Hotel California All Rights Don Felder
Previously on “What Happened at Midnight”
The mystery is there young Hardy’s. The cave is there too. No doubt left, as you found it, one dark night. The broken compass buried in rich sediment upon the darkened floor. Burnham is there too, the mesa top glowing luminescent under that waning November moon. Dare we mention he is there too, his arms open, almost beckoning.
In the waning hours of nightfall, you must leave your comfort zone. In adventure, your concentration robust, you must cross the darkened non excavated Richey Pit. Look skyward at Burnham, young Hardy’s, and hold your faces from the sparse lights, twinkling from the girl’s dormitory at Nenahnezad, and only then must you scale, the Old Five Hundred, the illuminations waiting, climb higher to him.
Tuesday, October 31, 1972
The Beech 35 flying out of Aztec, New Mexico with its v-tail had been missing since Sunday evening. According to the Farmington Daily Times, the two men aboard the small aircraft had filed a flight plan, for Gallup, and then once in the air, had simply disappeared around 9:49 PM. Their further destination, remained of some mystery, as did the names of the aircraft’s occupants. The budding reporter had speculated that the missing passengers were employed by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). His story further implied that the men might have been taking a closer look at the mining operations, at the Navajo Mine, and how those processes were impacting Navajo land. The mystery was being discussed a plenty by the staff at the Nenahnezad reservation school where my father was employed, as well as between my parents. The local government compound where we lived near the school was abuzz with what criminality might be afloat at the mine, hardly a mile away as the crow flew.
Two young imaginations had their own thoughts as well, on the mysterious misplaced plane. Indeed, my faithful reader, Joe and Frank Hardy, alias Jason Waite, and Danny Swearingen, were already setting the bar high for their next great adventure. It might do well to just leave them here on a Tuesday, in 1972. It’s Halloween you know, much different in those days from present. A time of homemade paper sack mask, popcorn balls in the classroom, and pillow cases for candy. That in itself would have provided our young sleuths with enough adventure, but this particular lunch hour, we find them discussing wiles of a different treat. The Grace B. Wilson Elementary playground has become the young detective’s lab, and yes, our young lads are discussing a great adventure. For you see, they feel sure they know where they might look for the missing Beech 35 and its lost passengers, for they have charted its flight. Using young Jason’s compass, they have sketched mathematical equations in the playground soil near the west chain-link fence. Their debate has centered on possible locations for air strips, and secret caverns where kidnappers might do ill will. They have discussed what treacherous signal might have been sent from the ground to the errant pilots. While the playground moves around our young lads, with a rough and tumble game, of recess football, they turn their eyes to the Southwest. Across the school rooftop, the tree line, the bluff across the river, the dark mesa. Burnham!
Thursday, November 2, 1972
Jason and I have both been reading “Mystery of the Desert Giant“. I don’t remember which one of us it belonged to, it doesn’t matter, we share all mystery, and its final revelation anyway. Our recesses, over the past two days have been filled with the Farmington Daily Times stories, of the missing Beech, and the government men. Guesses and hypothesis from letters to the editor are to be found in abundance. I bring the newspaper from home. Jason and I ignore the giggles, and stares of our classmates. Mystery consumes us. The Hardy Boys and the “Mystery of the Desert Giant“, we read in between our discussions, on the missing BLM plane. It all relates, in our boyhood thoughts, as does our knowledge, of the playground calculations we have completed. Clues imagined or real, and we know where the plane, and its missing passengers might be.
Jason and I first climbed Burnham together on Saturday, September 16, 1972. It was his eleventh birthday, and as a gift I wanted to show him a mystery that would surpass any gift, I could think of to give. I had been introduced to the mesa two years before by Navajo kids who attended the BIA school at Nenahnezad. The dark mesa with its one steep side facing west, was long and narrow, with a sheer trail switch backing its west side up to its slender flat top. The east side sloped down to a flat plain that yielded little but dried washes and scrub. The west side of the mesa was the mystery. The sand was dark, rich sediment, and at the top of the steep trail, some one hundred feet from the summit, was the holiest of holies. A cave that went into the plateau some fifty feet in length. The cavern was hidden from the ledge trail by a massive steeple shaped rock that allowed access to the deep cavity from either side of it. The gift for Jason that day was not the adventure of the climb, or the cave however. It was the walls of the chamber. Embedded deep into the rock, holding multiple colors, were Anasazi petroglyphs, scribes of giants and winged creatures. Ancient demons, in flight. Massive walls of story, that only a Hardy Boy possessed young investigator, could appreciate.
