accept the latest offering to the canyon.
After a few days of mourning, Harvey did as he was asked to do when he shook hands with Smothers and Jedidiah Smith University President Thurmon Strong as they tiptoed around things like ethics, money, and a suitable name for the canyon that would be opened to the world for the first time in nearly 150 years. This afternoon, July 13th, there was no tequila, vodka, rum, triple sec, and gin from Harvey. He had long since given up on the excessive and unnecessary drinking. The representative and the university president kidded him about having found God at the end of a bottle, but he didn’t bite on the challenge to his manhood that he seemed to be getting presented from these stuffed shirts.
“No God that wasn’t there before and no casual drinking, though I’m not 100% dry. I just like me better when I’m coherent enough to figure out who is doing what behind my back and in front of my face. Besides, I have more masters to answer to than I already need. I’ve come to find that those who are in control of their own destinies are better. When people give up control, well, then it’s a whole new ballgame where things get done to instead of done by you.”
They nodded and got back to the discussion.
Quietly, under his breath, Smothers laughed as he whispered, “God damn, desert rat scum. He’s too stupid to realize what we’re doing to him for pennies on the dollar, just like the Manhattoes were way back when.”
This was just another difference between Harvey and Willard, which made it easier to deal with the son as opposed to his old man. Even at eighty-three and rundown by pancreatic cancer, Willard would have hurled both men out his door or even through his door if the notion came upon him. As the saying goes, he was a man who took no shit. As for Harvey, he just quietly stood his ground while seeming to declare a stalemate until his opponent made a careless move.
In this situation, Harvey just did as the situation moved him to do. All the while, he followed their commands about moving as quickly with the transfer as they wanted to do it, which was no problem for him to have one less thing to deal with, especially this thing. The finalities like the cattle and the division of the estate’s property could take place in the next few months. The important thing was that archaeologists were to be green-lighted back into Blackrock Canyon for the first time ever.
Everything else would get done in time.
Before the men met up for the evening, word around the campfire was that this money was going to total up to a significant eight-figure sum. Seeing as what was on the land was in the form of priceless antiquities, this seemed fair enough to the parties who were signing the contract. To Smothers and Thurmon, this made the ethical conundrum about what to do with the artifacts contained within a little bit easier. Putting a price on the priceless has a way of doing that, especially for some people, and especially when certain museums and their benefactors will help defray the costs with hefty donations.
For Harvey, the price was going to help smooth over the future finances of his family, but it wasn’t a sales tag as much as it was restitution for the years of pain that his family went through all of those years when they had secretly provided protection for the people of the Colorado Plateau.
So when the brief conversation was over, the final sum was going to be $15million. It sounded like a lot, but in those days, plenty of average baseball players were making more than that in a year, and this was money for ancient ruins and tons of land, even if the land was virtually unusable, save as a museum or for cattle grazing. When it came time to sign for the deal, Harvey was OK with this amount, and it made him anxious to give the land’s owners exactly what they were getting for their money.
While not taking them too far in on the show tour that they requested, Harvey personally escorted Thurmon and Joseph into the canyon via an ATV excursion. The journey took them to a cliff-side dwelling and granary where the men saw petroglyphs of the six-toed feet that had walked the earth with the snakes, lizards, rams, and deer. He wasn’t sure how the professional businessmen would react to them, but he personally hoped that it instilled a healthy bit of fear in them. While he didn’t say it out loud, he regarded the men as assholes of the highest order, and he quietly added a remark about Native American curses and ghosts as a noticeable jab to scare them just a little bit about what they were getting into.
For all of their laughter, even Smothers and Strong knew there was something about truth in advertising in Harvey’s words, which made them laugh to conceal their apprehension.
Nevertheless, instead of retreating, the men marveled at the odd images of what they took to be ceremonially dressed Native Americans as well as their stories of hunting. When it was over, they glanced through some of the nicer pottery, arrowheads, and tools to begin a new era of operations in what Harvey was told, unofficially of course, would soon become the Greer Mesa Archaeological Dig.
