Though most scholars view Aztlan as a cherished myth, Figueroa sees it as the living, breathing center of the world. The 76-year-old community organizer and former miner has spent decades studying old Spanish texts and Meso American hieroglyphs, matching them up, he says, with mountains and landmarks around Blythe.
"People often want to look to far-off exotic places for explanations of things when you can find the answers locally," said Kenneth Hedges, an expert in rock art and emeritus curator at San Diego's Museum of Man. "Whether the valley is home to Aztlan and the origins of the Aztecs, there is simply no way to know. And as far I'm concerned, there is no way to prove it."
Hedges said ancestors of the Mojave and Quechan Indians who lived along the Colorado River are most likely responsible for the Blythe intaglios. Still, he said: "The ethnographic history of the river is very difficult to follow because there have been so many migrations. It's hard to say who was involved and at which time."
Believe Figueroa or not, his boundless enthusiasm is infectious.
In his world, a rocky protrusion is a nose, a pointy mountain a pyramid.
He's energetic bordering on frenetic, and he quizzes those around him to make sure they don't miss anything.
"See that mountain? What does it look like?" he asks.
"It's the creator's chair," he declares. "And over there are the Mule Mountains. That's where you go when you die."
Figueroa grew up in Blythe in a neighborhood he calls the "oldest in the world." Its true name, he says, is Acacitli, which means "jackrabbit in the reeds" in Nahuatl, the Aztec language.
His grandfather began mining gold, copper and manganese in 1862. His father followed and Figueroa was right behind.
Life was hard in the mines. Tunnels collapsed, but Figueroa learned the landscape.
"That's how I know all these hills and all these sites," he said.
Figueroa has nine children and lives in a rambling ranch house crammed with artifacts. A Virgin Mary stands in the living room. The serpent god Quetzalcoatl lurks near the kitchen.
"He is the god who has no name and all names," Figueroa says cryptically before vanishing into his room to dig up old maps.
His adult children filter into the frontyard, where dozens of birds twitter in a large shade tree. They smile respectfully as he launches into a lecture.
"He eats, sleeps and dreams this stuff," said his daughter Machi Rivera, 50.
Long before her father got involved with the solar plants, he was a tireless activist, campaigning against the proposed Ward Valley nuclear dump, organizing farmworkers and fighting for Latino rights.
When his daughter Patricia got into trouble in 1972 for showing a movie about anti-Nixon protests at school, he started a new school, Escuela de la Raza Unida, which still operates today. A radio station followed.
Then came the geoglyphs."It was a whole new world," Rivera said. "He would go deeper and deeper into the mountains and find new intaglios. It's like a big puzzle for him, and day after day he would get closer to the answer."
It was a puzzle for the family as well.
"He often spoke in riddles," Rivera said. "But after awhile I came to be a believer."
Figueroa had always been interested in his ancestry, but a single incident turned a spark into an inferno. In 1957, an uncle in Sonora, Mexico, handed him a book, "Notions of Sonora."
The book placed Aztlan about 100 miles north of the confluence of the Colorado and Gila rivers. "I realized that was near Blythe," he said.
He began reading Spanish codices dealing in Aztec history. He read indigenous histories in university libraries. When he pieced it all together, he concluded that Aztlan was in his own backyard.
"I was thrilled to find this out, but I had to convince my family. I was very fond of Joe Friday from Dragnet, ‘Just the facts,' so I had to find evidence," he said.
His wife, Demesia, 73, recalled the early days. "At first when he introduced me to all this, I didn't understand it," she said. "Then I started going to the sites and getting this really good energy."
When he embraced the Aztec religion over Catholicism, however, she drew the line.
"I said I was brought up as a Catholic, so leave me alone with my saints and my Virgin Mary," she said. "I can't turn my back on the saints."
He has self-published his theories in a book, "Ancient Footprints along the Colorado River," and founded the La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle, a group of 14 like-minded people dedicated to the geoglyphs.
Back at Kokopelli, the dancers wound up their ceremony. Some carried sticks covered in wolf skin and dangling eagle talons.
They formed a circle around the smoking sage and spoke of the significance of the day.
"Maybe they have good intentions in pursuing clean energy, but they will erase our history," a 20-year-old dancer named Nedze said of the solar project. "It would be like throwing up a shopping mall in the middle of Jerusalem."
Figueroa took up a staff and walked — a man among giants.
"Our whole effort today is to make sure our creator knows how we much care," he said.