My friend’s eyes had been wide that day. His white taped glasses riding low on his nose, he had run his hand along the outline of each petroglyph, frowning and serious, looking at me his blue eyes wide, “so many clues”, he said, “it’s like a hotel cave, for something passing through”. Jason’s mysterious premise was more likely true than not, no greater words conducted from boyhood spirit have I ever heard.
We named the trail leading to the top of the mesa the “Old 500”. We had calculated the distance from the base of the butte to the summit to be approximately 500 feet, and the name seemed to be a fair entitlement for a trail, that at times was nothing more than a narrow ledge, with no accountability, or support to speak of. Though the ensuing weeks, the dark mesa and the mysterious cave had birthed many conversations between my young friend and I. The ancient drawings in the cave held clues, of that much we were certain, and after six long weeks of discussion, we were certain destiny had finally revealed to us where the mysterious signs of yesteryear might be leading us.
According to the Farmington Daily Times, the Beech 35 had set due west by southwest out of Aztec, moving to the north of Farmington due west before taking a sharp turn to the south near Hutch Canyon. The control tower at the Farmington airport had lost contact with the Beech right as it crossed the San Juan River near Fruitland. The last radio contact from the pilot of the plane to the Farmington tower, had been to request a location identification. Shortly after the radio contact, the plane had disappeared from the Farmington’s controller’s radar view.
Jason and I had taken turns over the last forty-eight hours reading the “Mystery of the Desert Giant. We had discussed the similarities with our own mystery, in great detail. Combined with calculations involving Jason’s compass, the Farmington Daily Times reporting, and our explorations of the local land we were convinced that the missing BLM men were to be found in the cave below the Burnham plateau. No doubt, they were bound and gagged, fed once a day by their swarthy unshaved kidnappers, awaiting some ransom that upon our discovery we could claim as just reward. So it was to be as that late afternoon recess concluded, in 1972 that two young sleuths, planned a rescue, and a solving of a great mystery, their eyes furtively trained toward the west. Toward Burnham! It was also to be that their lives would be forever changed.
Friday, November 3, 1972
It’s my birthday, an exciting time for any twelve year old boy, acne and adolescent girls still to the future, a heartbeat away in the scheme of life. The day means more to me than usual, this Friday in 1972. I have plans you see, great plans. The school day slows to a snail’s pace, each minute agonizing and morphing into one more. Mrs. Retha Moore’s 6th Grade classroom appears caught in a time warp. I look over at Jason who sits two rows to my right. I have to lean forward, by passing Janelle Bond, who sits between us. Janelle is busy edifying herself from an orange tabbed 6.3 SRA reading lab card. Jason is busy, studiously drawing, his thick glasses dropped to the end of his nose, shielding his work with his left arm, from Mrs. Moore’s watchful gaze. I know what Jason is doing. He is drawing out the master plan for the scaling of a mesa, the assumption of mystery and the finality of knowing the unknown. For as I am sure you know dear reader, I am certain you are already well aware. This night on my twelfth birthday, Frank and Joe Hardy, alias Danny Swearingen and Jason Waite, propose to join the realms of investigation and myth and solve a mystery.
Jason rides the bus home with me after school. He holds a paper sack, inside it my wrapped birthday gift. “The Hardy Boys”, “The Secret of Pirates’ Hill“, the original 1956 edition, a gift I will keep and treasure for the rest of my days. We barely speak, our silence in the crowded frenzied school bus, like an island of silent electricity in a water tempest. We are both staring at the open drawn map in my hands. It charts our evening, and our entry into the storm.
