Saturday, June 11, 2016

Nephi’s Journey Northward – From First Inheritance to City of Nephi - Part I

We have often been asked about the course Nephi took when he separated from his brothers after Lehi died, and why he traveled from the coast of the Sea West where his ship landed (Land of First Inheritance) and ended up onor near the coast of the Sea East (Cuzco) and not just traveled straight up the coast. There may be other answers, but two stand out immediately. First of all, Nephi was moving in a direction the Liahona guided him (2 Nephni 5:12), so the Lord had a place in mind for him to settle. As for the direction, the coastal area from Chile to Ecuador is pretty much a desert land, especially the Atacama Desert, the driest desert on Earth, which would have been difficult to cross, though possible—Nephi earlier had experience crossing the Rub’ al Khali (Empty Quarter) in Arabia. However, we have to keep in mind that movement anciently, where there were no roads or, in this case, not even a previous path, to follow, one is limited to where the terrain would have allowed passage. Stated differently, you can never just look on a map and decide where someone could or did travel unless you know the area quite well from personal experience.
    As an example, when I was quite young growing up in Southern California and never having been east of Utah, I began doing genealogy, looking for my DowDell and allied family ancestors when they traveled from Anderson, South Carolina, to Russelville, in northwest Alabama around 1780 to 1790. We were never able to link that up, since I was hoping to find intermediate locations where some allied lines might have linked up. It seemed simple enough looking at a map—take the DowDells overland southwest into Georgia and then into Alabama where the highways and toll roads were now located, looking at any spot along the way where some of the family names might have been located—a task I wasted a lot of time upon without success of any kind.
Several years later after stint in the military as a forward observer calling in artillery fire, where terrain, hills, canyons, and other topographical hindrances played an important role, it dawned on me that perhaps there were obstructions to overland travel between Anderson and Russellville where I had drawn a simple straight line on the map in my youth. Come to find out, there were a few mountains, canyons, etc. I learned that Atlanta, along that direct line, was the highest elevation of any major city east of the Mississippi River, and in 1780 you just didn’t go where you wanted. You had to find passes, valleys, and avoid mountain peaks, etc. The point is, once I understood travel in that era went northwest from Anderson into Tennessee and then down the Tennessee River and over to Florence, Alabama, then overland south to Russellville, I found all the connections I was looking for. It taught me a great lesson and when I started following maps in the Land of Promise, I learned to look for passes and avoid difficult to impassable terrain that the Nephites could not have negotiated in their time.
The Andes Cordilleras are a series of mountain ranges running basically north and south across the entire western portion of the continent from Tierra del Fuego to Panama
    We have to keep in mind that in South America, the Andes makes up one of the great natural features of the Earth, and consists of a vast series of extremely high plateaus surmounted by even higher peaks that form an unbroken rampart over a distance of some 5500 miles from the southern tip of South America to the continent’s northernmost coast on the Caribbean. These mountains separate a narrow western coastal area from the rest of the continent, affecting deeply the conditions of life and travel within the ranges themselves.
    In traveling northward from the place of their first landing at Coquimbo Bay (La Serena, Chile), it seemed obvious the Lord would have led him and his people eastward across one of the transverse valleys (a group of valleys in the semi-arid northern Chile that run from east to west traversing Chile, and are the most prominent geographical features in the regions they cross, most of these are in the Coquimbo and Atacama areas just north of La Serena, which was the Land of First Inheritance to the Lamanites, or the area of settlement next to Coquimbo Bay where Nephi’s ship landed—the place where Lehi would have died and been buried). Today these valleys are where most of the people in Chile live and are heavily populated and intensively cultivated, and covered a north-to-south area of 375 miles along the Pacific coast and move inland and up into the low-lying hills of the Andes (which today is northwest Argentina).
Top: The Elqui Valley which runs eastward from La Serena; Bottom: The Limarí Valley, south of Coquimbo, also runs east into the Andes
