Lizard King
©2019 Raymond Cannefax

Being addicted to music is considerably different than an addiction to heroin, opioids, sex or booze, but it’s still an addiction. I am addicted to music.

On a recent drive toward Hovenweep, my subconscious suggested listening to The Doors – the band fronted by the late Jim Morrison, and three others; music I’ve not listened to in years. I consented, and let The Doors serve as my auditory entertainment and distraction from the endless black ribbon I was rolling down; the black snake that slithers on forever.  Between Montezuma Creek and Hovenweep the speakers in the cab of my pickup truck sounded as though I was front row at any concert hall; loud, soothing and stimulating. The biggest difference? b I was the only person at this concert.

In a song recorded at one of The Doors Concerts, I think Hollywood Bowl, Jim belts out, “I am the Lizard King, I can do anything.” Memory tells me that Morrison himself, as well as the media back in the day, often referred to Jim as the Lizard King. The media picked up on that alter ego and DJ’s pumped the Lizard King persona; radio had given a spiritual value to a singer whose lyrics filled the ears and consciousness of those tuned to the airways that delivered the music of the Lizard King and The Doors.

Listening to the songs that comprise the Celebration of the Lizard King reminded me of the enchantment and search for understanding lyrics that Jim Morrison, aka the Lizard King, delivered to the minds of our generation, minds often in altered states. I smiled as I continued rolling down the traffic-free back road. Hovenweep was close, but the signage seemed poor. Maybe the signage was good, and my attention to the signage was poor. 

Hovenweep, way off the beaten track, is a series of several well-preserved ruins left behind by an ancient civilization that once inhabited the area now known as SE Utah and SW Colorado, the four-corners region. Many of the buildings remain unrestored. The Ancients built wonderful structures of natural stone on the rims of canyons and inside the small canyons created over milenia, by water; canyons or grandiose depressions on the high and flat plateau. The high and flat plains of the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah have no mountains, yet there exist canyons such as Hovenweep.  

It is known that ancient beings inhabited this region. They left stuff behind; pottery, tools, bowls woven from grasses. Written records are etched into rock walls. Beautifully decorated clay pots were abundant in and near the ruins. It is speculated that an advanced ancient civilization was present at Hovenweep for 300 to 500 years, circa 900 AD to 1,300 AD. No one has a clear answer in respect to from where they came. No one knows why they left and why their departure seemed to have been very abrupt, or where they went. Truth is, no one knows.

There are mysteries associated with the Ancients. Some speculate they became the Hopi, Utes, Pueblo, and possibly other Native American tribes. If that is the case, why the abrupt abandonment of their sound and wonderful stone structures and personal belongings. Archaeologists claim human inhabitants in this area up to 10,000 years ago, but archaeologist can only speculate, and none have provided answers regarding the abrupt departure. There is speculation, but no one knows. 

There are mysteries tied to this region. For me, personally, there is an eerie sense of something in the air other than oxygen and what little humidity the high desert allows. It is as though there is a spiritual mantel cloaking the region. I am not a very spiritual person, but I seem to enter a state of greater awareness, relaxation and calm, accompanied by increased inquisitiveness and focus when I come here. Perhaps the Ancients vaporized into spiritual beings who are still present. No one knows. 

The National Park Service Hovenweep website states: Hovenweep units are isolated, and GPS units may lead you astray. Why would GPS, at Hovenweep, not work as it does on other parts of our planet?  No one knows.

Upon arriving at Hovenweep, I stopped and spoke with the ranger to get a feel for what was going on, what weather projections were, etc. Then I did something I don’t do. Rather than claiming a spot in the campground, I left the truck parked in the visitor center parking lot, grabbed my camera and a bottle of water and headed immediately for the ruins. I didn’t even think about that until I was a considerable distance down the trail, headed to the Twin Towers ruin. ‘So what, I thought, it’s not busy; I won’t risk not getting a camping place.’ I did acknowledge that it was not my usual behavior to not secure a camping place before doing anything else.

Hovenweep trails are well marked and wildlife abounds. The ranger did warn of rattlesnakes being on the trail. All I saw was lizards, butterflies, bees and birds. Lizards seemed excessively prevalent, but as soon as they saw or heard me coming, they scampered off into the brush or under rocks or down into the canyon. Most were small to medium in size, but I did see a couple of big guys with multi-colored bodies, their yellowish heads obvious before fading to green and then brown tails. The big guys sized up the situation before blasting into the brush, giving me a chance to get a momentary glance at them. There were a lot of lizards.

After finishing my hike around the ruins I was able to reach without going off-trail and getting a few good photos, I concluded that all seemed in order. No reason why things should be out of order, except that the prevalent, daily afternoon winds accompanied by puffy, white, cotton-ball like clouds had not made their appearance yet and it was getting late in the afternoon.  

As during an earlier visit, I was amazed at what these early inhabitants, the Ancients, built so many centuries ago without machinery or knowledge of metallurgy to fashion tools. It was all done by hand. Stone by stone being selected and moved to the site of the building, then shaped, with wood and rock, to fit atop or beside the stones already in the wall and cemented in place. One stone after another and another until the wall was completed. One of the many interesting element of the Hovenweep structures is that most are double wall buildings; twice the work necessary for the buildings they inhabited. It is now common knowledge that an air pocket between an outside wall and an inside wall provides insulation, not radiating the heat of the outside stones into the interior of a structure. Today we  use fiberglass insulation to achieve what the Ancients achieved by building that second wall. How did they know about the insulating qualities of dead space between outside and inside walls? Though their tools were rudimentary, their knowledge of structures seems quite advanced. Where did they gain that knowledge? Another unanswered question. No one knows.

