I in no way can pretend to be a ‘geek’ as in Best Buy’s Geek Squad; I am pretty good at managing data in an Excel spread sheet, or composing a Word document, or (sometimes!) retrieving e-mails.  I was 33 or 34 years of age when first exposed to the computer fraternity, as part of the engineering group with a major oil company.  Our first computer (“portable”) was the size of an electric typewriter and required a similar stand suitably reinforced.  It was capable of programming an amazing fifty-four steps!

Technology has come a long way!

In today’s world there are likely nine-year-olds more at home with computers than this 90-year-old! but it seems everything must be done with those infernal machines!  I’ve long contended that I intend to wear out rather than rust out, and it seems that contention is coming to pass.  The body that has experienced ninety years of busy living is certainly showing wear and tear.  Such a body requires frequent check-ups and tune-ups by trained experts (i.e. doctors!)  and more and more doctors and medical facilities are hiding their findings electronically. 

As a patient at UTSW I must subscribe to “MyCare” to get reports, lab results etc. At Texas Health it is MyChart.  At another, it is “Healow;” another is RD Client.  No computer?  no results or reports are obtainable; maybe sketchy results by phone or wait for a follow-up visit.  I had a friend, my age, who passed away just a couple of years ago; to the best of my knowledge he never owned a computer.  At the medical offices they tell you of a “portal” through which you set up My Chart or whatever.

This morning I saw Jane turn on the closet light and enter our large master closet.  I put away my toothbrush and walked into the bedroom, passing the closet on the way.  Glancing in, I saw the light still on but no sign of Jane.  My immediate thought (prompted by the memory of “Haunted Mesa,” an early Louis L’Amour book): was Jane drawn through an unseen portal, into another dimension of space or time, crossing a border between the laws of man and nature?  Where was Jane?  I decided to research these phenomena.

Less than a mile from the house where we lived in an oil camp outside Iraan, Texas was a geologically tumbled, rocky outcrop hiding a cave entrance.  The area was cut by canyons, escarpments and low mountains; a cow on this part of the ranch might starve.  When we moved there, we were told that people avoided that area because “it’s haunted.”  The story was that in earlier years a cowboy working on the ranch which included this site discovered the caves and decided to explore the largest, most accessible.  He had taken a large ball of string of a size to not easily be broken and left a trail of string so that he could retrace his steps and find his way out.  After several days, when Hank didn’t show up back at the ranch, one of the cowboys told the foreman about Hank’s plan.  Two of their party went to look for Hank and found the trail of string.  Following the string to its end they found Hank’s boots and clothing laid out neatly, but no sign of his person.  The two cowboys spooked and, grabbing Hank’s belongings, rushed back to the surface.  Weather, ranch duties (and fear?) precluded any further exploration at the time, and when spring round up was finished and calves shipped to market, no one wanted to know, “What Happened to Hank?” bad enough to enter the cave.

I have an advanced degree in Earth Sciences. The story of the Haunted Cave (now some forty years ago) piqued my interest and I decided to explore it myself.  With my friends Denny and Ray and an experienced spelunker, we replicated the Hank method of following the string.  His string was somewhat rotten with age, so we used a new ball of string but followed his trail.  One of our crew was training a Search and Rescue dog, so we took the dog along on a leash.  Nothing seemed to have changed over the years according to what we had gathered from hearsay reports.  We were able to easily penetrate to the spot where Hank’s string played out.  The cave was dry and we were able to walk upright a bit but mostly we were crawling or slithering over boulders. When we reached the end of Hank’s string, we were in a room about ten or twelve feet across and four to eight feet high. 

The dog began very acting strangely, on full alert with his fur standing up stiffly and a low rumbling growl in his chest.  The dog was tugging at his leash and looking toward what appeared to be a dead-end but in the bright beam of our best flashlight turned out to be a sheer black wall of rock, mostly hidden around a corner.  Our spelunking expert, Dr. Grant, got on his hands and knees, examining the wall where it met the floor.  With an exclamation he held up a weathered piece of Indian handwork!   With further examination, he arose and announced a portion of the “wall” appeared to be separate from the main face, and seemed to have a discontinuity, a slab, perhaps as if a door were set in the wall (a portal?).  The dog continued to sit at the base of the slab or wall with his hair on end and a constant low growl.  Later, when we returned to the surface, the dog had to be forcefully dragged away.