Jack and Vera Swearingen believe in a strong birthday festivity for their children. Each birthday is donned with a rich homemade German chocolate cake with coconut icing, hamburgers, and plenty of gifts. My twelfth birthday has been no exception, and yet every exception. My brother Joe Hardy, is there to share it with me, along with my family. I open his gift to me, and it occurs to me if only for a brief moment, that this is the most exciting day of my young life. I wonder what it will be like when we rescue the lost government pilots this night, how will we evade the kidnappers, what will be our reward? I look across the decorated dining table and see Jason’s eyes alive with the unknown, smiling, he gives me the thumbs up, and it is time for us to begin.
While it is still light, we have stacked the volcanic rocks. They are piled to the side of the house facing the alfalfa field. Lightweight they stack against each other locking together, like ancient steps leading to my high bedroom window. We test them climbing, carefully, and then cautiously remove the screen from the window, hoping that neither of my parents takes a notion to investigate the side of the house before nightfall. We have made careful preparation for our nightly journey, with two small flashlights, Jason’s compass and self-drawn schematic of the mesa. I am bringing a pocket knife to saw through the ropes that bind the kidnapped pilots, and lastly a baseball bat in case Jason and I should come face to face with the criminals themselves. The lights are turning dimmer in the Nenahnezad community. Nightfall is at hand on the Navajo Reservation, the sky is filling with cold stars, and Burnham beckons with a dark hand.
Friday, November 3, 1972, 10:40 PM
Jason and I leave through my bedroom window, our shoes grasping the rough texture of the volcanic rock. I dare not look at my parents darkened bedroom window as we are moving faster now at a light run, exiting the safety of the back yard. There is a light cold breeze blowing as we cross the street cutting through the Nenahnezad School property. The fallen leaves from the cottonwoods that line the school’s boundary crunch underneath our running feet, the sound making us move even quicker. The waning crescent moon, is overhead, providing no assistance, but it is as if, a million blue stars have been created in the heavens to take the moons place. I lead Jason past the large concrete block whitewashed building that serves as the school’s gymnasium, and sometimes movie theatre. We move past its large shadowy exterior, slowing somewhat, as we reach the boarding school’s northern boundary. We head east on the paved road until it turns to dirt and then to wilderness. The stars are dancing madly overhead as we turn to the northeast, toward the dark object in the distance, when the first explosion hits.
The distant sky above Burnham is alive with color and dust mixing in with the stars from the heavens above. Lights sweep the mesa’s horizon from its northeastern tip following its flat top to the southwest. Jason and I are frozen in shock at what we see. I do not recall fear. We are in awe of the wavering beauty in the heights before us. We are young, and we are detectives, and it would come as no surprise to anyone, I suppose, that we declare at the same moment, “They’re blasting at the mine“!
Living at Nenahnezad one could become familiar with the sometimes nightly distant tremors, of the earth shaking, as the mine used blasting to loosen coal, and make the ever widening pit deeper. This, however was the first time I had ever witnessed the effects of earth, being disturbed in such a violent way. For Jason and I the effects ever mesmerizing, are not enough to keep us from moving forward. Our small flashlights out, the air around us growing ever colder. We move to avoid the occasional scrub and brush, and find ourselves moving downward into the vault of the Richey Pit, the air taking on a dampness. I remember looking back one more time as we moved toward our dark destiny. I could see a few lights from the girl’s dormitory at Nenahnezad for a few moments, and then they disappeared.
Friday, November 3, 1972, 11:15 PM
The small cinder block house has several pickups parked around it, and even from a distance, Jason and I can see the large flame from the bonfire on the backside of the house. We can see the moving shapes of the dancers too, and hear the falsetto sound of the singing. The high chanting, octave up, minor key down. The dancers look odd, misshapen, even from a distance, and for a moment we stop, our curiosity, nearly drawing our attention away from our mission, and the dark mesa so very close to us now. Our mission is saved by the barking of one of the dancers’ dogs, picking up our scent. We turn quickly, as the ground once again shakes beneath us from another explosion, and the sky overhead is lit by a fresh plume of dust. This time closer still to us, but not as close as Burnham, which we are beginning our ascent to.
