Many years ago, I had occasion to hike from Moab, Utah, through the desert to the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers– about 10 miles from the nearest road. Moab has become a vacationing and recreational destination in recent years. But in those days, before the development of the nearby national park and the laying of roads and trails, it was a quiet, dusty place, alone in the empty desert, and kind of eerie.
The hike was arduous. The tracings of a foot trail gave the faint suggestion of a route, but basically the trip was a matter of hiking west until I reached the river. I had been warned in a Moab bar about scorpions and rattlesnakes in the desert, especially in the rocks I would have to cross, but I didn’t see anything of them.
It took nearly four hours to reach the river, where I found that the hike was worth the effort. The confluence of the Green and Colorado was spectacular. It lay at the bottom of a 1,000-foot-deep gorge, completely inaccessible from where I stood on the rim. The canyon was bounded by reddish-brown walls, as vertical as if they had been chopped by a meat cleaver, surrounded by skirts of talus below. There were strips of greenery clinging to the banks of the rivers, but otherwise I could see nothing but reddish brown rock.
To the horizon in every direction lay smooth plates of sandstone covered with rubble, polished and fractured through eons of time. And there was no sound, except for wind nattering at my hat and the ageless rushing of the merging rivers far below. In the empty silence, the confluence was immense and beautiful.
The sudden appearance of something so vast and unexpected in the flat stony desert drew a gasp from me.and a charge of vertigo. I was overwhelmed by it, it was something beyond my capacities to comprehend. Standing there alone on the brink, I became un-nerved, as though I had stepped across a threshold of some kind, off the brink and into thin air.
As I calmed myself, I began to sense how alone I was in this universe of emptness. In the silence I felt no loneliness, but there was a sense of waiting, almost foreboding, as enormous forces moved within the landscape, infinitely slowly, toward a sought-for future. The rocks were alive, they seemed to roar just below the level of my hearing, and they enveloped me in the pure joy of my brief life in this universe.
I stood for a long time and then. to my surprise, I saw a strange man walking along the rim toward me, right on the edge,. He was the only other person I had seen that day. As he approached, I could see that he was an older man, of some indeterminate age, wearing faded clothes and worn boots, and carrying a tattered backpack. He had a big gray beard and a stained brown hat.
The man approached me warily, as though I had surprised him, as though he had not expected to see me there. But after a moment we began speaking to each other, in the usual pleasantries. He gazed out over the canyon with me, and after a few minutes he settled himself onto a rock and began to talk—to me, yes, but mostly to himself and to the landscape.
He spoke about Erik von Danikin’s theories that the earth was colonized by aliens thousands of years before. He spoke of ancient ruins and unexplained anomalies in the earth’s surface. He described how the ancient visitors had laid directional grids for navigation all across the earth—from the Pyramids to Stonehenge to Easter Island and so forth. Then he said that this spectacular confluence of rivers, visible from satellites, was a point of conjunction for the alien tracings.
As he spoke, he became increasingly engrossed in what he was saying, and he seemed to forget I was there. He spoke in a quiet affectless monotone and seemed to drift into a trance. I was careful not to break his spell, because I became fascinated with what he was saying. I had never heard anything like Von Danikin’s theories before.
As the man continued to talk, I gazed across the canyon and listened to the wind and the rush of the distant rivers. After a while he stopped speaking and sat quietly. Then, saying nothing further, he stood up and walked away along the rim.
I don’t believe the nonsense about aliens or von Daniken’s fairy tales, but standing out there on the brink that day, in the immense silence of the universe, suspended between the endless sky and the empty depths below the rim, I felt a wild plausibility.
Because there is power in a good story.