Granted, in Europe during that period in time, civilization and technology had advance to where great cathedrals and castles were being built.  European civilizations had metallurgy and machinery to facilitate the construction of massive structures. Romans built lengthy stone aqueducts in Spain and Italy, bridging canyons over one-hundred feet high, with massive archways to support the canals that allow water to flow from inland cisterns from miles away, to town, but;they had Titus and Hadrian. Two-thousand years later, many of these aqueducts still stand and we marvel at their beauty and continued functionality. In Europe water was plentiful. In the south-west desert of north America, water was precious because it was, and remains such a scarce commodity.  

Aside from the size of the structures, some up to four stories high, the placement of stones in the buildings the Ancients constructed at Hovenweep was nearly as precise as what was being constructed in Europe – tight joints, curved walls, door and window openings with massive wood or stone lintels. There are similarities, but the rudimentary fashion of the structures in America still sets them apart from the architecturally refined European buildings of that time. 

Concrete was commonly used in Europe during that period. In America, the floors were dirt and the paths linking the structures were stone. The most likely reason for concrete was, perhaps, the abundance of water available to European builders. Concrete requires considerable amounts of water. The lack of water in the desert regions of north America didn’t allow concrete, even if  knowledge of conrete existed. The Ancients did have mortar. There appears to have been sufficient water for mortar which the Ancients employed in the construction of the numerous structures that comprise Hovenweep. In this region of the Ancients, the desert, water was one of the most valuable commodities and to this date, remains such.  The Ancients and other tribes gather around sources of drinkable water, like the springs at Hovenweep..

As I mentally reviewed and analyzed the ruins I’d studies and photographed that afternoon, such thoughts roamed through my head.

I’d managed to get the photos I wanted with the light offered by the afternoon sun. In the morning I would return to the ruins and utilize morning light for photos from the other side of what I’d photographed that afternoon. It was time to get settled in for the coming night. No snakes; just birds feeding on insects, bees gathering pollen, and lizards; lizards everywhere.  

Thanks to the cooling winds that finally materialized, the evening was pleasant. Without electrical power at my camping spot, I used the plugs in the community restroom to charge my phone and camera batteries. Because of my addiction, the music continued, but moved from The Doors to the soothing and more calming tunes of Crosby, Stills & Nash – Young may have been with them on the cuts I was listening to, but I didn’t give Neil much thought. It’s my addiction, the music rarely stops.

My thoughts remained entrenched in how these ancient desert canyon dwellers were capable of the precision reflected by the ruins that remain, the ruins I visited today. To divert my focus and calm the mind I pulled out Edward Abbey’s book about his experiences during the time he spent, some fifty years ago, in this part America, Desert Solitaire. The sky slowly turned from the afternoon’s pale blue to a deep purple as the day came to an end. The summer solstice had taken place two days earlier, during my stay at Monument Valley, and the waning moon rose brightly over the mountains to the east, in Colorado. 

The light show being put on by the millions of stars in the sky was more soothing than any man-made entertainment could ever be. Sparkling, most white, some bright amber, one a shade of red, and others with a bluish hue to them. The more time passed, the more stars joined the show being put on above. They danced about, bounced off one another and helped activate the serotonin in my brain. Falling asleep early is not unusual when camping but the entertainment provided by the heavens prolonged my slipping into slumber. Considering the light show above me, I decided to sleep in the bed of my pickup truck, rather than in my tent, and let the dancing stars in the skies above lull me to sleep.

When you fall asleep early, you wake early. Before dawn, with Venus to the south-west and a few stars still visible above, I woke and slowly began preparing for the day. The songs of the birds, swallows and wrens, and an occasional blackbird screech, began shortly after waking and before the sun was yet visible, and as the dark blue sky was gradually gaining a lighter hue of blue, it stole the stars and took away the night.

I had pictures to take that morning and stuff to put away. I’d forgotten my coffee pot. Regretfully, the NPS visitor centers do not offer coffee – something they might reconsider for poor folk like me who are now forced to charge into the new day without the aid of caffeine. I considered asking owners of the trailers near me if they could help me with this other addiction. But there were no lights or people stirring. I presume when camping in trailers, you miss the overhead light-show and perhaps stay up later, causing trailer campers to sleep later. 

My phone was recharged. Not that it mattered as there is no cellular service at Hovenweep or most the surrounding area, but it did matter because my phone is my music source. I put in my earbuds as I assembled my stuff for the hike. “Is everyone in? Is everybody in? Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin….”, Morrison’s soft cry to those who listened as he began singing Backdoor Man which flows directly into Five to One – “five to one, one to five, nobody here gets out alive…”. There was something mysterious about how the Lizard King put lyrics together and mesmerized his followers. I still can’t describe whatever it was that he did to pull us in, but it worked. Though dead almost fifty years, he still gets my attention as I listen and ponder what he was trying to tell us, if anything. Perhaps as with the Ancients, no one knows.  

