Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Devil's Fire You Say?

We have visited, hiked around, geo-logged, photographed and posted about Devil's Fire many times now. And it still seems to draw a lot of attention from out-of-area visitors — some from great distances.

And actually I have posted more maps to the place than just about anywhere else.   [For free Google Earth files of this area see: Fire and Man  —  Devil's Fire - The Hike  —  Ride 12: Devil's Fire Hike  —  Devil's and Kurt's  —  Mud Wash and Devil's  —  and Petro and Oasis] [Type in "Devil's Fire" up in the right-hand-corner search box and see how many articles have mentioned the area.]

With all that, you might well imagine… that I've answered quite a few emails for future travelers and communicated with many web-visitors. One of whom is a new friend, Jim Dunaway, a professional choral conductor turned professional photographer, who has posted several supurb photographs of "the Fire" on his web site: Jim Dunaway Photos – [select "Galleries III --> Southern Nevada," and if you're at work quickly turn off the sound cause there's music. Otherwise listen to his choir.]   These two beautiful photographs are his - with permission.

A 20-year Augusta Georgia transplant from Southern Utah (Cedar City), Jim writes in his Bio that in high school he spent 2 summers at a fine arts summer camp where he took classes from a soft spoken "Elder Gentleman" who seemed extremely skilled but a bit eccentric in that he would bring several freshly printed and developed black and white photographs to each class only to ritually, and with flourish, tear them all up at the end of class! The man was Ansel Adams (possibly before he had become… well … Ansel!)

I've had several conversations with Jim over the past month explaining the area, its issues and how it got its name(s). A lot was explained. He said that when he and a fellow photographer had visited the area, they noticed that there seemed to be some confusion on the name of the area, among other questions.

Jim… A bit about the stew in which we exist in this area might give better answer to some of your questions. The very fact that native Americans called this "home" and left ancient markings on the hills has/is feeding conflicts of interest sometimes bordering on hysteria. At least one conservation group, initially formed and funded to fight issues around and about Lake Mead, seemed to need a cause after it was over so Gold Butte became their new issue — much to the detriment of the major senior population who need some conveyance to be able to visit the sites which is now prohibited. Locals have well established uses and attachment for the area. And local politicians masquerade their vested interests as moral (conservation) principles to obtain things like new airports.

Overlaid on everyone's vested interests are the several self-styled "collectors and publishers of Internet photos" in the area. Intent on having everyone "see what I've seen and you haven't" but not wanting anyone else to be able to see it too, their sites publish photographs but give directions and names which are deliberately confusing or false. I've spoken to some - and, although they admit they deliberately obfuscate/lie, they seem to think it's better to have people wandering all over the desert searching, than to be able to stay on an established trail. All of them seem to feel that no one else can be trusted… except their friends.

All three names are used (Hobgoblin and "Finland") - by Internet volume, Devil's Fire wins. Ask yourself, now that you've actually seen the site, which of the three makes the most sense? The names "Oasis" and "Lone Palm" or "Palms" for the seep in front of the bluff are clearly recent names as well.

There is significant precedence for the name "Devil's" being used by early settlers to the area - they seemed taken back by the stark other-worldly nature of the area; hence the names: Devil's Throat, Hell's Kitchen and Devil's Cove - other well known area landmarks. Valley Of Fire is just a stone's throw and gives area-precedence for the brilliant red rocks being called "Fire." The bizarre weathering of those at Devil's Fire easily reminded them of the flames of the underworld.

He wrote back and said that while visiting the Valley of Fire visitor center he had met a man who claimed that he was the one who had "discovered" the site and seemed a bit incensed at the other names. Unfortunately Jim didn't record the mans name. I explained what I had learned over several years of reading and talking with "natives."

Jim... I am a "snowbird" to the area, but of substantial scientific bent and a hard-to-understand, late life interest in Native American Rock Art. Trying to make sense of the area, before the BLM and the so-called "friends of Gold Butte" close the entire area off to seniors, I am a "collector" (of sorts) of historical anecdotes which might add color to my blog about "snowbirding" in the area.

I would appreciate meeting the fellow who claimed to be the "finder" of the area and perhaps hear his story first hand, as I have to date (except seeing a pioneer journal entry with my own eyes) only second hand information from an "archaeologist" acquaintance in St. George.

