Monday, August 20, 2018

What Was the Narrow Strip of Wilderness? And Where Was it? – Part III

Continued from the previous post involving the narrow strip of wilderness that separated the Land of Zarahemla from the Land of Nephi. Also regarding how theorists tend to over simplify or even ignore the deeper meaning of the descriptions and information provided by Mormon regarding geography and its implications on the story line of the scriptural record.
    As stated earlier, most theorists pay little attention to the details about the narrow strip of wilderness, citing only that it separated the Nephites from the Lamanites and that it was basically a range of mountains. However, the more important part of the narrow strip narrative that Mormon provides is that it was some type of travel deterrent that the area seemed to have been impassable for most of its length from sea to sea, keeping the Lamanites from infiltrating the Land of Zarahemla at will. When theorists draw attention to this idea, they tend to give little credence to the idea other than a mountain range would automatically deter movement across it.
    The problem is, theorists never seem to tell or show us why it was a deterrent. Mountains and ranges are not necessarily impassable, just an obstacle to easy movement, some more severe than others. But to an invading army, ease of travel is not the issue, but the ability to get an army from one point to another ready to attack and fight. Most armies have shown throughout history that mountain ranges are not deterrents to concentrated and serious military movement.
Top: Hannibal crossing the Alps to attack Rome; Bottom: Italians in Dolomite War of World War I crossing the mountains to attack Austria

A couple of simple examples of the extreme incidents in history to show such disregard for the so-called deterrent of mountains is found first in the Carthaginian general Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps during the Second Punic War when he caught the Roman legions off guard by crossing the inaccessible Alps and coming down the “back door” to Rome 218 BC. Another was when the Italian troops crossed the 9800-feet high mountains in northern Italy during the First World War, heading down to the valleys toward Vienna for an attack upon the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but failing in that attempt, the war ensued in the heights of an alpine massif in these impassable mountains of the Julian Alps.
    The Upper Urubamba (Alto Urubamba) valley in Peru today features a high population and extensive ancient and modern irrigation works, and has a number of pre-Columbian ruins within the Sacred Valley, including the cities of Machu Picchu, Patallaqta, Pikillqta, and Raqch’i. The latter site having a complex of ruins, which were on a prominent ridge overlooking the surrounding valley which provided a natural defensive position.
Wall around the complex of Raqch’i along the Urubamba River

The complex is surrounded by a 13-foot high perimeter wall, and beyond that was a large dry moat running along the edge of the ridge to augment the natural defense of the steep slopes, providing an extremely well protected fort at a control point along an ancient road system. One of the large buildings in the complex had two entrances, and when entering either one, the way was blocked by tall pillars, forcing the entering person(s) to slow down his approach and walk around in a zig-zag pattern.
    It sounds a lot like one of the forts Moroni had built along the southern border of the Nephite lands, facing the northern border of the narrow strip of wilderness. As Mormon tells us, Moroni “also placed armies on the south, in the borders of their possessions, and caused them to erect fortifications that they might secure their armies and their people from the hands of their enemies” (Alma 50:10), and also “Moroni had fortified, or had built forts of security, for every city in all the land round about” (Alma 49:13).
About 48 miles northwest of the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo lies the Abra Málaga Pass, about 8 miles south of Umasbamba, the latter being just east of Lake Piuray

In any event, at this location of the Pongo in the higher jungle of the southern Sierra near Quillabamba (known today as the city of eternal sun), south of a myriad of rolling hills and the high cloud forest, and north, over the hills from the Sacred Valley and Cuzco, the path moved along near eternal fog, across numerous streams and dangerous runoff, through the Abra Málaga, a high mountain pass at an elevation of 10,682-feet above sea level—an area located in southern Peru on the Continental Divide of South America between Ollataytambo and Quillabamba.
    This area is a tropical montane rainforest, with low-altitude tree forests covered by epiphytic plants—a plant growing on another plant, but not a parasite—such as orchids, moss, and ferns, and also with areas of bamboo. The Pass itself is a rainy, Montano Tropical moor of shrublands and grasslands, with small Polylepis forests in the basin’s births, where great colored parrots and toucans flourish.
    The way to and through this Pass from Ollantaytambo—35 miles northwest of Cuzco—is extreme, with today’s road climbing in numerous hairpin bends, and descending on the eastern side of the summit in numerous switch-backs into an area de neblina—a rugged region characterized by mist, puna grasses, and fens, where natives still use the ancient method of collecting water for crops through “fog catchers,” made of two poles that hold a mesh with small holes facing toward the fog, and a storage tank with a filter to decontaminate the collected water as it seeps into the tank.
    This Pongo, or gorge, is one of South America’s most dangerous and feared rapids, and is home to dozens of waterfalls, swirling waters, giant walls of vertical rocks, and abundant vegetation in this long, uncrossable canyon lined with steep, soaring cliffs, and full of gigantic volcanic boulders. This infamous gorge, called the “Whitewater Canyon” today, is where numerous pre-Inca petroglyphs can be found, and the area is filled with remote waterways and teeming with wild life. In fact, the pongo here is known since before Inca times as the “Place of the Bears.”
    Today, the area is the home of the indigenous Matsiguenga people who live in the jungle along the Urubamba river. Beyond this point, the 450-mile Urubamba River flows northwestward to its junction with the Apurímac River, where it forms the Ucayali River, which flows 910 miles northward through a densely forested floodplain east of the Andes, to an eventual junction with the Marañón River, 55-miles south-southwest of Iquitos, which confluence is considered to mark the headwaters of the Amazon River.
The Urubamba River flowing out of the gorge in the Andes and toward the lower jungle

Today, this zone is filled, as it was anciently, with mountains and tall summits, intermittent with narrow valleys and deep canyons with high sheer cliff walls and numerous rivers running through it. There are only a few paths from south to north and a minimal number of passes that would allow movement of groups of warrior through to the north, mostly at the far eastern end or the far west coastal desert.
    Another important factor involved in this area of Peru, is that it ranges to the very heights of elevation through the Pass, that in the winter months of the year, would be impassable, thus we find that the Lamanites constantly returned back to the homeland after a defeat (Alma 27:1; 58:38; 62:32), rather than stay in the lower lands of the Nephites (unless they had overcome and defeated a city or two where they could spend the winter), and did not come down again to battle until the following year (Alma 59:1,5).
    Apparently, in every way, this area of Peru meets Mormon’s description of the narrow strip of wilderness that separated the Land of Zarahemla from the Land of Nephi and was difficult to cross except in rare areas, making it an effective deterrent to random movement across.


  1. Del, would it be possible to sketch your possible location of the narrow
    Strip wilderness on a map? You can put question marks around of course so that we know it's a potential location. That would be very helpful. Thanks! Excellent work.

  2. iterry. Sure. Give me a bit. Takes a little time to do maps without a drawing program :)

  3. Thanks Del, this is very useful and exciting information.