The Iron Door 

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Iron DoorThe Cañada del Oro is rightly named, glory be to God.


The placer has pointed our direction and we begin our journey up and into the belly of the mountain. The burros complain terribly, but not so loudly as the novitiates. The Papago peoples, of whom our apostolate counts some small number, are silent and strong in their ascent. They are possessed of a God-given sure-footedness that is the envy of burro and novitiate alike. Perhaps they are part bighorn sheep.

We have made camp along a ridge that juts some thousands of feet above the great river. Light digging is begun in earnest, but our guide, Alférez Juan Bautista de Escalante, tells us we must practice patience. He believes the lode is still many thousands of feet above the canyon, and we approach snowline. That snow may exist above the shimmering desert of Pimería Alta – is it not proof that our Lord is an artist? Watching the sun set upon the river, scattering golden reflections off its surface, I feel certain this is a whispering of God that our works will be rewarded. 

Ad majórem Dei glóriam,

Father Alonso Bartolomé Calvo

***

Driving through the twists and turns of Sky Island Scenic Byway, I feel like I’m being consumed by the folds of the mountains. Who could imagine finding such comfort in becoming a landform’s lunch? I’ve watched myself become and come undone a thousand times this year, Cass. But here, in the mountain’s entrails, is where my pieces reside. Gathered as if by some metaphysical magnetism.

No, it isn’t magnetism, it’s longing. For the bite of a true winter – the one I left you in and find often promised, but never arriving, in the valley below. I’m still awestruck that any appreciable amount of snow, nevermind a ski mountain, can exist above Tucson – even at ten thousand feet.

I know you hate when I get flowery. I know you hate that I still text. I’m sorry. But skiing always makes me think of you.

Read 11:31 AM

***

October 29th, 1695

To Father Eusebio Francisco Kino:

On the credit of the mine we have erected a number of suitably humble buildings atop the mountain, a small chapel with three gilt bells among them. Escalante tells us he has never seen a lode its equal. Even a Godly man, one whose gaze is forever turned heavanward, can see how thickly the quartz is veined in gold. I tell you, Father Kino, that San Xavier del Bac is only the beginning of our ministry in Pimería Alta. With this gift, we will spread the Word across the continent.

Ad majórem Dei glóriam,

Father Alonso Bartolomé Calvo

***

The lift here reminds me of the old double at Pat’s Peak – do you remember? Being here, on this lift, with the wind like a song and the shimmy of ponderosas humming out the harmony… it feels like a gift. I’m telling you, Cass, this place – this mountain – is a treasure.

Read 1:54 PM

***

March 8th, 1698

To Father Eusebio Francisco Kino:

With rumors of our claim’s riches now flowing down the mountain like snowmelt, it has become necessary to secure the mine. I have commissioned a fine iron door, for which I shall have the only key, to span its mouth. There is no other entry. 

A strange formation in the rocks which the novitiates call “the eyes of Saint Ramon” looks upon us as we work. I find his gaze a holy comfort but a number of our party find it unsettling. I have condemned such worry as heathen superstition, but it has not stopped some of the Papago from fleeing our site. They say it portends evil things. 

The only evil I fear is that of which Timothy spoke: “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” It is for this reason the location of the mine must remain secret. The novitiates have sworn themselves to God and in this confer my unbidden trust. But Escalante gives me pause. His god lives in the veins in the quartz in the tunnels in the mountain. Much has been spent to secure his discretion, but I fear still more will be required.

Ad majórem Dei glóriam,

Father Alonso Bartolomé Calvo

***

It just snowed here two days ago, and it’s almost like being at Steamboat. Not quite champagne powder; maybe prosecco? The north boundary is studded with stands of aspen and pine, not a single track laid. Just begging to be breached.

Cass, I can see you toeing the out-of-bounds, looking over your shoulder to make sure your illicit descent remains undiscovered. There’s a hoodoo that looks like an Easter Island head, all sharp nose and pensive brow. It’s looking straight down a perfect line, and I’m watching you now, winking at it as you lift the rope and shove off. If a skier goes off-piste and no one is around to see it, do they still leave tracks?

Wish you were here.

Read 2:12 PM

Sorry again for the texts.

Read 2:13 PM

***

July 26th, 1702

To Father Eusebio Francisco Kino:

We have had a small cave-in at the mine. Thanks be to God nobody was lost, but Escalante pushes too hard. The men are unnerved. The Papago blame Saint Ramon, the novitiates blame Escalante, and Escalante blames the dikes in the granite that spill open like wounds into the drift. The vein is still rich, he says, and work is begun to block fresh timbers. 

Is it his pride, Father Kino, or ours that sustains us on this path? I pray for him. I pray for us.

Ad majórem Dei glóriam,

Father Alonso Bartolomé Calvo

***

Cass. Help. Please. I don’t know what the hell happened. The ground fell out from under me. I’m in some sort of tunnel.

! Not Delivered

Cold is leaching my battery. Don’t know how long the flashlight will last.

! Not Delivered

***

August 12th, 1702

To Father Eusebio Francisco Kino:

A major roof fall last night. The cost of our pride can be counted in lives. Two novitiates and a Papago. A third novitiate, Tomás, is badly injured and not expected to wake. Still more unaccounted for. We sift through the ore not for gold, but for bodies. This is not a mine, it is a tomb. 

Ad majórem Dei glóriam,

Father Alonso Bartolomé Calvo

***

Jesus. I think it’s some sort of mine. Should never have gone off trail. Please Cass. Help.

! Not Delivered

***

August 16th, 1702

To Father Eusebio Francisco Kino:

Escalante is gripped with a sickness. I have heard of this thing where gold is concerned. He is mad with lust of riches and digs through the mine in a fever, even as the mountain belches and rumbles and spits out timbers, even as the bodies of two more novitiates lie entombed within. The men fear him. 

He demands the transfer of our claim, but I cannot conscience another life. The iron door will be sealed by week’s end and the mine left to God.

Ad majórem Dei glóriam,

Father Alonso Bartolomé Calvo

***

Phone dying. There’s an iron door. Sealed. Please god, help.

! Not Delivered

Jesus. There’s a body. Bones. I’m going to die down here.

! Not Delivered

***

August 21st, 1702

To Father Eusebio Francisco Kino:

We begin our descent from this accursed mountain. The mine has collapsed, with Escalante within. There was nothing to be done. The key is buried, the door is sealed, and we have done what we can to obscure it with large boulders hefted in front of the entrance. 

May God wipe the memory of this place from the earth. 

Ad majórem Dei glóriam,

Father Alonso Bartolomé Calvo

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