I do realize that some locals (more non-locals) call it Hobgoblins and some "little Finland." More recently the term "Devil's Fire" was found in an early pioneer letter/journal so that name seems more correct. However, like you, I am just a Johnnie-come-lately to the "discussion." I do know that it was called "Devil's Fire" in a letter/journal many years before any currently living person stumbled upon it. Of course the chronicler, not having heard of any earlier "stumbler's" name, called it what it looked like to her.

Jim asked what the BLM had to say about its name and advised that his friend was writing an article for publication, he thought using the name "Hobgoblin." I expanded on the events of my historical search in the "Mesquite Museum" which seemed to "complicate" the issue.

I too was confused by actually THREE different names for one "location" (Oasis, Hobgoblins, Finland) which seemed to have different descriptions depending upon who I was talking to. Being mainly interested in discovering Native American Rock Writing, I was in contact with an "archaeologist" in St. George who has done academic research on the site. He related what he knew about the names, stating that there were two "discoverers" and that he also knew one of them personally.

What he told me was that one of them "found" it (we're talking in the last 50 or so years) and named it one thing. Then he took another person, a photographer, to the site who apparently felt the name was off base, so henceforth and from then on called it the other name. My contact told me that the "argument" over whose name was more descriptive and who had seen it "first" still raged on to this day.

Discouraged, I merely began writing using the "double-name," until trying to find photographs one day at the Historical Museum in Mesquite. The "index" system not being the most complete (or accurate) at the center - I needed to merely sit and peruse stacks of papers in folders, newspapers and "diaries" or "journal entries."

In a manilla folder I saw five or six pages on very old paper, written possibly a hundred or so years ago. They were hand-written, in a flowing-like hand, possibly 5x8 inches (definitely smaller than writing paper of today), and looked like they were part of either a very long letter, or someones journal (it seemed to me to sound like a journal); but it was definitely not complete. It was written in a fairly "flowery" or "Old-English" type manner. One section of it didn't seem like it could be talking about anything except the area in question. The curator said that the museum's copy machine was broken at the time so I scribbled a few notes, not really considering historical archaeological methodology at the time.

It said basically that: she had been "traveling down by the river" with some companions and of necessity "took rest by a seep which proved to be the most refreshing" for not only her "body but her soul as well." She described it as "having water the most refreshing" of any in the area and "'neath cliffs of curious form." No wonder, she said, that natives frequented the area and "consider it a sacred place." She voiced the opinion that the rock formations, even back then, looked to her eyes like "Beelzibub himself had hand in its creation", and called it the "Devil's own flames of fire."

At the time, even though I knew of the current day arguments, I didn't anticipate needing to defend what I had found so put the pages back into their folder. Now that I'm back trying to find it again, it seems as though everything in the museum has been re-located. I've spent many hours trying to "re-find" the folder to no avail - but keep looking.

Although the writer of the pages didn't mention palm trees (actually a point in her favor as I understand they are non-native species) there is no question in my mind that she is speaking of the same location. There are ancient petroglyphs on the rocks, which would have made the area sacred to native Americans and the rocks, forgive me, look to my eyes superbly more like the "Devil's own flames of fire" [Devil's Fire] than any so-called Hobgoblin or Little Finland.

I know from a scientific standpoint this is not definitive - and one can still choose to believe what he wants to believe - but I just thought that I might convince you to join me in my obsessive tendency to bring order to the universe.

Finally, Jim wrote back and advised that his friends article had been published with all three names not wanting to be the "grand jury" on the naming issue; and offered that I shouldn't worry about it bringing a "tidal wave" of unhealthy visitors to the area.

As you did guess, I AM happy to see that what I consider the "real" name (Fire) at least got a mention in the Hitchman article. Once again I've done my part to diminish a little corner of the worlds entropy! I tell you, it's exhausting and demands far to many words to be going on with.

Do not for a moment, however, pigeon-hole me with the poor souls who are afraid of sharing. I remember too well that I also am but a guest in this area and have only recently been through my own "Ellis Island" of sorts migrating to it. However, I confess, it seems often that I am only writing the "minority opinion" on that issue.

p.s. - You do know that the term "Little Fin-land" refers to the formations shaped like Fins (ie fishes) not the country? I find that is one of the more common questions I receive on my blog - especially from people residing in the country of the same name. [Unlike the petroglyph site "Khota Circus" which was reportedly named for the town of its "discoverers" mother's birth].


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