A Florida Girl Heads West…

SUBMITTED Septemberย 2014
BYย Mindy

There’s nothing like the lure of hidden treasure and a mysterious puzzle to encourage a dreamer like me into action. However, before I rushed to buy a ticket to “somewhere in the Rockies,” I figured I should at least have a good idea where I was going.

photo 4So, for the last year, my 13 year old son, Joe, and I have been reading and researching, and at last, I felt confident enough to buy our tickets. We were heading to Colorado.

Now, I’ll tell you where I went wrong…or right, depending on how you look at it. I wanted the search to be especially memorable for my son. So, although I was fairly confident where the treasure was, I decided to take my son to where I WANTED it to be. Nature’s perfect hyperbola–Maroon Bells. All the hints that related to twins, mirrors, time, omegas, hourglasses, infinity…it all fit the hyperbola, and Maroon Bells is one of nature’s best.

photo 1We arrived in Colorado on Thursday morning, and rented a nice little AWD for the ride to Aspen and Snowmass. Along the way, Joe desperately wanted to find a Cracker Barrel, but there were none to be found. Using my GPS, I found a little place in Georgetown, which is a very quaint, historic little town full of beautifully restored homes from the 1800’s. They also had a nice little Main Street, with art galleries and antique shops. We spent way too much time there, but it was fun, and Joe scored some neat little treasures that I paid an arm and a leg for.


photo 8We arrived at our hotel in Snowmass too late to search, but we headed to Maroon Bells first thing the next morning. It was incredible–the sheer size of the mountains and the vastness of the land was overwhelming for a Florida girl whose idea of a hill is the fire ant mound in the backyard.


photo 9We started walking along the lake, and il took many pictures of the famous hyperbola as we strolled. Suddenly, my son gasped and grabbed my arm, yanking me back. I looked up to see a huge pair of swaying pink antlers in a little brushy area about ten feet in front of us.

Moose antlers. Big moose antlers.

photo 10

We backed away for a few feet. When we were sure the moose wasn’t coming after us, we high-tailed it to safer ground and took some pictures and video of Bullwinkle the Terrible eating and using his antlers to break the branches to a lower height.

The rest of the day was just as exciting, though not as heart-stoppingly so. As we exercised our Florida lungs with the moderate uphill climb to Crater Lake, I quickly realized that Forrest probably wouldn’t have hidden the treasure here. I wanted to check out Minnehaha Gulch, but if seasoned hikers described the trek to the gulch as “difficult,” I didn’t think an 80 year old man hefting at least 24 pounds of treasure on two trips could do it (no offense, Forrest!).

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On the way back down, we enjoyed the little kangaroo rats–or marmots–or whatever they were–chirping alerts to each other from their perches on boulder lookouts. The weather was beautiful, the scenery spectacular, and the wind whispered soft music through the trees as we stored each sight and sound and feeling into our memory.

photo 12

From there, we took the advice of a local ranger and checked out the ghost town of Ashcroft. I was certain the treasure wasn’t there, but at that point, I was no longer concerned with finding a monetary trove. The excited smile on my sons face as he held my hand and pulled me toward the old, broken horse cart was more than treasure enough. Still, we scoured the ground in search of artifacts others might have missed, and we actually found a couple very old nails. At one time, when we were sifting through the stones by a stream, Joe said, “I wish Mr. Fenn was here. He’d know what an arrowhead looks like.”

After exploring Ashcroft, we stopped by a stream and broke out the gold panning kit we’d bought at Georgetown. We carefully followed the instructions, and sure enough, we found a few almost microscopic flakes.

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By then, the day was wearing long, but we didn’t want to stop. So, we drove up Independence Pass to a place called the Discovery/Braille Trail. Joe thought the treasure could be there because the trail had ropes with knots in them that led blind people from one station to another where descriptions were written in both English and Braille. We poked around for a while. We were the only ones there, and the sun was just starting to set, and I remembered that, just a few miles back at Maroon Bells, the campgrounds were closed due to recent “issues” with a growing bear population. I didn’t want to come face to face with one, especially after our close encounter with the moose.

