National Geographic claims they have found the remains and burial site of folk- and cult-hero Everett Ruess. Ruess disappeared in southern Utah in 1934. He was 20-years old at the time of his disappearance.
I love southern Utah. The white and rose colored sandstone cliffs and mesas, the independent-minded ranchers, the Navajos, the Anasazi ruins, the pictographs and petroglyphs, the Utes, the natural monoliths of every description, the San Juan River and its tributaries, the hogans, the incredible vistas.
The most interesting town in the region is Bluff. I like to stay in the Desert Rose Motel or at Recapture Lodge. Nearby is the incredible Valley of the Gods B&B; the traveler must stay here at least once. The town also has three good (but tacky) restaurants. I much prefer Bluff to “nearby” Blanding, Monticello, and Mexican Hat.
This is an area that was loved and explored by a young Californian (artist, poet, letter writer, drifter) named Everett Ruess during the Great Depression. Everett’s story was first brought to my attention by a work colleague — Bud Rusho — who has written extensively about the young man. Everett was thought to have died or been killed in Davis Gulch in 1934 (about 44 miles south of the town of Escalante near the Colorado River). But search parties were unable to find his body. Everett was 20 at the time of his disappearance.
Everett’s mystique got a boost with the publication John Kakauer’s book “Into the Wild,” which contained 7 pages about the young man. The first edition of “NG Adventure,” which had a story about Everett, speculated that the author might have found his grave near Davis Gulch. A friend of a friend (who lives in Escalante) speculated that he was probably killed by rustlers. The legend of Everett Ruess has greatly spread with all the recent publicity.
All of the speculation about Everett’s ultimate resting place was finally buried this year, when his remains were found across the Colorado River, in a very isolated region southwest of Bluff (and a long way from Davis Gulch). “His slaying was aparently witnessed by a young Navajo man, Aneth Nez. After a 37-year silence, Nez told his granddaughter, that he had watched from Comb Ridge near the Utah-Arizona state line as three Utes killed a young white man. Nez asked her to take him to the site above Chinle Wash where he had buried the body in a crevice. Memories of the event had been haunting him, and he wanted to retrieve a lock of hair for a healing ceremony.” (Quote from the Thomas H Maugh II in the LA Times)
Last year, the granddaughter told her younger brother (Denny Bellson) about the episode who revealed the location of the site. DNA tests proved the remains to be those of Everett. In his last letter to his family, Everett wrote: “As to when I shall visit civilization, it will not be soon, I think. I prefer the saddle to the street-car, the star-sprinkled sky to a roof.”
Of course, there is now a cottage industry, including website, that has grown up around Everett’s memory. And a well-known biographer is hard at work on his life story. Some day I will, with a Navajo guide, go to the spot where Everett was buried and pay tribute to his aimless wandering through a part of Utah I dearly love.