A Tale of Two Rivers: The Limhi Expedition

The following post is a regurgitation of the following: Tales from the Book of Mormon with a Geographic Twist.

Now king Limhi had sent, previous to the coming of Ammon, a small number of men to search for the land of Zarahemla; but they could not find it, and they were lost in the wilderness. 

Nevertheless, they did find a land which had been peopled; yea, a land which was covered with dry bones; yea, a land which had been peopled and which had been destroyed; and they, having supposed it to be the land of Zarahemla, returned to the land of Nephi, having arrived in the borders of the land not many days before the coming of Ammon. 

And they brought a record with them, even a record of the people whose bones they had found; and it was engraven on plates of ore.
Mosiah 21:25-27

The discovery of Ether's record was a strange occurance, from the vantage point of modern readers who lack geographical context. Just two generations before, Zeniff led a group to reclaim the "land of first inheritance",  south east of Zarahemla, in the highlands. 

Zeniff and his people reclaimed the land, making him king. Zeniff was followed by Noah, who was followed by Limhi. By this time, Limhi was a vassal king to an unnamed Lamanite king. Fatigued by taxation and failed insurrections, Limhi’s people decide to appeal to their brethren in the land of Zarahemla. They sent a group of men to Zarahemla and the expedition gets lost, as described in the verses above.

Zarahemla sat near the banks on the Sidon river. It was always up to Nephi and down to Zarahemla. It wouldn't take much for Zeniff, Noah, or anyone from that first or second generation to pass on the general direction back home. Follow the river, down into a valley and you'll eventually run into Zarahemla. All they had to do was find the head waters and follow the river.

As it turns out, the head waters of the Grijalva(Sidon) and Usamicinta rivers are only 20 miles apart from each other. If the expedition Limhi sent followed the wrong river, the Usamicinta, then they would end up in Jaredite/Olmec territory.