Through it all, Harvey felt like he was being manipulated by their “kindness.” These two men seemed to take turns taking Harvey on asides, which led him to suspect that they were pocketing some of the antiques. He thought about saying how he knew what was going on, but he didn’t, the men would later remark, since the eight figures meant so much to the extended barefoot hillbillies of the Greer family, many of whom were living in abject poverty.
Additionally, he knew that they would have people pocket these things later, so he chose to sit back and play the out of sight, out of mind game while he smiled superficially as he guided the two men back to their cars, thinking about things his father used to say about the relics of the past.
If that was the end that they wanted, then they would reap what they sowed.
On the journey back, somewhere in the distance, a wind began to howl as another storm ravaged the valley, making the dirt roads impassable for the next day.
When he was a child, Harvey didn’t understand his father’s absolutist approach for this no taking things rule, but he knew there must be a reason. In the back of his mind, Willard assumed Harvey knew what this reason was, but the son just didn’t want to believe it to be the truth until he saw it for himself. All the same, if bad stuff came down on the representative or the college president, then karma would give them the ass-kicking that Harvey would have loved to be doling out.
“All things come in time. If they’re stupid enough to earn it, they can have it.”
The drive took about twenty minutes, and when it was over, Thurmon spoke.
“My professor, Steven Bronkowski, will be so excited about this. I can’t wait for him to see it personally.”
Smothers was starting to get antsy, but it wasn’t out of fear. He just wanted to close the deal and head off to another meet and greet that he had scheduled. That one had people in suits, champagne, and younger women in tight cocktail dresses. This one… not so much. He had done his job, here, and now he wanted to move on, so when he spoke, it was to sign off at the end of the day once and for all and to get back to a place that was far less dusty than this armpit of the state.
“Thank you very much for your time, Harvey. We really appreciate you bringing us out here.”
Harvey knew the score, and he, too, was happy this charade was over.
All the way back to the dignitaries’ cars, the men smiled as they knew that their legacy would be a giant historical monument in the desert. With it would come educational dollars, tourist dollars, and of course, naming rights. It was all about the past, but it was all about the future, too.
Both Strong and Smothers had their eyes to the future of their surnames.
Harvey had his mind on freedom, so to him, it was more than a win-win situation.
Knowing that the ranch’s cursed past, present, and future were going to be gone from his life, Harvey only had the cattle to sell off after the extended family came by to scavenge Willard’s worldly possessions. With about three hundred head of cattle on the land, the family stood to make another quarter of a million dollars selling them off to the good folks at whatever restaurant would take them. Maybe they would be turned into steaks for the cases of Jumbo’s Steakhouse, a place where customers could pick and choose before pigging out on beefy delights. Just thinking about it made him hungry.
Whatever happened, he imagined his father’s life work would be sold off in one last ditch sale to the highest, quickest bidder and treated with carbon monoxide to keep it red for that juicy flavorful look that the unsuspecting consumer expects when he or she stares into supermarket and restaurant meat cases.
Yep, store bought red meat was still tasty, but it was definitely a trick to the eye.
In the end, so many things are when the real question is who is fooling who.
Steve Bronkowski was happy to be teaching at Jedidiah Smith University. Considering that so many archaeologists never got a chance to work in their academic major, let alone work full time at a prestigious university, he was living the dream. For years, he had assisted the former archaeology professor in his teachings and research all over the state. Whenever an archaeology site would pop up, he would go out and dutifully perform the assigned duties. He forced himself to smile cheerfully when Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) laws would haul away skeletons that they discovered and effectively end all work on the sites. In his opinion, the Native Americans seemed to smile as they would throw down their trump card. It was disappointing and provoking, but it was what he had to do in order to build his résumé to get this job and each opportunity that was given to him.