Daylight, a gulp of OJ to get my vitamins and aspirin down. Half a precooked but cold Bratwurst for breakfast. A little more OJ to swish the bratwurst particles from between my teeth. Two bottles of water for what would be a longer tour of the ruins than yesterday and timing my trek toward the trail for the light to be close to right when I reached the square tower ruin; thirty to forty minutes. I was ready to attack the ruins once again, with camera and lenses to steal the light for that brief fraction of a second required to transport the image to the camera’s memory card. Not so many years ago, the light sensitive chemicals on celluloid film capture the light that would be transformed into photos. Today, light is captured and held within a flat plastic electronic memory device that is plugged into a computer and upon transferring the digital data on that card to a computer, the photos appear on a monitor. The silver oxide on celluloid film and on photo printing paper continues to remain superior to electronic printed images for black and white photos, and in many cases, color photos, particularly those made from slides.

For the first times in years, instead of the small backpack in which I usually carry my camera, I decide to use only my camera strap to carry my camera on this hike. I have a small water bottle carrier that straps around my waist and realize that I must abandon the second bottle; it only accommodates one bottle. I choose my hiking boots instead of my Nike’s because I intentionally intend to stray off the path on which visitors are asked to stay. A short trail from the campground puts me on the Ruins Trail to the structures positioned around the canyon in which about two-hundred-fifty Ancients once lived. Access to the canyon is restricted, but there is a four-story stone tower at the bottom and near the head of the canyon.  The canyon head is where the water from the springs originate and is the most westerly part of this gash in the vast plateau that spreads endlessly in all directions from Hovenweep. Memory from prior visits remind me of where to descend into the canyon from the shallower east end. The small springs at the head of the canyon continues as the water source the Ancients enjoyed. The springs are also the force of nature that carved this canyon out of the Colorado Plateau; hundreds of centuries of water eroding the plateau’s surface.

Lizards run rampant in the cool morning, eating insects that vanish when the heat of the sun raises the ground’s temperature by twenty to thirty degrees. The higher the sun, the hotter the temperature, hence morning activity. This again brings to question, what were these Ancients doing in such an unfriendly place? Was it the harsh desert it is now? What or who brought them here and abandoned them to survive in such an inhospitable environment? Why did they build the beautiful and massive structures that continued to remain standing for all the centuries that have passed since the Ancients vanished? No one knows. 

As I walked along, lizards scampered to hide under brush and rocks. I watch for rattlesnakes, but after all my time in the desert, I have only seen one. In New Mexico's Organ Mountains, a startled rattler struck the foot peg of the dirt-bike I rode on a remote mountain trail. They feel the vibrations of our steps as we near them. Ninety-nine percent of the time they slither off long before we get near them. 

The trail falls and rises through the various slight depressions of this almost completely flat landscape. About a quarter mile down the trail I come to a three-foot rise with a large boulder to my left. I see a lizard, prone, laying near the top of the boulder. This lizard doesn’t scamper off, but instead, watches my approach. I’d wanted to photograph one of these guys since I’d begun my trip days earlier. There it sat, looking at me from atop the rock, providing me an exceptional opportunity to take its picture. Why? No one knows.   

They’re everywhere in this barren land, and everywhere I’ve encountered them, they scamper off the minute they detect my presence, perhaps even before I see them. I pulled the camera’s strap off my shoulder, removed the lens cap, focused on the lizard and pushed the shutter button. Nothing. Not the usual click. I clicked again. Nothing. Through the viewfinder I continue to see black. I check to see if the camera is turned on. It was on. Because there was no power, my next thought was that perhaps I’d inserted the recharged battery incorrectly. Opening the lid to the battery compartment, I was astonished to find that there was no battery. Damn it, I’d forgotten to slide the battery back into the camera. I’d left it sitting on either the pick-nick table or on the seat of my truck. I was angry with myself. Though my phone takes pictures, the quality is not what I want for a photo of such a small creature. 

“Shit,” was the only utterance I was capable of as I closed the battery compartment door. I’d wanted the photo of that lizard, the only one that had given me the opportunity, and I couldn’t take it. Turing around, I began the trek back to the campground to get the battery so I could accomplish my original objective of photographing the ruins in the early morning light. I was losing time. That meant I was losing the lighting I wanted for most my early morning photos.

Backtracking to the campground, the thought occurred that had it not been for the lizard, I’d have hiked another mile-and-a-half to the first ruin before realizing I’d forgotten the camera’s battery at camp. I regretted not having the opportunity to photograph the lizard but was thankful for the lizard encounter as it saved me from four-and-a-half-miles of hiking before being able to take my first photo of ruins. Four-and-a-half miles equates to about an hour and fifteen minutes. Additionally, the morning light I wanted for my photos of the ruins would no longer exist as the sun would be an hour or more higher in the sky.

Reaching camp, I spotted the battery on the picnic table; battery color and picnic table color were similar. Justification that this mistake was tied to the color similarity of both didn’t matter.  I screwed up and I was thankful for the lizard laying on top of the boulder.

Trailer people were up, and I could smell fresh coffee and knew if I walked to the trailer from which that wonderful smell emitted, they would offer me a cup of the hot, dark, stimulating liquid. “Discipline”, I told myself as I reminded myself of the importance of the morning light I sought to capture as it gently bathe the ruins in its warm glow.  

Battery in place, I returned to the trail. “The probability of that lizard still being on that boulder is beyond impossible,” I thought as I watched lizards on the trail scampering off as I approached. Knowing that “At least I didn’t have to do a four- and-one-half mile hike and lose the soft morning light,” was sufficient consolation to bring a smile.