As a safety concern we had left a couple of men at the surface, “just in case.”  As we were examining the rock face and looking for further artefacts, one of the men came rushing along the string-trail to inform the party of a sudden, massive storm buildup.  The National Weather Service was announcing severe weather warnings with the possibility of heavy rains.  Realizing the rains might cause flooding in the cave and tunnels we hurriedly made our way to the surface and drove away.  As we reached the highway we could look back and see the epic ferocity of the storm right over the area we had just vacated!  Never in recorded history has it rained that hard, over a specific area, in Texas!  Oddly, along with the rain, rumbles like underground earthquakes were heard and felt by ranchers in the area.

Our on-site explorations temporarily halted by weather and other priorities, Dr. Grant and I consulted Dr. Manning, a noted anthropologist who was an expert in Indian lore.  We took the Indian artefacts to him, and he agreed to research their background.

We waited what seemed an inordinate length of time for his report. After about six months, Dr. Manning called.  On the phone I could tell his voice was strained, as if he were trying to say something so far out of reason he was uncertain what to say.  Finally, he was able to communicate that the story of the artefact was so extraordinary he could hardly believe it himself, even with the intense research and study he had conducted, and he would not try to tell the story over the phone.  He insisted we meet privately, in person. The ranch owner had a small vacant house on the premises which he allowed us to use as our headquarters.  Of course we kept him fully informed of our activities, but to the townspeople we were just a bunch of crazies, chasing ghosts.

We arranged for the original four of us to meet Dr. Manning on the ranch.  Dr. Manning got right into the story, beginning with the Indian artifact we found. He told us he had gone back to the ranch as part of his research, but being alone he chose not to enter the cave.  Instead, he combed the surface area for five hundred feet around the cave entrance, and picked up a basketful of artefacts, jewelry, carvings and miscellaneous.  Returning to his library and lab and intensely studying the markings and carvings on the artifacts, Dr. Manning concluded that these items had a remarkable cultural likeness to artifacts from the Anasazi culture!

The weather in Texas almost scuppered plans!

This certainly explained his reluctance to share his findings over the phone!  If any Indian culture in this area was related in any way to the Anasazi, it would represent an archeological breakthrough of immense importance.  The Anasazi historically lived in Northern New Mexico and the Four Corners area – five hundred miles distant and a millennium apart! Their culture was extant from about 120 AD to 1300 AD. Archeologists have not identified the cause of their disappearance, although it is thought modern-day Pueblo and Hopi Indians may be descendants of the Anasazi. But to find anything related to Anasazi culture in the semi-desert of far west Texas would lead to instant fame for the discoverers, especially the archeologist.  Thus the secrecy on the part of Dr. Manning.

The Anasazi name generally is interpreted the “Ancient Ones,” or by the Navajo “Ancient Enemy.”  Being agrarian, it is difficult to see them as enemies, but there is little record of their interactions.  In addition to their knowledge of farming subsistence, the Anasazi were students of the stars and celestial bodies.  They believed everything in their world was made by a great creator and their gods were generally related to nature – the Rain God, the Sun God and Mother Nature.  The priests were the most important members of the tribe, defining and enforcing religious laws.  Older males were “headmen” or tribal leaders.  A ‘Kiva’ was a congregational space mostly used for ceremonies.  Before pueblos became the norm, residential dugouts or caves, underground, helped sustain them in a climate that could be astoundingly hot in summer and freezing cold in winter.

We regrouped to prepare for a new assault on the cave. Our group of four became five with the addition of Dr. Manning.  Our vehicular needs were supplied by two Jeeps with four-wheel drive.  We gathered what tools we could anticipate needing at the cave, and food and personal supplies for the cabin.  With sufficient supplies we could stay “out of sight – out of mind” to the townspeople.  We impressed on the rancher the need for secrecy, which he was happy for in order to limit excursions onto the ranch lands.  If anyone asked what’s going on he would reply “Just a bunch of crazy cave weirdos. They probably think they’ll find their way to Carlsbad.”

On our first trip into the cave we set up some battery-powered lights in the room we had previously found, intent on finding whether indeed the rock slab hid a tunnel or portal leading to other underground rooms.  Carefully removing dirt and chipping around the perimeter of the slab, we determined that it seemed quite apparently to be a separate piece, carefully fitted into a matching “vacancy” painstakingly cut out for that purpose. But how was the slab fitted into the wall with such close tolerances, and how might it be removed? There was no apparent doorknob.  If this were a moveable ‘door,’ someone with a lot of knowledge and even more patience, must have designed it.