It wasn’t the ideal or complete research that some of his fellow students and teachers had, but it was a lot of real deal experience, and so, when Billy Boot, the former professor chose to leave the school to be a retired grandfather who could investigate the life of his first living grandson, Steve applied and got the position with a combination of his knowledge and experience, not to forget for the fact he was someone who Thurmon viewed as being trustworthy. Strong needed people who got along well enough with all academic institutions and parties and still created worthwhile research that could be highlighted throughout the newspapers of the state, the journals of academia, and the occasional national news story, all under the credentialed name of Archaeological Professor at the Jedidiah Smith University, of course, which was the school Thurmon Strong ran. In the end, Bronkowski was flaky, but he wasn’t as out there as some of the other archaeologists that Thurmon had known and interviewed for the position. Whether this was “acceptable eccentricity” or just for a relaxed, liberal demeanor, short hair, or the ability to know when to shut up about controversial topics, let alone not asking for extra financial resources, a controversial topic in and of itself, Thurmon was OK with him being in charge of a generally small program at what he always referred to as “his school.”
For his own life, Bronkowski didn’t care about trying to live some glamorized life. He had the position and the money, and even if he was chubby, a little rough around the edges, and single, he knew that someday, a siren would sing her song to him, and he would be able to help her live the high life while she helped him live out his most intense and unfulfilled sexual desires, which would take his breath away.
For years, life for Steve Bronkowski had been business as normal. Classes were fun to teach, even when many of his students found out that they wouldn’t even be fit to take notes for archaeological sensation, Sean Caruthers. Nevertheless, it was the graduate students who were out with Bronkowski working at the summer digs who made it all the more worthwhile. Granted, not all of the students reminded him of the son he never had, but this semester, he had three different guys with a lot of promise. Jimmy Simpson, Larry Gladwell, and Darryl Connors were all young archaeologists on the rise in that they didn’t mind digging dirt, sifting through it, or being patient for all of the analysis that went into determining what was an archaeological remnant, a rock, or a coprolite.
And there were a lot of rocks and coprolites out there… many more than the remnants that often just consisted of run of the mill potshards and the occasional broken arrowhead.
At the end of the day, they were his big fish in the university’s small pond, and so it was that when Thurmon informed Steve that he was being given a research assignment to look into as soon as possible, like in the next day or two, that he contacted these guys to get together with him. He would be their cool older brother, and they would think great things about him for this opportunity, and the word would spread around that he really was all that and a bag of potato chips, too. People would soon be looking to get into his classes, and with more full classes, he would have a bigger summer archaeology budget. In addition, he might also get a journal article, and when he got a journal article in The American Journal of Archaeology, or if he ended up famous on a world stage, a place like The Cambridge Archaeological Journal, he would find that busty brunette who would look good on his arm while supporting him admiringly at both his brilliant intellectual dinner table conversations and episodes of sexual prowess on his king-sized waterbed.
Mama didn’t raise a fool.
From the calls to the students, he found that none of them really minded being yanked out of the non-academic world of summer sun and sort of fun. The three of them had been bumming around some of the National Parks of the Colorado Plateau, hiking on their summer job dime. However, here was a chance to hike into a different canyon, which was as yet unexplored by the kind of men who were willing to write it up for the world to read. Here, they could go out to make adventure happen in a real deal serious Wetherill way where the cool stuff was going on. Even if it meant losing out on scoring with a summer honey or two, it was building an adventurous résumé for a pathway to more buxom and beautiful gals in the future.
And in the end, this was what so many men, whether they were state representatives, professors, university presidents, or aspiring students, were looking for out of life.
Besides, all the guys knew what it meant to be a part of this exploration. They could finish their grad school and punch their ticket to their dream dig with the letter of recommendation that would come signed by their thesis adviser and the school’s president as well as various political figures in Utah. They could be part of studies to be presented in major archaeology journals and seminars. Maybe they could even get their names on a stone because of what was going to happen to them in the canyon. Hell, maybe they could even work for the NPS system at this new park they were investigating. In the end, it all came down to the fact that they just had to leave tomorrow and go a couple of days in the hot summer sun without a shower.
What wasn’t to love about this interruption to their summer frolics?
And so they drove down for that next day, Friday, July 15th, to walk into the canyon and begin to investigate what was and wasn’t there. Parking in the faculty lot of the university, a big privilege for a couple of young guys, they met up with Bronkowski, who insisted that they take his 2014 Subaru Outback, since it was the newest and most reliable vehicle between them. The next newest vehicle was a silver 2003 Chevy S-10 with over 200,000 miles on it. The Outback was a no-brainer, and what’s more, it represented a hip style to travel the back roads in.