Approaching the dip in the trail where the boulder is located, I glanced forward and thought my vision was playing tricks on me. The lizard was still on the boulder, sitting close to where it had been sitting when I turned to walked back to get the battery. “It’ll scamper off as soon as I get near,” I thought, without taking the camera strap off my shoulder, knowing the photo op I had earlier was gone. The lizard didn’t move. It just looked at me, perhaps studying me as I was studying it. Maybe. I got the camera ready; turned the switch to ‘On’, removed the lens cap, brought the apparatus to my eye and began talking to the little guy on the big rock. 

“Stay put, okay? I just want a couple of shots,” I softly requested as I slowly moved toward the creature whose eyes were clearly focused on me. The lizard didn’t move. Softly I kept talking to it as I got closer and closer, and it stayed put. With the lizard a large image in my viewfinder, I focused and took the first photo. The lizard continued looking at me, moved a little, but stayed put. I moved forward some more and changed my angle for some different photos. The lizard stayed put on the boulder, moving slightly on occasion, but being the perfect model for this photographer. I believe I squeezed off nine or twelve shots, and it stayed there, watching me.

“Thank you,” I said as I stepped back, replaced the lens cap and gazed at the lizard which had raised its head off the rock, staring at me. Had it been a big lizard, like an iguana or one that size, I think I’d been afraid of being attacked. “Thanks, man,” I said again, softly. “That was so nice of you.”

That lizard had prevented me from hiking all the way to the first ruin, by allowing me to learn I’d forgotten my camera’s battery. It was as though it had sensed my desire to photograph it and waited for my return. Perhaps this lizard was as anxious to be photographed as I was to photograph it – symbiotic. When I finished taking pictures and acknowledged I was done, I verbally extended my thanks several times.  With my last offering of thanks, the lizard seemed to nod its head up and down, did a few four legged pus-ups, and slowly moved toward the edge of the rock, stopping just before it dropped off into the bushes, turned its head and looked at me once more; we’d connected. Then it was gone, into the brush. I stood there momentarily in wonder of what had just happened.    

There is a lot to process in respect to what had happened during those forty minutes. Continuing my hike down the trail to the first ruin I thought deeply about what had taken place. My thoughts returned to the music I’d listened to earlier and the music playing softly in my earbuds that morning – The Doors.  

Crazy as it may sound, maybe there is something beyond our comprehension tied to the spiritual side of our existence in the universe? Is it remotely possible that the spirit of a long-gone person could exists in the ethereal realm and perhaps be with the Ancients, here at Hovenweep? Is it possible that the spirits of these Ancients, who no one knows when or why they vanished, are still here with us?   No one knows. 

As I sensed upon initially reaching Hovenweep, there seemed to be something special, something unique, something beyond my comprehension, something beyond what scientists and archaeologists associated with this wonderful and mysterious place have provided us; something other worldly. 

Later that day as I drove away from Hovenweep, drove toward Hatch Trading Post on a barely paved road, the words of Jim Morrison continue to ring in my head. Listening to the lyrics I gave consideration to the spiritual component I’ve never truly bothered to explore: “Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin. I am the Lizard King. I can do anything.” Morrison, throughout his life stated that he believed the spirit of a dying Indian slipped into his soul when his family stopped at an horrific accident in the Arizona desert, on a Hopi reservation.  Jim was four years old at that time.

Clearly the lizard incident provoked thought. Is it possible, as insane as it may sound, is it possible that I could have encountered the spirit of Jim Morrison, the Lizard King, among the ruins and spirits of the Ancients? What prompted me to dial up The Doors outside of Montezuma Creek, music I had not listened to, or thought of, in ages? I was in the high-plains desert of a West that is still wild. Why didn't I pull up music from Willy, Johnny or Emmilou? There is a plethora of music on my cellphone, stuff I listen to regularly along with music I don’t play for months or years. Why The Doors? Perhaps the best answer to these questions and to the questions I’ve not stumbled upon yet is simple: No one knows.

I am addicted to music. That I do know.

#####


Post script: In research subsequent to this incident I learned a fact about Jim Morrison I’d not hear in the past.  
At the age of four, near Albuquerque, in the family car, his father stopped at an accident involving a truck that had been occupied by Pueblo Indians. His father arranged for another passing car to send help and remained on the scene until help arrived. Some of the Pueblo were alive, some were dead, and others seemed to be dying. Morrison’s mother is claimed to have said that Jim screamed, "I want to help, I want to help! They're dying, they're dying!" While his mother held Jim in her arms, his father told him that it was a dream, and it really didn't happen. Morrison later described the event as "the most important moment of my life." He believed that as his father's car pulled away, an Indian died and the Indian’s soul passed into his body. Is it possible the soul in the Pueblo that died had been occupied by a soul of an Ancient? No one knows.
PostScript – It is interesting reading the lyrics to Celebration of the Lizard King. The songs seem filled with numerous messages about things other than what we normally encounter in life. Jim was known to have spent time with Indians, with native Americans who reside near the Joshua Tree Natl. Forest, as well as within the Joshua Tree forest.
In one of The Doors albums, “Waiting for the Sun”, Jim had wanted “Celebration of the Lizard” to take up most of the second side. Valuable studio time was spent on it on the initial recording of side two. While the lyrics were printed on the inner sleeve, very little of the initial studio recording of side two made it to the album. “Celebration of the Lizard” is where the well-known Jim Morrison quote “I am the lizard king, I can do anything” comes from.
Below are the lyrics to that series of songs – Celebration of the Lizard King.
Lions in the street roaming
Dogs in heart rabid, foaming
A beast caged in the heart of a city
The body of his mother
Rotting in the summer ground
He fled town
He went down South and crossed the border
Left chaos and disorder
Back there over his shoulder.

