Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Northern Arizona US 89 Closure and the Strange Lights, Great Basin State Park, Nevada

Trouble called when the phone beeped. It was Embry Hamilton. A chill ran down my spine when Embry asked me to meet him at the Happy Valley Hilton in Arizona. I was back in Boise and had delivered my Colorado trip report to Louise Hamilton, an accounting of my Boulder journey to look for her husband who had disappeared seven years ago. Before Louise officially declared Embry dead, she had hired me for a last search.
          Three months before, I had started my investigation with a trip to Las Vegas.  Louise then directed me to a former girl friend in Boulder, Colorado. When I met Becky Sue in Boulder, she admitted that Embry had come to see her that summer. He was depressed and fearful, so Becky arranged for an isolated retreat by a stream in the Flatiron foothills northwest of the college town.
According to Becky, Embry had been caught in the September 100-year Colorado rains and swept away, his body not yet found. I visited the site of the ranch house and a local told me he had seen a man struggling in the flood waters, and the man managed to emerge downstream, vanishing into the forest.
I called Louise after Embry’s strange phone call and she urged me to visit Arizona. As I had friends in Scottsdale, I planned a trip in late January with mixed emotions. Perhaps the phone call was a hoax.

It was a day and half drive from Boise to Happy Valley, a sprawling mall on I-17 at the northern edge of Phoenix. I checked in at the Hilton and tried Embry’s number, but no one picked up so I left a voice mail and my room number.
          After a restless afternoon walking the vast complex, I returned to the Hilton and found a note under my door. I opened it, seeing a crude, hand-drawn map that ran north on I-17, turned east on I-40, and then exited to US 89 north through Northern Arizona and Utah. To the west of Delta, Utah there was a square marked, “Wauneta Inn”. There was a notation for a 5PM meeting the next day. The paper was signed EH, Embry Hamilton?
          Studying the map, I concluded Embry wanted a meeting at the Wauneta Inn. I did a quick Google search and saw the trip was about 550 miles north. The inn appeared to be a solitary spot in the Great Basin Desert close to the Nevada border.
          I left the next morning and soon was in Hopi land, which melded into the sprawling Navajo Reservation. I was about 30 miles south of Page, Arizona when I ran into a roadblock, a crude sign saying 89 was closed due to a landslide, so I took the winding 89A which runs through the colorful Vermillion Cliffs.
          Stopping for snacks, I entered an Indian trading post and noted an attractive, sharp featured woman in a leather dress at the cash register. She eyed me suspiciously as I asked about the US 89 landslides, replying it was a geologic event.
I inquired if the handicrafts were Navajo and she frowned, saying they were Paiute. And then added: “We are Aztecan and before the Spanish came, the Paiute Nation included Arizona, California, parts of Nevada, Idaho, and Oregon. The west coast was Paiute.”
          I nodded, impressed.
          “If only…” she started, and then let her thought float.
          I bought a Paiute braided belt, a drink and a sandwich as I did not want to stop for lunch. I followed the old Mormon Wagon Trail, passing through Jacob Lake into Kanab, Utah where I found 89 once again, which skirts between Zion to the west and Bryce to the east. The scenery in Southern Utah is dramatic as on my right were the Vermillion pink and white cliffs, and then the Escalante Petrified Forest.  
          Linking up with US 50 I headed west through the small town of Delta, Utah for the Nevada border. It was dark now and after an hour, I saw in my headlights a small, red structure which announced itself as the Wauneta Inn, eerily alone in the high desert. There was a light on in the last room on the right of the inn, but otherwise the place seemed deserted.
          The room door was open, so I settled myself in the Spartan setting, using the small bathroom, splashing my face and wondering what to expect next. I was jolted when suddenly I heard a roar and banging outside where I saw bright lights. Exiting cautiously, I turned the corner of my room and was blinded by what I thought must be a diesel pickup truck with spotlights.
          As I stood shielding my eyes, a silhouetted figure appeared in the glaring lights. I started to back away, but he spoke.
          “Tell them Embry is gone,” the man said in a deep voice. “They should forget him. Embry Hamilton is with us now.”
          Before I could reply there was a strange “whoosh” and I was catapulted backward, my head hitting the ground, then blackness.
          It was early morning light when I groggily awoke to find myself in the bed and under the blanket. It was bitterly cold and I shivered as I looked around warily, finding the room empty. I cautiously went to the door and peeked out, but all was quiet. I went outside and around the corner, but there was nothing, no tire tracks. I rubbed my head, feeling a bump. A few feet from where I had been standing there was a large stone. Apparently I had fallen backwards and hit my head. But who had taken me into the room and put me to bed?
          I was unnerved and jumpy so I got in my SUV and headed west. Once I got to Ely, Nevada it was a straight shot north to Boise. I drove for an hour and found a sign announcing the Great Basin National Park. Ahead near the park entrance was a lone Conoco Station and I pulled in, needing a coffee.
          Inside I found a tallish man with a blond mustache and a wispy goatee flashing a friendly smile. He bid me good morning and asked where I was coming from.
          I told him the Wauneta Inn and his eyebrows rose in surprise.
          “You must have seen the lights last night.”
          I hesitated and he continued.
          “There were strange lights in the sky. My girl lives near the Wauneta and saw them. We think it must have been one of those experimental planes from Area-51. Of course the old timers around here think …” and he put a finger in the air, circling it while making a “whoo-whoo” sound.
We laughed and then a voice sounded from the back: “Strange lights can be from here or from the night sky.”
We turned to see a young man in cargo pants and a khaki shirt with a backpack over his shoulder emerging from the rest room. He struck me as a Wanderer, one of those that can pass seamlessly between the parallel universes theorized by quantum mechanics.
“But maybe it was something else, he added with a smile.
 The attendant leaned forward and asked. “Like what else.”
“Magic”, the young man responded.
 I got a large coffee with a doughnut, and then I was back on US 50 heading to Ely, thinking about the service station encounter. Had I really seen a pickup truck at the Wauneta?

 The central question was why? And who or what had taken Embry Hamilton?

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