In the Crystal Desert, Clever Clover, Belle Star, and Coyote navigated a narrow cliff to a recently discovered kiva that they had been mapping. It took more than an hour to reach the kiva from the base camp below the cliff. After the climb to the main pueblo complex, they had to crawl through a narrow crevice and then the narrow ledge, where they were now, and then climb the cliff using a series of rough-cut footholds made by the ancient cliff-dwelling ponies of the Crystal Desert. Despite her tendency for clumsiness, Belle Star had managed to make the trip to the kiva and back twice already. If all went well, today they would finish the mapping of the structure. The three archaeologists paused at the base of the final ascent. In the desert heat, it was easy to over-exert one’s self, and it was important to take many breaks.
“You know, I’m going to miss this place when we’re done with it,” said Coyote. “I mean, there’s something unreal about it. Like it’s in another world.”
“That’s the whole idea. But I’ve gotta admit, this is the most impressive kiva I’ve ever seen.”
“And how many kivas have you seen, Clever Clover? I mean, isn’t this your first trip to the Crystal Desert?”
“Yeah, but Belle Star and I visited a couple of sites on the way.”
“Uh huh. And my mom took me on a trip when I was a little girl and we saw a really big kiva! Hm, I can’t remember what she called it. But it was in the middle of a biiiiig city in the shadow of a mountain.”
“What!?” Coyote was shocked. “That’s Pueblo Amarillo! I’ve dreamed of going there my whole life! But it’s off limits to visitors. How did your mom get you in? She isn’t a pot-hunter, is she?”
“Oh no, she isn’t a hunter. She’s an archaeologist.”
“Really? Did she work at Pueblo Amarillo?”
“No. She was on vacation. I think grandpa helped arrange the trip.”
“Oh yeah, the head of the Pony Sea Patrol. Do you think you could put in a good word with your grandpa for me?”
“Uh, okay. I’ll see what I can do.”
Clever Clover glanced at his pocket watch. “Okay, I guess it’s time to get moving.”
The three ponies began their final assent to the kiva. Clever Clover went first, followed by Belle Star and finally Coyote. They were connected by a safety line in case one of them fell. At the top of the cliff was a box of tools and supplies the archaeologists had been using to record the kiva. They recovered their gear and climbed down through the square opening into the kiva, a circular chamber cut into the top of the mesa. The only illumination was from the entry in the center of the roof. The ponies went about their work, measuring, photographing, mapping, and recording every detail of the ancient structure.
Coyote was measuring a discolored spot on the floor of the kiva that had caught his eye. He took out his trowel and slid the blade into a narrow crack in the floor. “Hey guys, check this out!”
“What is it, Coyote?” asked Clever Clover.
“I’m not sure.” Coyote leaned on the trowel and a segment of the floor lifted up. “What the…!?”
Clever Clover came over to see what his co-worker had discovered. Coyote lifted the floor panel away to expose an opening into another chamber. “This is different,” said Clever Clover. “Hey, Belle Star, come over here.”
“What is it…oh!”
Coyote shined his flashlight down the hole. “So, Clever Clover, what do you think we should do?”
“I guess one of us at least should go down there and see what’s there so we can tell Kiva as much as possible. Coyote, it’s your find; you should be the first one to take the plunge. Belle Star, go get some rope. I’ll take some pictures. Coyote, take some measurements of the opening and the panel.”
“Right!” the ponies replied in unison.
Belle Star returned shortly with the rope, one end of which was then tied to the entry ladder and the other was lowered through the mysterious opening. Clever Clover handed Coyote the camera. “All right, get a few pictures and measurements of whatever is down there. If it turns out to be a large chamber or a complex of chambers, don’t waste your time trying to map the whole thing; there’ll be time for that later.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know the drill.” Coyote began to climb down into the darkness. Clever Clover and Belle Star watched from above, but before long he was out of sight. Clever Clover shone a light down the hole but there was no sign of Coyote.
“Hey, Coyote!” Clever Clover called down the hole. There was no response. “Coyote? Are you alright?”
“Where did he go?” asked Belle Star.
“I don’t know.”
Then Coyote’s weak voice come up from the hole. “Hey guys! I made it down, but I twisted my ankle and dropped my flashlight. Could one of you come down and give me a hoof?”