One morning he awoke in a green hotel
With a strange creature groaning beside him
Sweat oozed from its shining skin
Is everybody in?
The ceremony is about to begin

Wake up!
You can't remember where it was
Had this dream stopped?

The snake was pale gold
Glazed and shrunken
We were afraid to touch it
The sheets were hot dead prisons
And she was beside me
Old, she's now, young
Her dark red hair
The white soft skin

Now, run to the mirror in the bathroom
Look!
She’s coming in here
I can't live through each slow century of her moving
I let my cheek slide down
Oh the cool smooth tile
Feel the good cold stinging blood
The smooth hissing snakes of rain

Once I had, a little game
I liked to crawl, back in my brain
I think you know, the game I mean
I mean the game, called 'go insane'

No, you should try, this little game
Just close your eyes, forget your name
Forget the world, forget the people
And we'll erect, a different steeple

This little game, is fun to do
Just close your eyes, no way to lose
And I'm right here, I'm going too
Release control, we're breaking through

Way back deep into the brain
Way back past the realm of pain
Back where there’s never any rain
And the rain falls gently on the town
And over the heads of all of us
And in the labyrinth of streams beneath
the quiet unearthly presence of
nervous hill dwellers, in the gentle hills around
Reptiles abounding
Fossils, caves, cool air heights

Each house repeats a mold
Windows rolled
A beast car locked in against morning
All now sleeping
Rugs silent, mirrors vacant
Dust flying under the beds of lawful couples
Wound in sheets
And daughters,
smug with semen eyes in their nipples

Wait - There's been a slaughter here

(Don't stop to speak or look around
Your gloves and fan are on the ground
We're getting out of town
We're going on the run
And you're the one I want to come.

Not to touch the earth
Not to see the sun
Nothing left to do, but
Run, run, run
Let's run
Let’s run

House upon the hill
Moon is lying still
Shadows of the trees
Witnessing the wild breeze
C'mon baby run with me
Let's run

Run with me
Run with me
Run with me
Let's run

The mansion is warm, at the top of the hill
Rich are the rooms and the comforts there
Red are the arms of luxuriant chairs
And you won't know a thing till you get inside

Dead president’s corpse in the driver’s car 
The engine runs on glue and tar
C'mon along, we're not going very far
To the East to meet the Czar

Run with me
Run with me
Run with me
Let's run

Some outlaws lived by the side of the lake
The minister's daughter's in love with the snake
Who lives in a well by the side of the road
Wake up, girl! We're almost home

We should see the gates by mornin'
We should be inside by evening

Sun sun sun
Burn burn burn
MOON, MOON, MOON
I will get you
Soon soon soon
I am the Lizard King.
I can do anything.

We came down
The rivers and highways
We came down from
Forests and falls

We came down from
Carson and Springfield
We came down from
Phoenix enthralled
And I can tell you
The names of the Kingdom
I can tell you
The things that you know
Listening for a fistful of silence
Climbing valleys into the shade

For seven years, I dwelt
In the loose palace of exile
Playing strange games with the girls of the island
Now, I have come again
To the land of the fair, and the strong, and the wise
Brothers and sisters of the pale forest
Children of night
Who among you will run with the hunt?
Now night arrives with her purple legion
Retire now to your tents and to your dreams
Tomorrow we enter the town of my birth
I want to be ready.’

Is there relevance to any of this? Perhaps not.  
Morrison penned verses that required extensive thought and had many interpretations. Is it possible that there is a spiritual side to the universe in which we exist, and that those long gone are capable of returning as other creatures to aid or torment worldly creatures? I no longer rule out anything being impossible, so I believe it could be possible.  
Is what I postulate in this short story a possibility? Is the Lizard King responsible? The answer, as the answer to so many questions regarding the Ancients and this place on the Colorado Plateau, is simple: No one knows.


**This is the original version prior to editing and becoming what is above.
Lizard King

© 2019 Raymond Cannefax

Being addicted to music is better than an addiction to drugs, booze or sex, but it’s still an addiction. I admit, I am addicted to music.

On a recent drive toward Hovenweep my subconscious suggested listening to The Doors – the band fronted by the late Jim Morrison, and a group I’ve not listened to in years. I consented to let the Doors serve as my auditory entertainment and provide a distraction from the endless black ribbon I was rolling down; the black snake that slithers on forever. I complied. Between Montezuma Creek and Hovenweep the speakers in the cab of my pickup truck sounded like the front row at any concert hall – loud, soothing and thought provoking. The biggest difference being that I was the only person at this concert.

In a song from one of the Doors Concerts, I think New York, Jim sang at one point, “I am the Lizard King, I can do anything.” Memory tells me that Morrison himself, as well as the media, back in the day, often referred to Jim as the Lizard King. The media picked up on it with DJ’s pumping the Lizard King persona; radio had given a spiritual value to a singer whose lyrics filled the ears and consciousness of those tuned to the airways that delivered the songs recorded by the Lizard King and The Doors.