In addition to the reliability of the car, if Steve drove, he could control the music. When they saw his impeccable taste in classic rock and jam bands, they would just know he was cool. If they didn’t, he would still get to feel more in charge, so they agreed with his recommendation and packed their food, gear, and cameras to meet up with him to go meet some guy named Harvey Greer about where to access these historical riches.
At first, it seemed that Harvey was happy enough to lead them back to the main farm and off to one of the many poorly maintained alternate dirt roads that they would go into the site on. Leaving Route 262 for Darkbrush Road seemed to be indicative of what they were going to get from there on out, though. However, they proceeded down the dusty and rocky washboard until they lost sight of asphalt and headed out in search of whatever was out there.
During the first ten minutes on the road, or what passed for a road, the group was completely silent. Instead of speaking, they all seemed to be focused on trying to follow Harvey’s truck and staring off into the distance looking for dwellings. Finally, Darryl broke the silence when he mentioned wanting to see “some serious ghostly-looking stuff.”
Jimmy perked up, too, modernizing lines of ancient poetry about the inhabitants of long forgotten civilizations being his long lost brothers and sisters. However, after this, his literary way transitioned into a grand finale with him speaking about “Indians, killed and buried in some gnarly hidden butte beneath the seas of stars and the Milky Way” as he trailed out into improvising lyrics in some rather poor attempt to be a modern day version of a sixteen to twenty-four year old man-child wanting to be a version of some grizzled, hippie singer who just wants to be a drunken poet.
“Dude, you could give that dead old hippie Jim Morrison a run for his money. You’re good and all the little girlies at Jedidiah love you!” Darryl laughed.
“You know it, man,” Jimmy shot back.
Bronkowski was caught between that moment of being the teacher in charge and the guy channeling his wildest days, which were still pretty calm despite having followed several prominent jam bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish around through the 1990s, so he felt the need to interrupt in order to be the coolest guy in the room.
“Sure. We’ve got a lot of places we will survey, but let’s pick something really cool and filled with lots of artifacts that we can photograph for Old Man Thurmon.”
Harvey, in his own truck, stayed focused to the road ahead, but something on his face seemed to frown and worry about what trouble everyone would get into in the dark shadowy twists and turns of Blackrock Canyon and whether his dad’s plans for the Blackrock Canyon transfer were really the right future for all of this.
Before they left, he had told Bronkowski that, “If we go to the gate to go back to Darkbrush Road, you can go onto the dirt roads that lead to the more remote sections of the canyon. I went there once as a kid. Willard took me there, but he talked about how it was a place of menacing feelings, and despite being somewhere I needed to see, I shouldn’t go there until I’m ready. Something bad happened out there, and he tried to tell me about it, but I didn’t pay too much attention. I had my mind on some girl I was going to meet on some Florida beach, but Dad, I mean Willard and I went there anyway since he wanted to go, and it did feel scary… really scary. We saw lots of artifacts and a few dwellings, but we never got back to the really powerful stuff he was alluding to at the very back end of the canyon being something like an ossuary. To be honest, we never talked about it much after that. I guess he sensed that I didn’t have any interest in the history, and as time went along, I got more caught up in working, family time with my second-wife Laura, and all of the other things that aren’t a trip back into some endless series of canyons to look at crudely drawn primitive graffiti and ancient housewares. Besides, you’ll never have time to get in and out of the deep back end of the canyon by Sunday, especially if you take your time at the dwellings that are dotted throughout the canyon on your way out there. Instead of that area, I recommend you go into the left side mesa instead. You’ll get your fair share of dwellings and the like there.”
“So you aren’t interested in any of the really cool stuff?” Jimmy piped up.