“What were they doing back there”? Jason’s voice had a timid sound to it, not a tone I had ever heard before. “It was some kind of an Indian dance”, I say, “I think I heard my Dad call it a “Yeibichai Night Dance“, they’re probably trying to bring healing to something or the other”. “May be it’s to help find the pilot’s”, Jason says. I remember thinking maybe it’s to help us, because truth be known, I remember feeling a bit of uncertainty for the first time about our mission. Looking back it could have been the sound I had heard in Jason’s voice. It could have been because I had forgotten my baseball bat. I think we would have turned back at that moment, but fate was afloat under the stars, and we had arrived at the dark foreboding roots of Burnham.
We had accessed the mesa too far to the southwest of the trailhead in the dark, and with the excitement of the explosions and the “Yeibichai” dance both Jason and I were somewhat disoriented. Jason pulled his compass from his right pocket and carefully removed it from the blue felt wallet he kept it in. I held my flashlight on it, the light reflecting off of the glass surface. Jason turned it slowly until the needle pointed due north, we calculated according to Jason’s roughly drawn map that we had missed the trailhead, by about one hundred feet. Turning to the Northwest we began to walk, taking turns sounding out numbers, counting, moving around the occasional small tree. At the sound of Jason’s voice calling out ninety-two, we were there, the white rock base of the trail standing out luminescent against the dark earth of Burnham. “I can’t believe we under estimated”, Jason said, sounding disappointed. I laughed then, for he was back to sounding like the Jason that I knew. I led the way onto the rock face trail holding my light downward. “Come on Joe Hardy”, I was smiling, it would be awhile before I smiled again.
Friday, November 3, 1972, 11:45 PM
The third explosion of the night, hits as the trail narrows. I drop my flashlight, as I reflexively go to grab the mesa wall. The world seems to be spinning. I hear Jason grunt and the sound of breaking glass, as he pushes into the rock wall. We are about one hundred feet up the side of the mesa. The darkness below us cannot compare to the light of the swimming stars breathing dust so far above us. I reach down to grab my flashlight, before it can roll off the trail. To lose our sources of light up here would doom us and the rescued pilots. “Oh shoot, I broke my compass”, Jason is reaching into his pocket, feeling through the felt barrier, the broken shards of glass. He carefully tucks the pieces back into the soft sack, and puts it back in his pocket. We wait for a moment longer, not wanting to be startled on the trail up ahead by another explosion. I look far below us feeling like, I am in a plane seeing only darkness, and then I see a light. It’s a small light, but it seems to be moving, going off at times and then coming back on. Jason has seen it too! “I bet that’s a signal to the kidnappers in the cave”, he’s excited his voice a whisper. Agreeing, I tell Jason I think it’s a signal too, “I just hope someone is not warning them we are coming”, I whisper back.
We continue upwards into the steep darkness, and the path narrows even further. There are times we have to strategically place our feet in footholds and boost ourselves up onto an upper ledge to continue the trail. We haven’t spoken for a few minutes now, my fear building, as we venture closer to the “hotel cave”. The air surrounding us has grown almost bitterly cold. We are nearing the second and last switchback on the long trail, when I look and see the light again so far below. It appears to be closer to the mesa. I nudge Jason and point to it. “I think we better turn off our light’s”, Jason’s voice is low, almost to a whisper, “I think they’re following us”. I have to admit, if even for a small moment, I had hoped that the light bobbing so far below us, might be carried by my dad. The hour is late, and my sense of adventure is starting to wear thin. The trail is now a whisper of stability, it’s width in places only two feet wide, and with our flashlights off we are down to a snail’s pace. Feeling the cold rock wall of the mesa for stability, the rock smelling ancient and musty, spins my senses, intoxicating me, reviving me, I look back at my friend, and I can see his eyes glowing in the darkness. The trail widens suddenly, room for a small Pinion tree by the ledge, and we are there the cave entrance, but a few feet to the southwest of us.
