Our candidate for the land of Helam is the area around the confluence of the Rio Las Mulas and the Arroyo del Cerro with the Icbolay in the northern part of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. The modern town of San Benito is 7 kilometers west across the Icbolay. This map shows the location about 14 kilometers south of the east-west Mexico-Guatemala line.
|Proposed Land of Helam on the Icbolay River|
|Typical Ancient Route (in white) from Highland|
Guatemala to the Usumacinta Coastal Plain
2. Alma1 and his followers could have entered the wilderness north of the local land of Nephi from any number of points along the north bank of the Motagua River. This map shows circles with radii of 80 kilometers centered on 3 of those possible departure points.
|120 Air Kilometer Circles Centered on Points|
along the North Bank of the Motagua
3. Our land of Helam has a number of characteristics many would find pleasant or beautiful. For example, within a radius of 6.5 air kilometers, there are 8 different streams of water: the very large Chixoy, the large Icbolay, and the smaller Las Mulas, Limon with tributary, Lachua and Arroyo del Cerro with tributary. Within that same radius, there are several small lakes. Elevations range from 135 meters along the rivers to hills over 600 meters high. Dense forests cover the higher elevations. A series of rapids on the Icbolay provide cascading whitewater. 8 contemporary villages with populations ranging from 25 to 600 lie within the bounds of our circle.
With rivers and streams, lakes, 465 meters of vertical rise, forests and whitewater rapids, this area has features that could plausibly be called beautiful and pleasant. Criterion #3 satisfied.
|6.5 Air Kilometer Radius Circle Around Proposed Helam|
4. Mormon's description of Helam's "pure water" has always seemed curious. Southern Mexico, Guatemala and Belize have hundreds if not thousands of streams of water. Would not most of them have been relatively pure in Book of Mormon times? D&C 121:33 comes to mind, "How long can rolling waters remain impure?" Observing the environment around our Helam, Mormon's word choice makes perfect sense. 15 air kilometers to the west is Laguna Lachua, a Guatemalan National Park. It is a large Karstic lake similar to the famous cenotes of Yucatan. Its waters have a sulphurous smell. The name "Lachua" comes from Q'eqchi' and means smelly or fetid water. 10 air kilometers northwest of our Helam is the famous Maya site Salinas de los Nueve Cerros. The site sits beside a large salt dome that has been worked for over 3,000 years. This was the only inland source of salt in the entire Maya region. A stream called Arroyo Salinas carries brackish, salty water from the salt dome to the Chixoy. This is the reason the big river is called the Salinas from the Mexico line to the Pasion confluence where it becomes the Usumacinta.
|Laguna Lachua Sulphur Water and Salinas de los|
Nueve Cerros Salt Water near Proposed Helam
5. Farming takes place today in the area we have identified as Helam, so obviously the ground is arable and supports crop production. This satellite image shows worked fields on the outskirts of settlement just as the text describes Mosiah 23:25.
|Agriculture in the Proposed Land of Helam|
6.Precisely where our model predicts, we find a valley bounded by the 500+ meter Rubelsanto mountains to the south, 300+ meter hills to the east, a 200+ meter ridge to the northeast, the very large Chixoy River to the west and the large San Roman River to the east.
|Proposed Valley of Alma Ringed by Highlands and Rivers|
|20 Air Kilometers Land of Helam to Valley of Alma|
7. Our valley of Alma is 186.74 air kilometers distant from Boca del Cerro, the point we identify as the southeast corner of the local land of Zarahemla. Our model predicts 180 air kilometers based on Mosiah 24:25.
|186.74 Air Kilometers Valley of Alma to Local Land of Zarahemla|
8. Based on recent military activity in the area, the Lamanite army dispatched to pursue Limhi probably originated in the land of Shemlon Mosiah 10:7, 19:6. They probably entered the wilderness north of the Motagua. We correlate the land of Amulon with the dual ruins San Vicente and Setal on the Setal River, tributary of the Icbolay. A transect from the bank of the Motagua north of our proposed land of Shemlon to our proposed land of Amulon is 91 air kilometers in length. A second transect from Amulon to Helam is 47 air kilometers in lenth. 91 + 47 = 138 air kilometers.
138/15 = 9.2 which qualifies as "many days" to be lost in the wilderness. Criterion #8 satisfied.
|138 Air Kilometers Shemlon to Amulon to Helam|
9. It is not hard to imagine both the priests of Noah and the Lamanite army getting lost in the broken country between Nephi and Helam. There were 5 major obstacles to navigate around and through. First was the Sierra de las Minas mountain range rising to heights above 2,800 meters between the Motagua and the Polochic shown here in Google Maps Terrain View.
|Sierra de las Minas between the Motagua on|
the South and the Polochic on the North
|Narrow Strip of Wilderness Line of Cliffs (in green)|
|Sierra de Xucaneb between the Polochic on the South|
and the Cahabon on the North
|Sierra de Chama North of the Cahabon|
|Sierra de Chama Rivers and Streams|
|Broken Country around Land of Amulon|
10. A surefire route exists from Helam back to Nephi. It follows the very large Chixoy River to the valley south of Manti, then the Cahabon, back to the Chixoy by the head of Sidon, and then the Salama to the pass over the Sierra de las Minas. That gets you back in the Motagua drainage where the mountains and rivers are predictable and much easier to navigate. The part of the Chixoy outlined in black is generally avoided even today because it is so rugged. Switching back and forth between the Chixoy and the Cahabon to get across the narrow strip of wilderness probably contributed to the Amulonites' and Lamanites' disorientation in the first place.
|Reliable Route Helam to Nephi|
Our candidate for Helam comfortably meets all 10 textual criteria.
Article updated April 26, 2016.
Article updated April 26, 2016.