Listening to the songs that comprise the Celebration of the Lizard King reminded me of the enchantment Jim Morrison, aka the Lizard King, delivered to the minds of our generation, minds often in altered states. I smiled as I continued rolling down the road. Hovenweep was close, but the signage seemed poor. Maybe the signage was good, and my attention to the signage was poor because of the distraction created by the Lizard King’s tunes.

Hovenweep, way off the beaten track, is a series of several fairly well-preserved ruins left behind by an ancient civilization that once inhabited the area now known as SE Utah and SW Colorado, and some not yet restored They built wonderful structures of natural stone on the rims of canyons and inside the small canyons created by odd openings of the high desert plateau, and they built them under massive red rock overhangs – Mesa Verde being the best known. The high plains of the Colorado plateau in Utah has no mountains, yet there are canyons.

It is known that ancient beings inhabited this region. They left stuff behind. Records are etched into rock walls. Beautifully decorated clay pots were found in and near the ruins. It is speculated that an advanced ancient civilization was present at Hovenweep for 300 to 500 years, from around 800 to 1300 AD. No one has a clear answer in respect to from where they came. No one has any idea of why they left, why their departure seemed to have been very abrupt, or where they went. There are mysteries associated with the ancients. Some speculate they became the Hopi, the Utes, the Pueblo, and possibly other Native American tribes. If that is the case, why the abrupt abandonment of their wonderful stone structures and personal belongings. Archaeologists can only speculate; Truth is, no one knows.

There are mysteries tied to this region. There seems to be an eerie sense of something in the air other than oxygen and what little humidity the high desert allows. It is as though there is a spiritual mantel cloaking the region. I am not a very spiritual person, but I enter a state of greater relaxation and calm, accompanied by increased inquisitiveness when I come here. Perhaps the ancients vaporized into spiritual beings who are still present. No one knows.

Upon arriving at Hovenweep, I stopped and spoke with the ranger to get a feel for what was going on, what weather projections were, etc. Then I did something I don’t usually do. Rather than claiming a place in the campground, I left the truck parked in the visitor center parking lot, grabbed my camera and a bottle of water and headed immediately for the ruins. I didn’t even think about that until I was down the trail a ways, headed to the Twin Towers ruin. So what, I thought, it’s not busy; I won’t risk not getting a camping place, but I did acknowledge that it was not my usual behavior of securing a camping place before doing anything else.
Hovenweep trails are well marked and wildlife abounds. The ranger did warn of rattlesnakes being on the trail. All I saw was lizards, butterflies and birds. Lizards seemed excessively prevalent, but as soon as they saw or heard me coming, they scampered off into the brush or under rocks or down into the canyon. Most were small to medium in size, but I did see a couple of big guys with multi-colored bodies, their yellowish head obvious before fading to green and then brown tails. The big guys sized up the situation before blasting into the brush, giving me a chance to get a look at them. There were a lot of lizards.

After finishing my hike around the ruins I could reach without going off-trail I concluded that all seemed in order. No reason for why things should be out of order, but the prevalent, daily afternoon winds and puffy, cotton ball like clouds had not made their appearance yet and it was getting late in afternoon.

As always, I was amazed at what these early inhabitants, the ancients, built back then without machinery or knowledge of metallurgy to fashion tools. It was all done by hand. Stone by stone being selected and moved to the site of the building, then shaped, with wood and rock, to fit atop or beside the stones already in the wall and cemented in place. One stone after another and another until the wall was completed. Another interesting element of the Hovenweep structures is that most are double wall buildings; twice the work necessary for the buildings they inhabited. It is now known that an air pocket between the outside wall and the inside wall provides insulation, not radiating the heat of the outside stones into the interior of a structure. Today we used fiberglass insulation to achieve what the ancients achieved by building that second wall. How did they know about the insulating qualities of dead space between outside and inside walls? Though their tools were rudimentary, their knowledge of structures seemed quite advanced. Another unanswered question. No one knows.

Granted, in Europe at that time, civilization and technology had advance to where they were beginning to build the great cathedrals. European civilizations had metallurgy and machinery to facilitate the construction of massive structures. Romans built long stone aqueducts in Spain, bridging canyons with massive archways to support the canals and allow water to flow from inland cisterns to towns, miles away.

Aside from the size of the structures, the placement of stones in the buildings the ancients constructed in America, some up four stories tall, was nearly as precise as what was being built in Europe – tight joints, curved walls, window openings with massive windowsills. There were similarities, but the rudimentary fashion of the structures in America still sets them apart from Europe buildings of that time. Concrete was in regular use in Europe at that time. In America, the floors were dirt and the paths linking the structures were stone. The most likely reason for concrete was, perhaps, the abundance of water to European builders. Concrete requires considerable amounts of water. The lack of water in the desert regions of North America didn’t allow concrete, even if that knowledge existed, but there was sufficient water for mortar. In the region of the ancients, water was one of the most valuable commodities and to this date, remains such.

As I mentally analyzed the ruins such thoughts roamed through my head and I set up camp. I’d managed to get the photos I wanted with the afternoon sun. In the morning I would return to the ruins and utilize morning light for photos from the other side of what I’d photographed that afternoon. It was time to get settled in for the coming night. No snakes; just birds feeding on insects, and lizards everywhere.