On the way back to the hotel, we passed a dirt track named “Midnight Mine Road.” I couldn’t resist. I turned onto the red, dusty trail and we creeped up the mountain. Every muscle tensed as we slowly rounded curves with barely enough room for our little car before the road spilled off the side. If we happened to catch a loose bit of dirt, I thought we’d be spilling over the side, so I abandoned the idea of finding treasure there pretty quick. Not very brave in the way-up-high-on-unstable-ground department, I’m afraid.

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The next morning, Saturday, we explored the Grottos, which features ice caves, waterfalls, and some curious rock formations. Again, although we searched there, I didn’t really believe it was there. As I began to realize just how much bigger the world was outside of my fishbowl in Florida, the treasure became more of a needle in a haystack than a possible reality. We still hadn’t searched my main area, but if it was as vast as Maroon Bells, I wasn’t going to hold my breath.

Around 9:30 am, we headed for my main spot, which is in the Tarryall vicinity. Not in Tarryall, not in Buena Vista, but sorta in the middle. Oreo’s come to mind when looking in my spot. It took over 3 hours to get there along Independence Pass, which can also be a little scary, especially when the locals fly around those curves like their cars can magically sprout wings.

After lunch at a neat little place called The Rooster’s Crow, just past American Flag Mountain and right near Birthday Peak, we headed onto 24 toward my spot. I wasn’t quite sure how we would get to the spot, and I wasn’t even sure it would look like I had envisioned. Everything else I had imagined turned out to be so much…more.

However, when I glanced off to the left and saw the beacon on top of the mountain, I knew I was in the right spot. A few moments later, a helicopter chopped it’s way through the clouds overhead. But, the mountain was so far away, and none of my maps showed any roads that would take me close enough…until I spotted the dirt road.

I was so startled I jumped in my seat, which made Joe (who was napping) startle awake and look behind us to see what cute animal I had just made into road kill.

“I think this is it!” I exclaimed, and he was instantly alert and excited. We followed the bumpy dirt road to an area where kids (and adult kids, I presume) partied and had campfires and drank beer and shot at targets, which were still pinned to a tree.

Then, we heard the first rumble of thunder. Traitorous dark clouds began to boil in the distance. We searched quickly, but I knew this wasn’t right. I had to get to the spot where you would be if you looked quickly down from the blaze, the beacon on top of the mountain, that would begin winking as night fell.

photo 5

The forest roads were like a spider web around that place, and we would follow one road, just to have it curve the wrong way. Then another road, only to find it, too, curved away from my site. I didn’t want to risk walking, as the thunder was coming more frequently, and it was beginning to sprinkle. We’d already stopped at a handful of spots and searched extensively. Everything fit. WWWH was nearby. HoB was, too. We were in an area with lots of sagebrush flats. There were blazing white aspens, just beginning to show their magnificent fall colors. There were bumpy roads. The area was lonely, cold. Our socks and shoes were covered with little burrs (we had to toss our socks in the trash). Our legs were a tad scratched up, too, but that was nothing compared to the excitement we felt, that we were THERE.

We finally found a notice board which held maps of the area. I opened it up (it was a HUGE map), and found the road I needed to take.

BUT…so close turned out to be still so far. The clouds unleashed a flurry while we tried to speed our SUV over the bumps and furrows to our spot. Hail rained down on us, and I cringed with each ping, praying the dents wouldn’t add up to extra rental fees. The dirt roads began to form into little streams, and the SUV was starting to struggle.

I glanced over at my son, and he was struggling, too, trying to keep calm. His anxiety was evident, though, and I realized no treasure was worth the look on his face. It was a long way back to the main road, and though he was trying to be brave, he couldn’t help but ask, “What happens if the roads flood and we can’t get out?”

