By Steve Hammons
In fiction and fact, the Four Corners region of the American Southwest has long been an area associated with beauty, nature and mysterious phenomena.
The convergence of the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah is an arid region of dramatic rock formations, fantastic canyons, vast dry plains as well as the pine-covered mountains of Colorado’s southern Rockies.
American Indian nations and communities of the Navajo, Hopi, Ute and others are also found in the Four Corners. Many American Indian tribes have beliefs and legends related to unconventional phenomena.
Mysteries in the area are sometimes associated with the American Indian residents, the ancient history of the region as well as secret government activities and even UFOs.
Accounts of a UFO crash in northwestern New Mexico in 1948 continue to be part of UFO lore.
Map of Four Corners region
STORIES AND REPORTS
Popular and prolific western novelists and World War II veterans Louis L’Amour and Tony Hillerman are just two writers who explored the cultural, historical, physical and metaphysical landscape of the area. The works of both writers have been adapted for TV and movies.
Both Hillerman and L’Amour had strong connections to the Four Corners. Hillerman’s mystery novels about two Navajo Nation tribal police officers set in the region gained tremendous popularity. L’Amour lived part of the time in the Durango, Colorado, area where he did much of his writing.
And, both men delved into unusual and anomalous phenomena associated with the history of the area and the people who live there.
Hillerman’s Navajo police characters Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee often faced strange phenomena in their investigations. L’Amour made an interesting departure from his more conventional old West tales in his 1988 novel set near the Four Corners titled “The Haunted Mesa” about a portal into another dimension.
L’Amour’s part-time home in Durango plays a part in the ongoing research about UFOs. Some researchers claim that in 1948, the year following the alleged Roswell incident, another unusual flying craft crashed south of Durango near the town of Aztec, New Mexico.
According to these reports, secret U.S. government teams responded to the area and flew in scientists to examine the situation. The only nearby airfield at the time was in Durango and these personnel were flown in and then traveled by road the 35 miles to Aztec, according to some researchers.
As part of the clandestine operation, the craft and possibly bodies were obtained and transported to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, a center for analysis of foreign aircraft and technology.
A March 28, 2010, article in the Durango Herald newspaper reported that a former U.S. government “remote viewer” (one of the psychic spies who allegedly used ESP to gather intelligence) spoke about the Aztec incident at the 13th annual Aztec UFO Symposium held in March 2010.
The individual, Lyn Buchanan, told the audience that his remote viewing consulting and training firm examined the Aztec UFO crash reports and concluded there is truth to the accounts, according to the article.
“In short, there was a crash,” Buchanan was quoted in the Durango Herald as saying. “The ETs in that ship weren’t dead; they were alive. And negotiations happened between them and the government.”
The same newspaper article also reported that Buchanan revealed to the symposium audience that the George Clooney character “Lyn Cassady” in the 2009 movie “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was based on Buchanan.
In the second of my two novels, “Light’s Hand” (the sequel to “Mission Into Light”), I also take readers into the Four Corners region with three members of the secret 10-person Joint Reconnaissance Study Group (JRSG).
The main character, Mike Green, along with Amy Mella (an Air Force captain) and CIA analyst Jennifer Thorsen are sent from their home base in San Diego to the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona and then on to Durango.
Their first task is to link up with two National Security Agency (NSA) officials who are interviewing a good friend of the Joint Recon Study Group, WWII Marine Code Talker veteran Joe Bear, at his home.
The NSA has picked up signals intelligence (SIGINT) coming from deep space. And, the signals appear to be in two codes – World War II Navajo Code Talker language and Morse code.
Green, Mella and Thorsen are to find out what is involved, assist as needed and report back to their team leaders and the JRSG commanding officer in San Diego, Tom O’Brien, an Air Force colonel. They are authorized to access information from the two NSA agents and from Joe’s interpretation of the mysterious message.
From northeastern Arizona, the three JRSG members are sent on to Durango to interview a former Army intelligence officer who is now an instructor at the state college there. He reportedly has knowledge about unconventional topics of interest to the JRSG.
They are also directed to scout around the Durango area to locate a suitable property for a “safehouse.” The reason is not immediately clear to them.