Thanks to the cooling winds finally materialized, the evening was pleasant. Without electrical power at my camping spot, I used the plugs in the community restroom to charge my phone and camera batteries. Because of my addiction, the music continued, but moved from the Doors to the soothing and more calming tunes of Crosby, Stills & Nash – Young may have been with them on the cuts I was listening to, but I didn’t give Neil much thought. It’s my addiction, the music rarely stops.
My thoughts remained entrenched in how these ancient desert canyon dwellers were capable of the precision work reflected by the ruins that remain, the ruins I visited today. To divert my focus and calm the mind I pulled out Edward Abbey’s book about his experiences during the time he spent, some fifty years ago, in this part America, Desert Solitaire. The sky slowly turned from the afternoon’s pale blue to a deep purple as the day came to an end.

The light show being put on by the millions of stars in the sky was more soothing than any man-made entertainment could ever be. Sparkling, some bright amber, one a shade of red, and others with a bluish hue to them. The more time passed, the more starts joined the show being put on above. They danced about, bounced off one another and helped activate the serotonin in my brain. Falling asleep early is not unusual when camping. Considering the light show above me, I decided to just sleep in the bed of my pickup truck and let the dancing stars in the skies above lull me to sleep.

When you fall asleep early, you wake early. Before dawn, with a few stars still visible above me, I woke and slowly began preparing for the day. The songs of the birds, swallows and wrens, and an occasional blackbird screech, began not long after I woke and before the sun was yet visible, and as the dark blue sky was gradually gaining a lighter hue of blue as it stole the stars and took away the night.

I had pictures to take that morning and stuff to put away. I’d forgotten my coffee pot. Regretfully, the NPS visitor centers do not offer coffee – something they might reconsider for poor folk like me who are now forced to charge into the new day without the aid of caffeine. I considered asking owners of the trailers near me if they could help out with this other addiction. But there were no lights or people stirring. I presume when camping in trailers, you miss the overhead light-show and perhaps stay up later, causing trailer campers to sleep later.

My phone was recharged. Not that it mattered as there is no service at Hovenweep, but it did matter because my phone is my music source while hiking. I put in my earbuds as I assembled my stuff for the hike. “Is everyone in? Is everybody in? Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin….”, Morrison’s soft cry to those who listened as he began singing Backdoor Man which flows directly into Five to One. There was something mysterious about how the Lizard King put lyrics together and mesmerized his followers. I still can’t describe whatever he did to pull us in. Though dead for almost fifty years, he still gets my full attention as I listen and ponder what he was trying to tell us, if anything. I think no one knows.

Daylight, a gulp of OJ to help get my vitamins and aspirin down. Half a cold, but precooked Bratwurst for breakfast. A little more OJ to swish the bratwurst particles from between my teeth. Two bottles of water for what could be a longer tour of the ruins than yesterday, waiting for the light to be right. I feel that I am ready to attack the ruins once more with my camera and use its lenses to steal the light for that brief part of a second required to transport the image to the memory card. Not so many years ago, the light sensitive chemicals on film capture light that became photos. Today, light is captured and held within a flat plastic electronic memory device that gets plug into a computer and the photos appear on a monitor.

For one of the first times in years I decide to use only my camera strap instead of the small backpack in which I usually carry my camera on hikes. I have a small water bottle carrier that straps around my waist and realize that I must abandon the second bottle. I choose my hiking boots instead of my Nike’s because I will stray off the path on which visitors are asked to stay. A small trail from the campground puts me on the Ruins Trail to the structures positioned around the canyon in which this about two-hundred-fifty ancients lived. Access to the canyon is restricted, but there is a four-story stone tower at the head of the canyon, the most westerly part of this gap in the earth of the vast plain that spreads endlessly in all directions from Hovenweep. Memory from prior visits remind me of where to descend into canyon from the shallower east end. A small spring at head of the canyon seems to have been the water source for these ancients.

Lizards run rampant in the cool morning, eating insects that vanish when the heat of the noon-day sun makes the ground twenty to thirty degrees hotter than the ambient temperature. The higher the sun, the hotter the temperature, hence morning activity. This again brings to question, what were these ancients doing in such an unfriendly place? Who brought them here and abandoned them to survive in such an inhospitable environment? Why did they build the beautiful and massive structures that continued to remain standing for all the centuries that have passed since the ancients vanished? No one knows.

As I walked along, lizards scampered to hide under brush and rocks. I watch for rattlesnakes, but I have rarely seen one. They feel the vibrations of our steps as we near them and slither off long before we reach them. The trail falls and rises through the various slight depressions of this almost completely flat landscape.  
About a quarter mile down the trail I come to a three-foot rise with a large boulder to my left. I see a lizard, laying prone, on top of the boulder. This lizard doesn’t scamper off, but instead, watches me approach. I’d wanted to photograph one of these guys since I’d begun my trip. There it sat, looking at me from atop the rock and gave me the opportunity to take its picture. Why? No one knows. They’re everywhere in this barren land, and everywhere I’ve seen them, they scamper off immediately. I pulled the camera’s strap off my shoulder, removed the lens cap, focused on the lizard and clicked. Nothing. I clicked again. Nothing. What I see black in the viewfinder. At first, I wondered if the camera is turned on. It was on. Because there was no power, my next thought was that perhaps I’d inserted the recharged battery correctly. Opened the lid to the battery compartment, I was astonished that there was no battery. Damn it, I’d forgotten to slide the battery back into the camera. I’d left it sitting on either the picknick table or on the seat of my truck. I was angry with myself. Though my phone takes pictures, the quality is not what I want for a photo of such a small creature.