His nervous question was punctuated by a peal of malevolent thunder, and I wondered if maybe someone was trying to tell me it either wasn’t time for the treasure to be found, or that it wasn’t meant to be found by me. Either way, the only thing I could do was start for the main road, sloshing slowly along as the streams became more like whitewater rapids. At some parts of the road, I could hear the water hitting the underbelly of the car, it was so deep. I prayed a quick prayer that went something like, “Okay, we’re leaving. Just don’t let the car stall in the middle of this!”

We made it out, and soon after, we were in Tarryall. The rain had also let up. We stopped by the one room schoolhouse to see if any particular nostalgic saying was hanging over the door. The door was locked, so we crunched through the snow-like hail still on the ground and peeked in the windows. The schoolroom looked like it was still in use. Maybe for town meetings, or church meetings, or maybe even for burro training classes. Next to the schoolhouse was a field of the cutest burros I’d ever seen. In my beach-trained surfer’s brain, I imagined donkeys looking like old, worn out, hunchbacked working mules. But these were peppy and happy and clean, and seemed to be curious and even smiley.


We loved those burros. Joe wanted to take one home, and I think I did, too. Can you imagine taking a burro to the beach? He’d have to wear sunglasses.

We contemplated going back to try and slog our way through the mud, but more clouds loomed in the distance, and we were pretty sure that even if the water had drained from the roads, they would still be too muddy to pass.

So, we started back to Denver, where we would catch the 6:30 am flight back home the next morning. Along the way, we saw many more curious sites, like the waterfall by Tarryall Reservoir, a stone chimney standing all by itself surrounded by trees along the side of the road, and a belligerent biker that had flew by us at the speed of light getting arrested about twenty miles up the road. Joe thought that was pretty funny, and it was glad to see he wasn’t upset about not finding the treasure.

I suspect that maybe he thought as I did–that we did find a treasure, and all was right in our world.

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Except for the not being able to smuggle a cute black burro onto a plane.

62 thoughts on “A Florida Girl Heads West…

  1. Mindy thanks for sharing the story I enjoyed it…I totally understand your needle in the haystack feeling each of us in our own little spot imagines everything is quaint and easy another reason why boots on the ground is part of the fun in this chase. Great story! I’m glad you and your son had fun.

  2. Great story u put together .
    When we are at home and doing research we feel so confident in our on solve that once u get to the location your like OK where do I begin, due to the massive area.
    Each time we have gone on our adventure I had so much confidence like 100% .
    And I’m still thinking and trying to figure it out. When I search we are serious about finding the chest .
    Thank u for sharing your location with us . Glad u and your son had a safe trip . ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Tarryall does seem like a good fit Mindy. I know a lot of searchers have gravitated to that general area. Thanks for sharing your story and good luck in the future.

  4. Thanks, everyone. I want to go back to my spot between Tarryall and Buena Vista in the spring. Or maybe October with a friend, if I can swing it. This time I will stay nearby, and search my spot first, lol.
    A cool thing I forgot to mention, is that apparently I was in (or on, rather) Taos during my search (see the second picture). ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. At one time, when we were sifting through the stones by a stream, Joe said, “I wish Mr. Fenn was here. He’d know what an arrowhead looks like.”

    Yes, we all needed to take that third generation person with us on our adventures. Sounds like you were close. But the journey was the treasure after all.

  6. What a wonderful adventure with your son Mindy. I like your ideas and you never know…maybe you are yet another searcher who “got the first two clues right…and then went right past the next seven”, not knowing they were so close to the treasure. None of us really knows for sure given the vastness of it all as you so eloquently portrayed.

  7. Wow Mindy, what a great trek. Reading your story really got me thinking like if I was there. Thank you and your son for a great story. Now that is what Forrest wants us all to do.

    • I second that! Excellent writing, Mindy. You write a lot more betterer than I ever could…and I’m not just saying that…or writing it.
      A good boy grows up to be great man by reflecting the love shown to him by a Great Mother.