In the partial excerpt below from Chapter 7, Mike, Amy and Jennifer arrive in the Navajo Nation after flying from San Diego to Farmington, New Mexico:
By lunchtime they were pulling into the small Navajo town of Kayenta in the northeast corner of Arizona. The village was a jumping off point for trips to Monument Valley and other nearby scenic sites.
Mike drove the final stretch down the highway and turned off on a gravel road. After three or four miles, they spotted Joe’s and Maggie’s names on a mailbox and drove up the dusty road toward the house, sitting on a small hill. They noticed Joe’s pick-up next to the house and a navy blue sedan parked in front. Mike pulled up behind the sedan and the three of them got out.
Joe opened the front door and stepped out on the front porch, raising his hand in greeting and smiling broadly.
“Welcome,” he simply said as Amy and Jennifer hugged him. Mike managed to find Joe’s hand for a shake. Then, more hugs all around as his wife Maggie came out to the porch.
“Come on inside you three,” Maggie said as she led the way.
In the living room, Mike, Amy, and Jennifer saw a woman and a man sitting on one of couches typing on laptop computers. Joe introduced them.
“This is Jane Danski and Mark Jensen from the NSA. They wanted to talk with me about some things. I think O’Brien wants you to talk with them too.”
After more handshakes and introductions all around, everyone took a seat, except Maggie, who went out to her kitchen.
Jane Danski explained that they were authorized to fill in the JRSG operatives on the reason they were talking with Joe. She and Jensen spelled out the situation briefly. A Morse code transmission had been detected by NSA signals intelligence.
After a lot of research on the translation from Morse code, someone knew enough about World War Two cryptography to suspect it might be related to the Code Talkers, or something similar.
Joe had confirmed it and had made a preliminary interpretation for them. They were writing their reports, which they would soon transmit via communications equipment in their car that included a satellite uplink connection. They would send their encrypted reports directly to the NSA in Virginia.
Mike, Amy, and Jennifer had become accustomed to unusual events since they joined the JRSG. However, that fact didn’t dampen their excitement. Amy posed the obvious question.
“Are you free to tell us what Joe thinks the message says?”
Danski and Jensen both shook their heads in the affirmative.
“Go ahead Joe, if you want,” Mark Jensen said.
As calm and steady as ever, Joe gave them his interpretation of the message.
“As you know, back in the war, we used Navajo words for animals and natural things to stand for military meanings, to identify things like aircraft, ships, troops, or military activities.”
“Out of the message these folks gave me, and I figure it was translated the right way from Morse code by the NSA, there were some key words.”
“I picked up Code Talker words for ‘ships,’ ‘scouts,’ ‘friendly indigenous forces,’ liberation,’ which was a term we used back then to mean a few different things. Also, the words ‘secret’ or ‘covert,’ ‘landing,’ such as a plane or marine beach landing, and a word that could mean ‘supplies.’ There were some other references to ‘darkness’ or ‘night time’ and ‘light’ or ‘daylight.’ I also think some of the words were trying to say something about a time frame or schedule.”
“The basic message, as best as I can figure out, is something like ‘scouts will recon a target covertly at night, or during the dark, to liberate the local friendlies. Then, later, a landing will bring supplies in the day or daylight.’ Something like that. That’s what I make of it anyhow.”
They all glanced at one another and it was obvious they all were thinking along similar lines. The NSA people knew, in general terms, that the JRSG was working on usual phenomena, such as UFOs, among other things. Jane Danski posed the question to them.
“So, Mr. Bear, do you have an idea what this might mean? What do you think?”
ON TO DURANGO
After this meeting at Joe Bear’s house in northeastern Arizona, Mike, Amy and Jennifer head to Durango where they are to interview a Dr. Ben Westman, an anthropology instructor at Fort Lewis College, a state college there. Westman is reportedly a retired Army intelligence officer.
They have been assigned to interview him, take notes and make reports on what he tells them.
Then, they are to conduct reconnaissance in the Durango area to find a property suitable for a secure safehouse.
Their trip to Durango is partly described in the following excerpts:
They were on the road by eight o’clock the next morning. Amy was driving their rental car east northeast on U.S. 160. After about an hour, the highway took them past the small park that marked the meeting point of the states of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado.
