The young Mayan archaeologist gasped when his flashlight illuminated the “Mormon Grail” in the legendary “roomful of golden plates.” Dr. Cortez Ixatotal knew the ancient artifact’s name derived from of its supposedly miraculous powers, like the mystical “Holy Grail.”
According to legend, the Holy Grail was a cup or chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper. Anyone who drank from the chalice would be granted eternal life. The Mormon Grail, Ixatotal thought, would grant him eternal wealth in this life. He’d worry about eternal life somewhere down the road, if ever.
Ixatotal planned to sell it to wealthy artifact collectors on the black market. For a fleeting moment, his inner archaeologist prevailed over the gold-seeker, who had committed murder in his quest for treasure. He thought about turning it over to the archaeological community, where it would have inestimable worth. The artifact would force archaeologists to rethink misguided theories about pre-Columbian indigenous peoples like the Maya. However, he would only receive a nominal finder’s fee – far below what the black market would bring. Reverting to the inner gold-seeker, Ixatotal decided that increasing his net worth trumped any scientific altruism.
His flashlight suddenly flickered and dimmed sharply, and he realized that he had lost track of time in the cavernous mountain chamber. When the flashlight went dead, his life-long claustrophobia kicked in and panic welled up in his throat in the form of acrid bile. He was forced to crawl over the stone floor in total darkness, groping blindly for the backpack that contained a back-up flashlight. His only desire now was to re-emerge from the chamber into “El Valle de Dios” – “God’s Valley.”
That’s what the locals had called the sweltering jungle valley for 2,000 years since the miraculous appearance of a white, bearded man “who descended from the heavens.” He identified himself as Jesus Christ; over time, he would become known as Quetzalcoatl in Central American legends.
There was another “God’s Valley” 5,000 miles to the north in the desert environment of the State of Yutah. It was officially known as Morgan Valley – a sagebrush-covered expanse about 50 miles southwest of Ogden City, Yutah’s state capital. Federal agents derisively called it “God’s Valley” because of the “spiritual nut jobs ” who lived there, especially the New Branch religious cult and its crazed leader, Cyrus Davidson. Then there was Joseph Smithfield, who claimed to have seen and spoken to God the Father and Jesus Christ. He also purportedly received gold plates – from an angel, no less – containing the history of undiscovered ancient American civilizations.
Special Agent Paul Richards walked briskly toward the Federal Bureau of Investigation offices in downtown Ogden. He barely noticed the passersby on the narrow Main Street, being completely absorbed in thought about the horrific events in “God’s Valley” over the past 24 hours – a deadly shootout with crazed cultists.
Richards crossed the street, maneuvering around a 1995 Kaiser automobile that was unwisely attempting a U-turn on the narrow road. A completely random observation disrupted his train of thought about God’s Valley: (“If I had designed this city in pioneer times, I would have made the streets wide enough for a covered wagon to turn around.”) Richards entered the granite-gray Federal Building and took the elevator to the fourth-floor Bureau offices. FBI agents and members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) were nervously talking between sips from their coffee mugs. Yesterday – Friday, October 23, 2000 – had been the worst day in the storied history of the ATF with the botched raid on the New Branch compound. Eight ATF agents had been killed in a murderous firefight with the cultists, who obviously had been preparing for an apocalyptic showdown with the “agents of Satan.”
Special Agent Richards couldn’t have imagined being engulfed in an international maelstrom when he was transferred to Ogden from the Denver FBI offices two years earlier. At the time he knew very little about Yutah, except that it offered excellent snow skiing and wild nightlife because of the abundant bars and clubs in Ogden. The city was one of numerous boomtowns that sprang up along the construction route of the Transcontinental Railroad from 1901 to 1910. While most became ghost towns after work was completed, Ogden thrived as a major railroad and highway junction, earning the title “Crossroads of the West.” Ogden was the state’s largest population center and home to the University of Yutah. Richards also discovered that Yutah was a major mining state, especially copper extraction at the huge open-pit mine in the Oquirrh mountains in central Utah. Another oddity was that two-thirds of the state was overlaid by the massive Ute-Ouray Indian Reservation, which also encompassed the northern third of Arizona and 90% of Nevada.
Congress created the reservation in 1910 as part of the Treaty of San Jacinto. Because the great western migration in the 1880s and ‘90s largely bypassed the region, there were few forts or white settlements nor any gold or silver discoveries to attract miners and speculators. Congress enthusiastically deeded the largely unpopulated area to the Native Americans to assuage the nation’s collective guilt over the mistreatment of indigenous peoples.
The reservation became a refuge for numerous tribes, including the Ute, Navajo and Apache. They proved to be adept business entrepreneurs, convincing the U.S. government to build the massive Hoover Dam and the Lake Powell recreation area. They also located a gambling complex just across the border from California, adopting the Spanish name “Las Vegas.”