GRAND JUNCTION (AP) – Upstream from the point where the Colorado River cuts across the 39th parallel near Grand Junction, it leaves behind a land of myth.
Upstream lies a city of gold. Upstream lies the fabled home of the Aztecs.
“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.
“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, Spanish explorer Juan Rivera passed through, seeking a lost colony of Spaniards living on the banks of el Rio Tizon, now called the Colorado River. Hernan Cortes, back in 1541, heard tales of the riches hidden away on the river.
Cortes’ map clearly shows the Seven Cities at the coordinates of what is now believed to be Fifth Street and Ute Avenue in Grand Junction.
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 from the Western Investigations Team, a partnership exploring Colorado’s western border.
The display features Kannah Creek and the relics it has uncovered. Beneath a clear plastic dome are several specimens found by researchers from the museum and Colorado Mesa University.
A billet, or a rectangular chunk of steel that likely would have been hammered into a sword of Spanish steel, and a ball of shot are preserved 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.
The most recent occupants of the Grand Valley, the Ute tribe, also figure into the tales.
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.”