It has come to my attention that Prof. Jeff Zandi is increasingly
getting more and more attention. I'm under the impression that some
of the attraction to him is that so little is known about him. In
hopes that an unrealistic legend surrounding him is not established
(or that those that are beginning are not perpetuated), I've decided
to provide a brief glimpse into his background.
To tell this background, it's best to go back about fifteen years.
In fact, much of this recent history of D'ni has never been told
publicly. Perhaps now is the time.
D'ni was discovered (in the modern era) sometime in 1987, by a
gentleman named John "Fighting Branch" Loftin. Almost everyone referred
to him as Branch. I don't know the exact date of his discovery,
and unfortunately, he isn't around to ask.
Anyway, Branch happened to be fairly close friends with a wealthy
archaeologist named Elias Zandi (close friends called him "Eli").
Elias' particular area of expertise and interest was the Southwestern
Elias Zandi was well known in archaeological circles. He had visited
a number of sites around the world and procured a number of valuable
historical artifacts. He commonly paid top dollar, eccentrically
claiming there was some kind of connection between himself and the
objects. After a while, he began to focus on Southwest artifacts
exclusively, claiming that some of them had a "special mystery".
It was during this time that Elias became closely associated with
Branch. Branch had a certain knack of finding items that Elias was
particularly interested in.
The dam broke loose when, while exploring in some caverns, Branch
stumbled upon what we now know were D'ni digging machines. To describe
Elias as elated does not come close to portraying the truth. Possessed
is possibly a better word. Elias became single minded in his pursuit.
It was 1988, March 19th to be exact, that Branch and Elias made
their first trip into the caverns, as documented in Elias' journal.
It was a short one, through the entrance, through a small crack,
suddenly into D'ni-made tunnels, past the long abandoned diggers,
and eventually to the top of the shaft. They returned from that
first trip as changed men - Elias writing in his journal, "I have
come to a place that I could have never have imagined, and yet it
seems I have come home."
It was in 1989, on their third major expedition that they reached
the great D'ni cavern and saw the ruined city. Elias' journal stoically
describes what they saw, but word has it that he was so overwhelmed
that he collapsed to his knees and wept. He realized then that the
size of this discovery required him to seek assistance. He made
plans to call an old friend.
I had met Elias years before and seen him on numerous expeditions.
The two of us, around the same time, but for quite different reasons,
began to focus on the southwest U.S. and had several opportunities
to work closely together. By 1989, we were fairly close.
After being contacted by Elias, it took me little time to start
making plans for a lengthy expedition. I still remember my initial
skepticism at his claims, and yet I trusted him, based on our friendship
and the information he supplied. At the same time, Elias began the
process of purchasing thousands of acres of land surrounding the
area where the tunnels had been found. [As a side note, it was also
at this time that Elias first contacted the brothers of Rod Miller,
a friend of his son Jeff. He wanted to spread the word of his discovery
in a very subtle way to others he thought might feel "the call",
but I'm getting ahead of myself.]
By the time everything was in place in 1990, Branch, Elias, and
myself were ready for our first major expedition to D'ni together.
I must admit, with every new thing I saw; with every step I took;
the further I got from the surface; the closer I felt to home. That
journey ended up lasting more than three weeks and brought the three
of us all the way to Ae'gura. It was there we discovered a number
of artifacts, including, most importantly, the journals of Catherine.
In 1991, the three of us made another trip, but sadly, Branch
did not make it back to the surface. The events of that trip have
shaped me, and although I choose not to recount the details, I will
note that I broke rules and permitted things that I regret to this
day. It was a very trying experience, but neither Elias nor myself
could help but continue pushing forward, albeit with some additional
By this time we were able to begin translating some of Catherine's
journals and other documents that had been found. Elias was passing
this information to the Millers on the surface. As information was
uncovered, their project shifted from a story about the discovery
of the cavern to the stories told by Catherine's journals.