    Nephi might have possibly gone down through the forest and into the Limari River Valley, which cuts eastward through the low-lying hills up into the Andes and provides more protection and choices of paths to confuse anyone following; however, the gorge through the mountains leads southeast, while the Elqui Valley runs eastward out of La Serena and then northward through passes and valleys, and is far more likely the path Nephi would have taken.
Left: White Arrow: La Serena/Coquimbo; Yellow Arrow: Abra del Infiernillo Pass; Right: Green Arrow: Elqui River Valley; Red Arrow: Limarí River Valley 
    Here they would have passed through the Tafi Valley (called “pueblo de entrada esplendida” “village of a magnificent entrance”) west of Tucumán.
Top: The Tafi Valley leading toward the Abra del Infiernillo Pass. Bottom: An arroyo leading into the pass
    At 9900-foot above sea level the Abra del Infiernillo Pass (Literally: “Open the Inferno,” but means “Difficult opening” to the valley beyond because of its height and dangerous drops). This is same pass that the Spanish conquistadors traveled through coming down from the north. Beyond the pass is one of the largest high valleys in the area with patches of green-leafy oasis with a mean temperature between 71º F and 57º F throughout the year called the Calchaqui Valleys (Valles Calchaquies), known today for its contrasting colors and its unique geography that ranges from the mountain desert to the subtropical forest).
Top: Cattle being driven south out of the Abra del Infiernillo Pass and into the Tafi Valley and probably to Tucumán; Bottom: The Quebrada las Conchas (Gorge of the Conchas River or Gorge of Shell River), also known as Quebrada de Cafayat, a wild landscape of richly colored sandstone and unearthly rock formations carved out by the Conchas river (“River of Shells”) just beyond the pass to the north
    Tucumán (Quechua for “Place where things finish” meaning the abrupt mountains, the Sierra Pampeanas, that rise above the fertile plains to the west) has settlements and ruins that date back to near Nephite times
    The Valley through which Nephi  was led included a number of valleys and rivers within the Calchaquí—numerous ancient tribes, such as the Tolombón, Calchaquí and chiefdoms lived here from the time of the first period of Nephi arrival and were later conquered by the Inca after a prolonged and fierce resistance—according to Friedrich Ratzel, these tribes and chiefdoms were independent from one another, but their pottery is very distinctly Peruvian (The History of Mankind, London 1896). These Diaguita tribal chiefdoms, by the way, parallel the spreading out of the Lamanites following Nephi’s separation after Lehi died as they expanded to fill the Land of Lehi (time frame Martin Pekarek, Diaguita History: “The Indigenous Peoples of the Calchaqui Valleys.” Diaguita is from “tiac-y-ta” meaning “village inhabitant in the Calchaqui language called “kakan,” a language and name, according to the ethnolinguist Samuel Lafonte Quevedo, derived from the Quechua language and are spoken by a people described as “angry, irritable and untamable.” It was originally given to a chief in 1558, and the name became the official ethnic and geographical name.
    Nephi would have traveled through this area, which is one of the largest high valleys in the region with patches of green-leafy oasis with a mean temperature between 71º F and 57º F throughout the year called the Calchaqui Valleys (Valles Calchaquies), known today for its contrasting colors and its unique geography that ranges from the mountain desert to the subtropical forest) and is simply gorgeous with landscapes that vary from green valleys to colorful mountains to canyons and to amazing natural sculptures.
The colorful landscape of Quebrada del Rio de las Conchas (“Ravine of the Shells“) within the Valles Calchaquíes—Nephi would have passed by or through this area on his way northward
    It is claimed that in the time of Nephi, the formations were cascades of fresh water and the concentrated water flow eroded the stone, which have left us with today’s astonishing special configurations
    Nephi traveled through what is today called the Salta Region in the northwest corner of Argentina and into the western edge of what is today Bolivia and along the Altiplano (“high plateau” or “Puna”), a high desert grassland about 11,000 to 12,800 feet in elevation. This area today is also referred to as the Andean Triangle—northern Chile, western Bolivia and southern Peru—a land often described by tourists as “surreal—a land of stark landscapes and vivid blue sky with stupendous, other-worldly scenery.” Here in this land of extreme superlatives, you can visit the driest desert, the largest salt flat, the highest navigable lake, and one of the deepest canyons in the world.
(See the next post, “Nephi’s Journey Northward – Part II,” to follow the rest of Nephi’s journey into the area where he built his city of Nephi and temple like unto Solomon’s)

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