After setting up housekeeping at the cabin we had spent the better part of two days without finding out more.  Our two professionals, the spelunker and the archeologist, suggested that we look for evidence of either another entrance to whatever is behind the slab, or evidence of a way to move the slab.  All five of us are pretty big guys, not all our muscle is between the ears.  It was a struggle but we began moving rocks and boulders seeking another passageway.  On the second day we found an opening leading to another tunnel which appeared to roughly parallel our hidden room (if there were such). Continually searching the rockface we found about seven feet above ‘floor level’ a small opening, which did not appear to be deep, but just a couple feet across and 18” inches deep.  Moving a boulder over in order to see into that space, Dr. Manning stepped up and with a shout of alacrity said “we’ve found it.”  Just barely within reach was an iron rod or bar with a handle-like bend, projecting from the rockface.  We discussed or debated whether we should attempt to pull on it, or what purpose or function it served.  Dr. Manning proposed that after coming this far, and what we’ve found so far, “I’m not leaving here without knowing.”  We chose two of us (Ray and Denny) to retreat partway back along the string trail “just in case we cause an avalanche,” someone can tell the story. 

Dr. Grant, Dr. Manning and I stayed in place. After giving the other two guys fifteen minutes to be out of danger, we three played rock, paper and scissors for the privilege of pulling the rod.  Winning the privilege, I climbed up on a rock where I could reach and pull with more leverage.  I grasped the end that had been fashioned as a handle and started pulling gently at first. Nothing moved. I pulled harder and tried giving the rod a little twisting motion.  Still nothing moved; I twisted and pulled more vigorously!  Suddenly I felt a slight movement; I twisted and pulled even harder; the rod began to be pulled out of the rockface!  As the rod came loose from the rockface a screeching, grinding noise emanated from the main room.  Fearing the possibility of a rockslide or cave-in we rushed to the main room.   As we rounded the corner we stopped in total amazement!  The slab was in fact a door, and it was opening as if under its own power!  We stood, with mouths undoubtedly agape, for what seemed several minutes as the door swung completely open.  Looking through the portal into this newly opened room we could see it was furnished somewhat like the kivas we had seen in Pueblo culture.  On the far side was what appeared to be a polished stone table, likely an altar, on which a body lay.  We approached the altar hesitantly; as we got closer we could see it was the naked body of a man.  It became immediately apparent from pictures we had seen that this was the body of the cowboy, Hank, who had disappeared years ago.

As we reached the table or altar, the material body remained lying there but an identical but ethereal body rose to speak with us!   “Boys,” he said, “I’m so glad you have found me. It seems I’ve been here right nigh two weeks! They’ve taken my clothes, and with all the hocus pocus going on I’m thinking they’ve taken my soul.”

Dr. Manning responded: “Hank, I’m Dr. Manning, an archeologist. I’ve studied, researched, and chased dead ends and rabbit trails for over forty years, specializing in Indian lore and practices.   I’m reluctant to be the one who must tell you; You’ve been here not two weeks or two years but for over two decades.  And yes, for you to have survived this long means ‘they’ have taken your soul. We don’t know who ‘they’ are, or what’s going on but ‘they’ are keeping you alive but separated from your soul for their own purposes.  The fact that they’ve let us in, and let us find you, may suggest they have finished their purpose.  We’re going to try to get you out.”

Dr. Manning got a light tarp from our supplies, telling me we would lay Hank’s body on it and take him out, hoping the unseen ‘they’ would permit his soul to return to his body.  As we started to lift Hank’s body (as it appeared to us), it was as if the body was just air or smoke.  Our hands came up empty, and his body just slowly evaporated. Our poignant dismay at losing Hank, our total shock at seeing it happen as it did, were palpable.  Dr. Manning said, “we need to get out of here.”  As we were about to leave, I expressed an engineer’s wish to see how that slab in the portal worked, what kind of mechanical genius existed in that era.  Dr. Manning said we’ll come back when we can.

The Takeaway

On reaching the surface we loaded our gear in the Jeeps and signaled Ray and Denny to follow us.  We had almost reached the highway when we felt an underground rumble which grew stronger as we drove.  Looking back, we could see rocks and boulders tumbling and being thrown about.  Had we stayed to examine the portal we would have been entombed.  As we watched we knew we would never again be able to enter that portal.

By Lee Weaver
You can read more of Lee’s work at: https://www.tumbleweeds-weaver.com/