“Shit,” was the only utterance I was capable of as I closed the battery compartment door. I’d wanted the photo of that lizard, the only one that had given me the opportunity, and I couldn’t take it. Turing around, I began the trek back to the campground to get the battery so I could accomplish my original objective of photographing the ruins in the early morning light.

Backtracking to the campground, the thought occurred that had it not been for the lizard, I’d have hiked another mile-and-a-half to the first ruin before realizing I’d forgotten the camera battery at camp. I regretted not having the opportunity to photograph the lizard but was thankful for the lizard encounter as it saved me from four-and-a-half-miles of hiking before being able to take my first photo. Additionally, the morning light I wanted for my photos of the ruins would not exist as the sun would be an hour or more higher in the sky.

Reaching camp, I spotted the battery on the picnic table; battery color and picnic table color were similar. Trailer people were up, and I could smell fresh coffee and knew, if I walked to the trailer from which the coffee smell emitted, they would give me a cup. “Discipline”, I told myself, reminding myself of the importance of the morning light I sought to capture on the ruins.

Battery in place, I returned to the trail. “The probability of that lizard still being on that boulder is beyond impossible,” I thought as I watched lizards on the trail scampering off as I approached. “At least I didn’t have to do a four- and one-half mile hike and lose the soft morning light,” was the justification to console myself.
Approaching the dip in the trail where the boulder is located, I glanced forward and thought my vision was playing tricks on me. The lizard was still on the boulder, sitting close to where it had been when I turned and walked back to get the battery. “It’ll scamper off as soon as I get near,” I thought, without taking the camera strap off my shoulder, knowing the photo op I had earlier was gone. The lizard didn’t move. It just looked at me, perhaps studying me as I was studying it. Maybe. I got the camera ready; turned the switch to on, removed the lens cap, brought the apparatus to my eye and began talking to the little guy on the big rock. “Stay put, okay? I just want a couple of shots,” I softly requested as I slowly moved toward the creature whose eyes were focused on me. The lizard didn’t move. Softly I kept talking to it as I got closer and closer, and it stayed put. With the lizard in my viewfinder, I focused. The lizard continued looking at me, moved a little, but stayed put. I moved forward some more and changed my angle for some different photos. The lizard stayed put on the boulder, moving slightly on occasion, but being the perfect model for this photographer. I believe I squeezed off eight or ten shots and it stayed there, watching me.

“Thank you,” I said as I replaced the lens cap and gazed at the lizard which had raised its head off the rock, staring at me. Had it been a big lizard, like an iguana or one that size, I think I’d been afraid of being attacked. “Thanks, man,” I said again. “That was so nice of you.”

With that last offering of thanks, the lizard seemed to nod its head up and down and slowly moved toward the edge of the rock, stopping just before it dropped off into the bushes, turned its head and looked at me once more. Then it was gone, into the brush. I stood there momentarily in wonder of what had just happened.  
The lizard had prevented me from hiking all the way to the first ruin, by allowing me to realize I’d forgotten my camera battery. It seemed to sense that I wanted to photograph it and waited for my return. Perhaps this lizard was as anxious to be photographed as I was to photograph it – symbiotic. When I returned to the boulder, battery in place, it didn’t scamper off as the others had throughout this entire trip. It allowed me ample time to photograph it. When I finished taking pictures and acknowledged I was done by saying “Thanks,” it wandered off. Was it the same lizard? No one knows.

There is a lot to process in respect to what had happened during the past forty minutes. Hiking down the trail to the first ruin I thought deeply about what had taken place. My thoughts returned to the music I’d listened to earlier and the music from my earbuds – The Doors.

Crazy as it may sound, there just might be something to the spiritual side of our existence in the universe? Is it remotely possible that the spirit of a long-gone person could exists in the ethereal realm and perhaps be with the ancients, here at Hovenweep? Is it possible that the spirits of these ancients, who no one knows when they vanished, are still here with us? No one knows. As I sensed upon reaching Hovenweep, there appears to be something special, something unique, something beyond my comprehension associated with this wonderful and mysterious place.

Driving away from Hovenweep, toward Hatch Trading Post on a barely paved road, the words of Jim Morrison continue to ring in my head. I give consideration to the spiritual component which I’ve not ever bothered to explore: “Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin. I am the Lizard King. I can do anything.”

Clearly the Lizard incident provoked thought. Is it possible, as insane as it may sound, is it possible that I could have encountered the spirit of Jim Morrison, the Lizard King, among the ruins and spirits of the ancients? What prompted me to dial up the Doors outside of Montezuma Creek, a group I’ve not listened to, or thought of, in ages? I was in the high-plains desert of the wild west, why not Willy, Waylon or Emmilou? There is a plethora of music on my cellphone, stuff I listen to regularly. Why the Doors? Perhaps the best answer to these questions and to the questions I’ve not stumbled upon yet is simple: No one knows.

I am addicted to music. That I do know.

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PostScript – It is interesting reading the lyrics to Celebration of the Lizard King. The songs seem filled with numerous messages about things other than what we normally encounter in life. 
Jim Morrison was known to have spent time with the Indians who reside near the Joshua Tree Natl. Forest, as well as within the Joshua Tree forest.