U.S. 160 cut through the corners diagonally and a minute later they were in Colorado. The road climbed steadily through hilly country due north to the town of Cortez. More trees and green plants, they noticed.
The highway turned east at Cortez and Amy was now piloting the rental car steadily higher into the mountains. The road curved through beautiful pine-covered forests and pastures where horses grazed. Before long, they´d be pulling into Durango. Amy wondered if they should call the man they were supposed to interview today, or wait until they got oriented and rested.
“What do you guys think? Want to get in touch with this Ben Westman guy right away today?”
Mike just wanted to get where they were going and get out of the rental car.
“I say let’s get settled in our rooms, get something to eat, walk around Durango and get our bearings, then decide.”
Jennifer was in no rush.
“Sounds good to me. Colonel O’Brien told us to take our time and add on some R&R days for ourselves too. We’ll be better interviewers if we´re rested, I think.”
In another fifteen minutes they were getting into the outskirts of Durango. Neighborhoods of homes were nestled here and there among the pines. The road brought them to the central part of the town, tucked in the San Juan Mountains.
On Main Avenue, downtown buildings still reflected the 1800s history of the Durango. Now, shops, restaurants, and offices filled the restored downtown area. The Animas River flowed right through the middle of town.
They drove past the train station where the famous Old West steam train was ready to take visitors further up north into the mountains. Up to the town of Silverton at over eleven thousand feet and back.
On a small plateau above downtown was Fort Lewis College, where the man they were to contact was a professor of anthropology.
After backtracking, Amy found the inn they were looking for and pulled in the parking lot. On the drive up, the three had decided to get a one-bedroom suite instead of two adjoining rooms. They all wanted to get out of the car and walked together up to the lobby. It was a newer inn just outside of town on U.S. 160 with residential style suites complete with kitchens.
They brought in luggage and cleaned up. It was lunchtime too and they had left Kayenta without much of a breakfast. All three were eager to scout around town. Mike had been in Durango a few times before.
“There’s a lot to see around here. Purgatory ski resort, the Mesa Verde National Park ruins, and San Juan National Forest. This is wild country. Bears, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, elk, a lot of wildlife.”
Amy was getting a funny feeling. For some reason, this town felt familiar, yet she’d never been here before.
“I like the feel of this town. I sort of feel at home.”
Jennifer looked at her with a smile.
“I know what you mean, Amy. I’m glad we have some extra time here after we do this interview. It’s good Mike’s been here a few times before too. We’ve got some advance recon on the area. Let’s get some lunch in town and look around.”
They left the inn and drove for a few minutes back into town. They found a small restaurant not far from the train station and ordered sandwiches. The window next to their table faced Main Avenue and they watched the people and cars pass by. It was a sunny sixty degrees or so outside today. Visitors and locals walked around town, enjoying the day.
Amy wanted to call Westman that afternoon. If they were going to reach him at the college they should call before the end of the day. They only had his office phone number at the campus.
“We’ll feel better about taking some R&R when we’re done with our duties, I think. I say we get in touch with him after lunch.”
“Work first, then play.”
“Sounds good to me,” Mike said.
As they ate their sandwiches, Amy pulled a cell phone out of her fanny pack and dialed a number she had written down in her small notebook.
“I’m trying to reach Doctor Westman. Yes, I can leave a message. Voice mail is fine, thanks. Doctor Westman, this is Amy Mella from Colonel O’Brien’s group. My associates and I are in Durango and we would like to meet with you at your convenience. I will call you back when you return from lunch.”
When they finished their meal, they walked around the downtown area. The architecture of many of the old nineteenth century hotels and other buildings gave them a feeling of the Old West. Western art galleries, hotels, saloons, and stores offering everything for the outdoor mountain life lined Main Avenue. Over an hour passed quickly as they explored.
Sitting on a sidewalk bench soaking up the sunshine, Amy called Fort Lewis College again.
“Doctor Westman? This is Amy Mella again. Yes, sir. That will be fine. Will do. See you shortly.”
“He’s back from lunch and done teaching classes for the day and told us to come over to his office at the college.”
After walking back to where their rental car was parked, they drove up to the small mesa where the college campus overlooked Durango. They found a visitor parking and Amy asked some students for directions to the anthropology department. A short walk through campus brought them to Ben Westman’s office. The door was open and a man in a checkered flannel shirt stood up from the desk and waved them in.
