Lure of the Lost City

El Dorado. Atlantis. The Lost City of Z. Legends of such fabled places have enticed generations of explorers into the most remote locations on Earth. Usually they return empty-handed, if they return at all. But sometimes the pursuit of a myth leads to a real discovery.

On February 18, 2015, a military helicopter lifted off from a shabby airstrip near the town of Catacamas, Honduras, and headed toward the mountains of La Mosquitia on the northeast horizon. Below, farms gradually gave way to steep sunlit slopes, some covered with unbroken rain forest, others partially stripped for cattle ranching. Picking his way through the summits, the pilot headed for a V-shaped notch in a distant ridge. Beyond it lay a valley surrounded by serrated peaks: an unblemished landscape of emerald and gold, dappled with the drifting shadows of clouds. Flocks of egrets flew below, and the treetops thrashed with the movement of unseen monkeys. There were no signs of human life—not a road, a trail, or a wisp of smoke. The pilot banked and descended, aiming for a clearing along a riverbank.

Among those stepping from the helicopter was an archaeologist named Chris Fisher. The valley was in a region long rumored to harbor “Ciudad Blanca”—a mythic metropolis built of white stone, also known as the Lost City of the Monkey God. Fisher did not believe in such legends. But he did believe that the valley, known to him and his companions simply as T1, contained the ruins of a real lost city, abandoned for at least half a millennium. In fact, he was certain of it.

All they had to do was go and look for it.

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