Tales of hidden treasure
Upstream from the point at which the Colorado River cuts across the 39th parallel, it leaves behind a land of myth.
Upstream lies a city of gold.
Upstream lies the fabled home of the Aztecs.
Upstream lies The Answer.
But there at the junction of 39 degrees latitude, give or take, and the Colorado, sits Grand Junction. Beyond is the land of myth.
“Distant Treasures in the Mist,” a new exhibit at the Museum of Western Colorado’s Museum of the West in downtown Grand Junction, offers a look at the mythology that motivated much of the exploration of the Grand Valley and the rocky overlook to the east, Grand Mesa.
The exhibit is sponsored by Grand Junction Subaru.
“Myths are what have driven the exploration” of the Grand Valley, said David Bailey, curator of history at the museum and director of the Western Investigations Team.
Even before Dominguez and Escalante visited the region in 1776, about the same time as some momentous events were taking place half a continent to the east, Spanish explorer Juan Rivera passed through, seeking a lost colony of Spaniards living on the banks of el Rio Tizon — the Colorado River. Hernan Cortes, back in 1541, heard tales of the riches hidden away at the 39th parallel and el Rio Tizon.
Cortes’ map clearly shows the Seven Cities at the coordinates of what is now Fifth Street and Ute Avenue. Or at least close enough.
Father Dominguez might have been looking to save souls, but Father Escalante had another motive: He was looking for those lost Spaniards.
Cortes’ map is on display with “Distant Treasures in the Mist,” along with a multitude of other maps and relics found at the base of the mesa by the Western Investigations Team.
Bailey’s look at the myths spins together the strands of history, well-known and not so well-known.
Among those strands is a display on the Western Investigations Team’s examination of Kannah Creek and the relics it has uncovered.
Beneath a clear plastic dome fashioned by SSD Plastics in Grand Junction are several specimens found by researchers from the museum and Colorado Mesa University, the partners that formed the investigation team.
A billet, or a rectangular chunk of steel that likely would have been hammered into a sword of Spanish steel and a round ball of shot are preserved under the dome in such a way that visitors can understand the difficulty of spotting them in the sage-and-sandy Kannah Creek environment.
Many of the relics were found in the vicinity of what is known as the “redoubt site,” what appears to have been a protective structure of rock, possibly built by Spanish soldiers, or as a Ute trading site, or even an outdoor Masonic lodge.
“Distant Treasures in the Mist” includes a 25-minute movie explaining the discovery and the various interpretations of its history.
The movie will be shown today at 11 a.m. and 1:15 p.m.
Bailey also wrote a book, titled “Distant Treasures in the Mist,” which will be for sale at the museum. A book-signing party is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday for Bailey and others, including Dave Buchanan and Bob Silbernagel of The Daily Sentinel staff.
The most recent occupants of the Grand Valley, the Ute tribe, also figure into the tale.
The Utes appear to be the linguistic cousins of the Aztecs, who seem to have a fascination with the Grand Valley.
“You can follow that language all the way from Mexico to here,” Bailey said.
Though an aura of mystery still surrounds the valley and the history hidden under the volcanic rock, desert dust and alpine forests, there is one simple truth, Bailey said.
It drew the likes of Rivera and Escalante and, Bailey said, “Now we have treasure hunters following people who never found anything in the first place.”