“Hello, welcome to Durango,” he said as he reached out to shake hands.
“Hello Doctor Westman. I’m Amy Mella. This is Mike Green and Jennifer Thorsen.”
“Have a seat folks. First off, call me Ben. So, I understand you’re part of one Tom O’Brien’s research groups and he wants you to talk with me, eh?”
Westman got up from the desk and closed the office door.
“I’ve kept in touch will Tom over the years. We were in Vietnam together. Back in the sixties and seventies I was working in Army intelligence. Retired as a major in seventy-eight. Went back to school and got my Ph.D. in anthropology and I’ve been teaching here for over ten years.”
“O’Brien called and told me you three were coming up to get some intel from me. Sounds like an interesting little research group you’re part of. ‘Joint Reconnaissance Study Group’ is it? Well, I think I can shed some light on some of your inquiries and help out your group.”
Mike and Jennifer had taken out small notebooks and pens.
Westman lowered his voice just the slightest bit.
“You folks are getting to the heart of quite a few important issues. Things I’ve studied for government projects like yours, and things I’ve researched myself. From talking with Tom, it sounds like your group is on the right track. I’ve seen your mission statement and O’Brien’s told me about some of your latest work.”
“I think I can speak with some expertise on the human and social aspects, some of the geography and geology, and even some of the metaphysical stuff. Do you want to ask me questions? Or I could just tell you some of the things I think are important and you can follow-up if you want?”
Amy, Mike, and Jennifer looked at each other and shrugged.
“Go ahead, Ben,” Amy said.
He leaned back in his chair and looked at them for a moment.
“Enjoying Durango? It’s a great area up here. Well, I think I should tell you folks about where I’m coming from in terms of your research. You know, I have seen your mission statement. O’Brien sent it to me. I’ve worked on similar projects where we’ve looked into a lot of the stuff your group is now assigned to. I was thinking it might be helpful if I just give you a brief overview of what I know. What do you think?”
“Just go slow enough for us to take notes,” Mike said as he pulled out his small note pad and pen.
“Sounds good to me,” Jennifer agreed.
“Maybe we can just follow-up with questions here and there,” Amy added.
“Sure, ask away. Well, okay then. As I understand it, your group has some basic areas to look into such as social and human issues, the possible Earth changes scenarios, and the unusual or metaphysical arena. I’ll try to go down the list of your group’s areas of research.”
HUMANITY AND EARTH
“On the human part of it, from an anthropologist’s point of view, the human species is obviously still evolving. Hopefully into something worthwhile. Our societies have a lot of rough edges. There is still a lot of suffering all around the globe. Too much of it. We’ve got a ways to go.”
“So-called ‘Earth changes’ theories might be somewhat legitimate. This planet is also still evolving. There’s ongoing geological activity. There are some volcanoes around the world that could pop. The recent movement of the Pacific Plate, though devastating to some specific areas, is only a relatively small part of the Earth’s crustal area. Any number of seismic or volcanic events could occur.”
“Things like this would affect the human population in the line of fire. And yes, some places currently above sea level could be underwater. Temporarily from a tsunami, or somewhat permanently from rising water.”
“Now, how this all fits into the metaphysical realm, that’s interesting all right. You know, when I was a young man, I wasn’t very religious, very spiritual. Through what I learned in the Army, and from life, I’ve changed my ways over the years. If you believe in Heaven and angels, really believe, well, I guess that would qualify as some other dimension in the physics sense of it. I don’t doubt that some of those near-death experiences are people scratching the surface of the Heavenly dimension.”
“As far as UFOs, crop circles and the like, well, something sure seems to be going on. Never saw one. I honestly don’t know much about it officially. Never worked on anything that weird. But I’ve done a little reading on it. Pretty strange stuff.”
“The Army did do some work with ESP. Remote viewing, telekinesis, things like that. This is part of the evolution of humans I was talking about. We’ll develop greater intelligence of various kinds, if given time.”
“The DNA deep-memory theories have been around since the sixties. There were psychological researchers claiming to have accessed actual memories of ancestors. Legitimate, hallucination, or wishful thinking? Who knows? It makes sense that many different kinds of information could be encoded on the DNA helix, including memories of important or peak events, or knowledge needed for survival.”