The stars are falling from the sky, blue and intense, the top of steeple rock, aflame with light. The dark left entrance into the cavern beckoning to the trail, its invitation, a whisper of entrapment. Jason pushes ahead of me, I can see he is walking on his toes, looking like a danseur, he looks back at me his finger to his lips, the gravity of the moment almost unable to compete with its future grandeur. We are at the edge of the cave, our bodies pressed against the earth, we listen, making hand gestures to each other to be quieter. We hear, nothing, but the darkness, and then we are through the narrow fissure between the tall rock and the mesa, and as we enter the blackness, the earth moves, and the explosions begin. An eternity, and we are falling, rolling into a greater darkness still.
Friday, November 4, 1972, 12:10 PM
A portal, a hotel cave, it’s built there for things passing through, in the night, when the earth is moving. When blue stars are falling from the desert sky, fire built on ice, becoming one with rock, obscuring legend, making life, building boyhood, summoning, beckoning, inviting, never letting go. The dirt on the cave floor taste like ash, sputtering slightly confused, I am reaching for my flashlight, but Jason has beat me to it. His blonde hair looking wild and dirty in the dim light, his eyes darting deep into the cavern, I see his compass has fallen from its felt case in his pocket onto the cave floor. The cavern is full of dust, from deep in the interior, the sound of earth shifting. The surreal phenomena surrounds us, but it’s not what registers on our mind. “The pilots aren’t here”, Jason’s voice is filled with a deeper gloom than the deepest part of the dusty chamber. He looks at me suddenly, his eyes darting upward to the left, deducting, “I bet the crooks moved them, when they saw us coming, I bet that’s what the signal was all about”! I shine my flashlight past Jason looking into the depths of the cave, and then down toward the earth floor. Near Jason’s compass two small metal plates lie in the dirt. “What are those”? I’m pointing with my index finger, looking much darker, than it should be, covered with dirt. Jason leans forward, picking up the metal pieces and shining his light directly into the palm of his hand. “RA66 dash 105 FAA PMA”, Jason’s voice echoing in the rear dusty darkness of the cavern. “What is”, I start to say, when the side of the cavern farthest from us lets loose with a couple of bowling size boulders. The larger of the two rocks rolls to within three feet of where I’m standing. Jason and I scramble to the far wall, huddled within the cold arm grasp of an ancient sketched Anasazi hunter. The voice questioning, heavy with disapproval, thunders from the left side of the steeple rock, “What are you boys doing here“?
The Yeibichai, is swimming in the moonlight, but there is no moon, no air, just blue stars falling, strange mask shining, Jason’s heart pounding against my own, and it is the end, the final end. I hear something small hit the earth between us, it clinks. Jason has dropped the metal pieces from his hand. The Yeibichai steps forward moving the large flashlight in his right hand shining it into our eyes, Jason and I are holding each other, and I can fill the tears starting to rise in my eyes. “You boys should go home, it is dangerous here, you do not need to be here“, the mask is bowing moving, forward around to the right side of the steeple opening, bowing, moving, and retreating. The air from the caverns openings is frostlike, still, refreshing. Jason and I have moved ourselves apart closer to the left entrance of the cave. We can hear the Yeibichai walking his footsteps surprisingly heavy, moving toward the mesa summit. We stand there five, may be ten minutes, and then in silent agreement, we leave through the left vestibule of the hotel cave and turn to begin our descent home.
I turned before the first switchback on the Old 500 leading off of Burnham, I turned like Lot’s wife turned, and I saw him there, standing there, at the summit of Burnham. The sky raining blue fire, mixing and percolating dust with the thin high air. He stood there bowing and moving, like the desert giant, like the desert giant.
Postscript: I do not know if the two BLM men were ever found, I do know that a RA66-105 FAA PMA was found by two boys who likened themselves as the Hardy Boys, one night in a cave on Burnham. – 12.16.2014 – דָּנִיֵּאל
This story is kindly dedicated to Ms. Retha Gillespie Moore (Jason Waite and Danny Swearingen’s sixth grade teacher), Janelle (Bond) Davis, childhood friend who bore witness, and still faithfully reads to this day, and throughout it all Jack and Vera Swearingen, wonderful gifts as parents, who always put on a good birthday!
Hardy Boy Characters, and Title “Mystery of the Desert Giant” All Rights – Grosset & Dunlap