CAUTION: Plot reveled below!
A cautionary poster displayed at the visitors center in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, reads, "Thief of Time: Pot Hunters Destroy America's Past." Indeed the pot hunters seem to be destroying not only the past but each other. When anthropologist Ellie Friedman-Bernal (Rosalia de Aragon), an expert on the vanished Anasazi culture, disappears, her hyper-competitive colleagues, Maxie Davis (Dawn Lewis) and Randy Elliott (Lee Tergesen), claim to be clueless about her whereabouts. Meanwhile, evidence in Ellie's apartment hints that she may have been trying to penetrate the black market in ceramics illegally excavated from Indian lands.
In their search for Ellie's killer, Leaphorn and Chee encounter preacher/pot-fence Slick Nakai (Graham Greene) and his musician/accomplice Pete Etcitty (Kenneth White Eagle Wings), and the rich, unsavory collectors Richard DuMont (James Pollard) and Harrison Houk (Peter Fonda), who is the last person to see Ellie alive. Still the vexing questions remain: Why did Ellie trade a saddle for a kayak just before she disappeared? Why does the crippled Houk himself own a kayak? And what's that hunched-over form in the shadows that looks strangely like Kokopelli, the flute-playing Navajo spirit?