I mentioned in my last post that there are places in the world where humans are not welcome. I thought I would expand on that thought in this post.
I lived in the Phoenix, AZ, area for 13 years in my late 20′s and then into my 30′s. Looking back, I can see that my sojourn in the desert was Spirit’s way of stripping me of a lot of the emotional baggage that I carried with me from my youth. I really began my spiritual quest while I lived in the “Valley of the Sun” and that quest took me to some interesting places both spiritually and physically.
Anyone who has lived in the Phoenix area for long, and particularly in the East Valley suburbs like Tempe and Mesa, knows the location of the Superstition Mountain range. The Superstitions, as they are called, are a directional touch stone – look up, find the Superstitions and you will know which way is east on that vast desert floor. There are also mountains in the south (South Mountain), west (White Mountains) and north (forgot the name) but it is the Superstition range that really attracts the attention in the East Valley.
The Nde or Ndee as the tribe known as Apache call themselves believed that the Superstition range was home to their thunder beings, called the Idnahin if I remember correctly). If you have ever lived through a desert thunderstorm in that area, you will quickly understand why – storms often come up over those mountains and then move out over the valley floor. If you have never seen the Superstition range, here is a travel blog with some images. While they are not incredibly tall, these mountains epitomize to me, the jagged, spare beauty of the desert.
I spent a lot of time hiking in AZ, getting outdoors to clear my head, commune with Nature and generally try to establish some sort of spiritual practice tied to the Land. My hikes took me into many of the mountain regions of the area, from the urban fitness trail at Squaw Peak – in the middle of downtown Phoenix – to the more isolated Pass Mountain Trail in Usery Mountain Park. I can not say that I had a favorite spot but my first hike up the Peralta Trail to a structure called the Anvil in the Superstitions really hooked me. Although it was something of a drive out to the Superstitions from where I lived, I tried to make it out there as often as I could.
Now, those who know something of the history of the place know the legend of the Lost Dutchman’s gold mine. That story is easily accessible on multiple sites and I will leave it to the reader to research the tale if he or she is curious. The interesting thing to me about this tale is the notion that no one is ever going to find this gold mine since it is protected by vengeful Native American spirits. Those who seek the mine are insured of a disastrous outcome, either meeting their deaths on the mountain itself or by cursed bad luck elsewhere. Most people shrug this off as “superstition” but that does not stop the locals, who have been there for some generations, from whispering about unexplained disappearances in the area.
My experience of the Superstitions seemed to bear out this caution from the locals. On my first couple of visits, I stayed on designated paths with other people nearby and, other than noting a distinct sense of being watched as I passed near some rock formations overhead, nothing really gave me the “willies”. As I became more experienced in those mountains, however, I would at times follow game trails or other natural walkways off the beaten path so that I could enjoy the solitude of the desert.
It was during one of these sojourns that I first discovered that this land was not as friendly as it seemed on the tourist trails. I had hiked in some distance on one of the major trails when I noted a game trail running off to the right into a small canyon. This looked like an interesting place to explore so I followed the little trail. I had rounded some rocks about 25 to 50 yards in and so was out of sight of the main trail when I walked into a wall of darkness.
I mean this quite literally. One moment, in my perception, I was walking in bright sunlight and, the next, the light had taken on the dim filtered aspect of a cloud covered day. I stopped, feeling a little chilled, despite the warmth of the day (it was already in the high 80′s and headed for a high in the 100′s) and looked behind me. Everything looked normal except that I had the perception of looking through dark glasses and my hackles were standing up as though I had just heard the growl or a cougar at close range. My inner senses were shouting “danger” but I was not “seeing” anything that would provoke that sense.
Nonetheless, I began to back slowly out of the little side canyon, talking quietly to whatever might be there and letting it know that I meant no disrespect and that I was leaving. An oppressive stillness filled the air, the air of expectancy that fills the atmosphere before a storm lets go with its full fury. I backed around the rock outcropping that seemed to be the demarcation point and moved into warm clear sunlight. It was as though nothing at all had happened and, for just a moment, I wondered if I had somehow fallen asleep and had a nightmare. I walked up to the rock outcropping and looked around the corner. In my perception, despite the bright sun in which I was standing, it was darker in the canyon than it should have been. Just to be certain, I stretched out my hand. I could feel the “barrier” of cold and hostility. There was nothing more that I could do and I certainly did not want to tangle with whatever was in that canyon so I hiked on.
In Scottish faery lore, there are two courts of Sith (Sidhe in Irish Gaelic – the faery folk) – the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court. The Unseelie were those faery beings who were actively hostile to humans, for whatever reason, and they and their haunts were avoided like the plague. I make no claim that what I encountered that day in the Superstitions was an Unseelie court faery but it certainly was a nature spirit that appeared to be aligned to the destructive aspect of storms and it was not happy to have a human encroaching on its space.
My advice to those who would like to visit this lovely places is to travel in groups, stay on the main trails, camp only in designated areas and be sure to have camp set up and light sources available before dark. Also, if you have that experience of hackles rising or any bodily feeling that you associate with danger, whether you see anything or not, clear the area.