“I’ll be right down,” said Clever Clover. The purple pony carefully climbed down the rope. Belle Star shone a light down the hole, but there was still no sign of Coyote. “Coyote, where are you?”
“I’m down at the bottom of a dark hole.” Coyote’s voice seemed to be growing more distant.
When Clever Clover reached the bottom of the hole, he got out his flashlight and looked around. He was standing in the center of a square room. There were two doorways on opposite sides of the room. Coyote, and his flashlight, were nowhere to be seen. “Coyote!” Clever Clover called out, but there was no response. There were no tracks in the sand to indicate where Coyote might have gone. The purple pony shone his light through one of the doors. Beyond was another room much like the first, but without any other exit. Clever Clover investigated the other door. This one led to a larger room with three other doors, two on one wall and one on another. He proceeded cautiously into the third chamber. There was still no sign of any tracks, but in one corner of the room was an unusual mound of sand. Clever Clover walked over to the mound of sand. Something was out of place here. He reached down, grabbed a lock of red-orange hair, and gave it a solid yank.
Coyote shot from the mound with a howl of pain. “What’d you do that for?” he whined.
“I keep telling you that these practical jokes are going to get you into trouble some day.”
“Aw, come on, I’m just having a little fun.”
“Is everything all right down there?” Belle Star’s voice echoed down from above.
“Everything’s fine,” Clever Clover replied. “Coyote was just playing one of his pranks. Why don’t you come down here? We might as well all have a look around.” The princely pony turned to Coyote. “By the way, how did you get into the next room without leaving any tracks?”
“That is an ancient secret passed down to me from my ancestors. Ancestors who may very well have lived in these very ruins.”
Clever Clover shook his head. “Whatever.”
Belle Star joined them in the chamber. “I’m glad to see you’re all right, Coyote. I was very worried.”
“Sorry to harass you like that. I was just having a little fun.”
“Well, playtime’s over. Let’s have a look around this place.” The three ponies began to explore the complex of underground chambers. As they progressed deeper into the unknown, Clever Clover counted his paces and sketched a rough map to keep from getting lost. Coyote carried the camera to photograph any interesting features they might come across. Belle Star made written descriptions of the complex.
“Have you noticed how the chambers seem more crude the farther we go?” Belle Star commented.
Clever Clover nodded. “Yeah, I wonder what it could mean?”
“Well, according to my ancestors, life originated in the underworld and eventually migrated to the surface,” said Coyote. “The kiva is supposed to symbolize that journey. This could just be an expanded representation.”
“So you think we’ll end up in the underworld if we keep going?”
“That sounds scary.”
“Caves were seen as the natural entrances to the underworld. There is probably a cave complex somewhere under the mesa. In fact, theses chambers could have been carved out of the natural caves.”
“That makes sense.” Clever Clover checked his watch. “It’s getting late. We should probably turn back.”
“But I was really hoping to see where this all leads.”
“Would you rather make the climb back to camp in the dark? We can always come back tomorrow. In fact, it might be best if we brought our tents up to the kiva and just camped out up there. It’s going to take a long time to explore this entire complex. Of course, the final decision will be up to Kiva.”
“Right. I guess you’re right. Let’s head back.”
* * *
The trio of archaeologist ponies made their way back through the underground complex to the kiva and down the cliff, along the ledge, through the crevice, and finally down the ledges to the base of the mesa. They reached the camp just after sunset.
“Where have you three been?” demanded Kiva, the head archaeologist. “You should have finished that kiva by noon.”
“Well, boss, we got a little side-tracked,” said Coyote.
Belle Star nodded. “Uh huh. We almost ended up in the underworld.”
“What are you talking about? Clever Clover, can you tell me what happened?”
“We found a complex of chambers under the kiva. We took some time to do a preliminary examination, but they were too expansive to fully explore. We were hoping we could establish a secondary camp up by the kiva to expedite the exploration.”
Kiva shook his head. “I’m sorry, but that will have to wait until next year. Our budget for this season is almost gone, and we may not be able to finish as much as I had planned already.”
“We have to wait a whole year?” whined Coyote. “This could be the greatest archaeological discovery of the century!”
“I know that. It’s all the more reason to wait until we have the time and resources to do it right. But, I guess I could see if the university would be willing to grant me some extra funding. Maybe we could get back to it as soon as this fall. Can I assume that the three of you would like to be in on it when we do get the funding?”