“I’m interested in pulling my family out of the great Western past and into the modern future. I always said that I’d never come back from Florida, and yes, life has a way of bringing the desert to the beach, but right now, I’d just like to get to a quiet area with some different seasons. I’m thinking Ithaca, New York. That was always a neat place that offered a lot of things. As for Utah, I’m glad I met my second wife Laura here because she took the sting out of my divorce with Jen, my bitch of an ex-wife in Florida. Otherwise, I would have never found anything good about being back in this dusty, dead world.”
“I get that,” Larry said, “But I really think you can walk these two worlds and come away with a better understanding of all things, even in the words and phrases that we don’t understand, man. They make sense when we say them and make them our own. Like Benson says in…”
“You and Passionate Chaos! Leave the nineties behind, dude. That was almost twenty years ago, and besides, that’s all you talk about when you aren’t talking about all things metaphysical and new age-y. Crystals and incense and surrealist paintings of European chicks… woo!! I guess that is kind of all of that with its hippie vibes, man, but if I want to listen to Neil Young and Crazy Horse, I’ll listen to the real thing!” Darryl responded. “You and Jimmy are quite the pair… you’re more like my grandparents than Millennial adults with your latter day Woodstock ways.”
“Shows what you know. Benson Villaneuva is the least Woodstock person I ever heard sing. You really need to listen to the Ghosts of Eternity CD. It will change your life.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah…”
Harvey had no interest in any of this youth culture stuff, and so it was that when he asked them about being ready to go into the dirt road, they drove in the rest of the way without a second thought. Harvey would lead them in that far, and then they would be on their own. They could sleep well knowing that the gate would stay unlocked, but closed, until they went back to Harvey’s home in Blanding on Sunday night to tell him that they were done doing what they were going to do so he could lock it again on Monday.
When the whole procession into the desert wilderness concluded, Harvey signaled to them that he was going back home. He leaned out the window out of courtesy to say goodbye and ask them if they needed anything. He was greeted with a chorus of “no” responses and they went back to unpacking for their trip.
Harvey’s car quickly kicked up dirt into the surrounding desert air as he went back to his home. None of the four men walking into the recesses of Blackrock Canyon seemed to notice the wind howl menacingly through the canyon since they were just so excited to be going on a field trip. In the same way that many young kids do when they camp for the first time, they chose not to listen to the advice that Harvey provided for them since the “youngens” immediately started a chant of sorts to go back as far as they could.
“There might be treasure there,” Darryl said.
“I’m thinking that there might be a place to sit around and kick back some Flower Power IPA and break out the Ouija,” Larry added. “Ithaca rocks, man! Waterfalls and college girls with big boobs! Hells, yeah!”
“Hey, teach, if we blaze up, do you think we might see some old dusty cowboy ghosts riding through the canyon?” Darryl said.
“What about tripping on some ‘shrooms and chilling out with some ancient Indian spirits pow-wowing at their fires?” Larry added.
The grad students all laughed.
“Larry, if I see you doing anything like that on my teaching time, you’ll be seeing stars, and it won’t be Orion’s Belt with the rest of the crew from that nonsensical Alien Histories!”
Jimmy jokingly added, “Ooh, teach just schooled your ass.”
The students all laughed and laughed and laughed.
Five minutes later, they hiked off while Harvey sat at his steering wheel, driving down the dirt road, far from their prying eyes. When he was sure that he was far enough away, he started to cry. It wasn’t just a sob, but it was more uncontrolled, and he went on and on. He just couldn’t stop. There seemed to be a realization that he was complicit in their fates, and while he didn’t like having to send them back there, he knew he didn’t have a choice since he wasn’t in charge of any of this.
In short, that thing that lurks beyond the world of the living wasn’t giving him the right to dissent.
“What have I done? More importantly, what are these guys gonna do and what can be done to stop them from doing it?”
Harvey, for all that he was and wasn’t, was at one time a religious man, at least in the conventional sense of religion, so he did say a prayer for their protection, for what it was worth. He also said one for himself and for what he was a part of. Through it all, he only hoped it would be enough and that by doing his job in bringing them out here for his father, the task he had been charged with, his words of warning were going to be something that could help the men rather than send them to their deaths or some other harsher fate.