By 1992 things were moving rather quickly. I formed an expeditionary
group, with a few of my former colleagues, to perform a much more
detailed and lengthy examination of the cavern. (The recruiting
stories are amusing - perhaps another time.) Elias did not accompany
this group on our trip down. He came down later and met us in the
It was this meeting in the city where I realized that Elias and
I differed on our views of the future of D'ni. It appeared to me
that he was taking some rather extreme view regarding restoring
the city to its "original glory" and re-inhabiting it with people
who called themselves D'ni. He said things like "We feel the call,
for many of us have the blood of D'ni within us, and it calls us
home." I must say that I understood some of what he was espousing,
but not the extreme to which he was taking it.
Don't misunderstand, I was still committed to the endeavor. D'ni
was calling me, maybe not in exactly the way it was calling Elias,
but it was calling. So Elias and I continued to work together as
he funded the continuing restoration of D'ni. It's interesting to
note that from that trip in 1992 until now; the city has never been
It was also in late 1992 that I began dividing my time between
explorations of the cavern and helping the Miller brothers with
their project on the surface. By this time, several of Catherine's
journals and many of the other documents we had found had been translated.
Elias felt this project would be best served if I were there in
person to provide them with information directly. I agreed.
As Elias became more consumed with the restoration, his health
began to deteriorate. In 1993 he underwent open-heart surgery, and
his doctors warned him to slow down. But his life was tied to the
restoration of D'ni, and nothing could slow him down. It would eventually
In late 1993 I had the pleasure of bringing Rand, Robyn and Ryan
Miller to the city for the first time. They were awed by the place,
stating that our descriptions and even photographs of it had not
nearly done it justice. This was shortly after their project had
been completed, but before it had been released.
Their game Myst, based on the story of Atrus found in Catherine's
journals, would go far beyond any of our initial expectations. Elias'
desire was not to tell the whole world about D'ni, but rather to
specifically spread the word to others who would recognize the tales,
even on a subconscious level, and would themselves feel "the call".
He expected those who heard the story but didn't feel the call to
just dismiss the stories as works of mere fiction. We would all
be surprised by the number of people who would feel the call in
the years to come.
In 1994 I organized two massive supply trips to move large amounts
of supplies and equipment to D'ni. The second trip was affectionately
known as the "ice cream" trip because of the number of cones (saftey
cones) we brought down.
1995 proved to be rather interesting. It showed the largest spike
of small groups of people going out into the desert, looking for
a path to D'ni. Invariably, they claimed they were "called" using
that same term that we had used. Elias was thrilled. Many of those
who came were accepted as volunteers on the restoration project.
In late 1995, November I think, there was another interesting
turn of events. Elias had escorted Rand and Robyn back to the city,
and Elias' son Jeff was with them. Jeff had been down several times
before, but this trip was memorable. Jeff and Elias had a rather
large philosophical disagreement over the restoration of the city.
Jeff had some strong opinions regarding the path his father was
taking and was very vocal. He rather strongly stated that he felt
that the restoration was never supposed to be purely physical, but
that it was primarily a spiritual renewal. Elias didn't understand
that position at all, and the arguments grew heated at many points.
As far as I know, the two parted ways after that, and I don't know
if they saw each other again.
Sadly, in 1996 my good friend Elias died of a massive heart attack.
He left his fortune to the D'ni Restoration Foundation, a nonprofit
organization he had established. I was the chair of that foundation
and executor of his estate. He left no money to his son, but strangely,
he left him the land in New Mexico.
I was somewhat overwhelmed by the responsibility that was thrust
on me, and formed the D'ni Restoration Council in January of 1997
to create a group of people to help me oversee the restoration.
As time has passed, I've come to be nearly as obsessed with the
restoration project as Elias was, tempered by our past mistakes
and realizing that this effort must be balanced with a focus on
I've had some contact with Jeff over the years, I even offered
him a seat on the DRC, but he refused saying that his vision for
the restoration was something beyond what we on the Council could
Jeff is a good man; an honest man, and I've always held him in
fond regard. Even so, I don't agree with his methods or his misguided
vision regarding the restoration of D'ni. That said, I continue
to hold out hope that one day we will work together in this grand
Dr. Richard A. Watson