“As far as ancient times here in North America, who the early people were and where they came from, there are some new and interesting discoveries about that. Think about the generations who lived in North America for centuries upon centuries before being ‘discovered’ by the Europeans in modern times. Some very unique cultures developed. Some very interesting knowledge about certain things. Interesting old legends, too.”
Westman leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on an open desk drawer. He took a sip from a mug of coffee on his desk.
“I guess it’s just a step-by-step process to learn about and understand these things. The continual expansion of knowledge.”
“Maybe we better get on that safehouse search, Ben,” Amy proposed. “Mike, Jennifer, what do you think?”
Both nodded their agreement.
“Let me give you a phone number and address of a property and real estate group I know of,” Westman offered and pulled a business card out of his wallet. “Their office is right in town by the train station. I’ll give them a call and tell them to take care of you.”
Amy also gave him the phone number and room number at the inn where they were staying.
“Well, maybe you three want to regroup, have lunch, and get in touch with those real estate folks. Since tomorrow’s Saturday, you might be able to make some progress this afternoon. Maybe they can get you started with some property locations and addresses. You’ve got the whole weekend to look around.”
They decided to follow his advice, said their good-byes and thanks, and headed out to the college parking lot. It was a bright, beautiful day and the sun was warming things up. The sky was a deep, dark blue. Jennifer drove as they followed a street that took them down the hill into Durango below.
They parked in town and walked around until they found a restaurant. In a small booth, they were trying to put the pieces together. The developments they were dealing with now and many of the original JRSG missions were starting to make more sense, in a somewhat terrifying way.
Over soup and sandwiches, they made their plans to contact the real estate office Westman had referred them to.
After finishing lunch and paying the check, they walked back out into the beautiful day on Durango’s Main Avenue. As it turned out, the real estate office was just down the block and across the street from the restaurant.
It was in one of the older buildings from the eighteen hundreds. They walked up a narrow stairwell to the second story offices and a receptionist steered them to a nearby office where a man sitting at a desk waved them in.
“Hi folks. I’m Gary Billings,” he said as they shook hands. “Have a seat.”
“So, Ben Westman says you’re looking to lease a property outside of town somewhere. I know of several that might be what you’re looking for. A couple are on more than ten acres. Real nice homes among the pines. A few are horse properties. Some of the owners really want to sell, not lease, but the right lease deal might be something they’d consider.”
Billings gave them some property information sheets with photos and specifics on several homes scattered around the outskirts of the Durango area on nice pieces of land. He gave them an idea about where they were, and how far of a drive each was from town and main roads.
They told him they were looking at the properties for their boss back in San Diego, which was true.
Billings proposed that they review the dozen or so property information sheets he’d given them and send them to their boss if they wanted. When they narrowed down the field a bit, he could then drive them out to the properties and show them around.
“Durango’s a great place. I’ve been here nearly twenty years. Got out of the big city rat race. It’s God’s country up here. Your boss is smart to be looking at this area. You folks just give me a call anytime.”
They shook hands and thanked him, and Billings gave them each a business card. Once outside on the sidewalk, they decided to take a drive outside of town.
They headed north up Main Avenue through town. As they continued on past the outskirts of town, a narrow, green, and beautiful valley spread out on both sides of the road.
The Animas River paralleled the road and the Durango to Silverton train track, more or less. But the river knew no straight lines and meandered in gentle curves through the green pastures where horses grazed.
Rugged mountains covered with pine forests surrounded both sides of the valley. Snow could be seen on the high peaks. Bears, elk, and a diverse population of wildlife roamed these mountains. Living wild and free, surviving, mating, raising their young, and dying.
They spotted the train filled with people making its way back down the mountains toward town from Silverton.
Along both sides of the road were nice homes and small ranches, many of which had been built recently. Not exactly a building boom in Durango, but steady growth. People discovering the beauty and small town atmosphere.
Durango residents were sometimes refugees from the big cities and from some of the jet set-saturated Colorado ski towns where the rich and famous played.
The road climbed steadily higher into the mountains. It was beautiful country. Maybe God’s country at that, like Billings had said.