      • Thank you, JC. I wish I could tell everyone my whole story, but that would take way too long. I’ll just say my little family is tighter than tight after a few years of the world being upside down. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • U know GEY
        I said and I keep saying I will post my solve but I’m just not ready I doubt we head out anytime soon . Maybe next summer we can go again. We need to concentrate on the clues of course but also getting some bills paid. August and September we did 4-5 searchers that was a lot of back and forth from Texas to Colorado . Forrest we spent some money lol:(
        This is something u can’t put down that is searching for the chest. I wonder if I’m even close or if I’m just Spinning my Wheels ๐Ÿ™‚ !!!!!

        • Amy, I post bits and pieces of my solve. It helps me grow confidence. I do it to catalog my message to the world and a snippet to Forrest. There is no better way to set things in motion. I notice things when I post something on this site. I am a very observant person and I do notice when there is a disturbance in the forest. Ok, I misspell once in awhile. Today, I thought about the quote “Dancing with the Stars”. It just struck me the wrong way. “Perhaps that is how to chase”.

          Anyway, if your solve gets too big, open the spigot just enough to wet everyone’s thoughts. Some are going dry.

          I don’t have a big home but if a chaser wants to park there redneck pickup out front and roll out there sleeping bag on the floor. I will make sure a home cook meal is on for dinner.

          Peace and Goodnight to all the chasers.

        • Amy, I know one thing I will do differently if I search in Colorado again. I won’t stay in Aspen, where a room service pizza, two cokes and a chocolate lava brownie (they called it a “cake”) cost $84!

  8. What a great adventure you had with your son Mindy! Loved the pictures and you are a gifted writer too, very well done! Good luck with your next search – I’m sure your son will remember those exciting experiences for the rest of his life.

      • PS: Mindy, cute burro picture! If you get an opportunity to drive through Custer State Park in South Dakota, you will be able to see the famous Begging Burros who are very friendly and will stick their heads in your window looking for something to eat! ๐Ÿ™‚ Lots of other wild life to see there too and many interesting sights close by, like Mount Rushmore, that I’m sure you and your son would really enjoy. Not a “treasure hunting” adventure, but you’ll find other treasures to cherish. ๐Ÿ™‚

        • CJ, thanks to this chase, I’m discovering there are soooo many places I want to experience. I’ve never been to South Dakota, and I would love to visit there someday!

  9. Love it what a good mama you are I love story’s like yours this is what the treasure hunt is all about ๐Ÿ™‚ good times ๐Ÿ™‚ making great memories for your son .

  10. Reading your adventure was a lovely way to start my day Mindy. Pics are great too. Showing your son the mountains, leadership, bravery, and the willingness to venture into the unknown is priceless.

  11. Mindy, you have a pleasing knack. I envy you and your son for being out where the adventures are. You remind me of Eric Sloane who loved barns and falling-down log cabins. This is what I wrote in by book about him.

    “This book is dedicated to all of the warped and broken wooden boards that lay lost and forgotten beside the many barns and covered bridges that were so loved by Eric Sloane, and to the rusted nails whose stories he didn’t live to tell.”

    • Wow, Mr. Fenn, thank you! Iโ€™ll take that as a huge compliment. I have always loved being where the adventures are, and I hope to enjoy some more adventures down the road.

      One thing I mentioned to my son while checking out a withered old building in Ashcroft was, โ€œCan you imagine what it was like to live here, Joe?โ€ And he replied with something that still amazes me when I think about it. He said, โ€œYeah. I think they were lucky, in a way, because they got to see this (the surrounding area) every day, and not just on TV.โ€

      Thank you again, Forrest. It was an amazing trip!

  12. Mindy, your son is so handsome! And I understand how good it felt to do something that encouraged so much excitement, together! Your a good mother and an exceptional writer. Thank you for sharing. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Love your story. Hearing people talk about Colorado makes me want to move back there. I have been to the areas you talk about. Though I saw a lot of Colorado, I realize how much I never did see. And yes the weather can change in a heartbeat. I will never forget the time my brother and wife came for a visit in July and we went camping in Rocky Mtn Natl Park. We were loading the suburban with down sleeping bags, blankets, sweaters down jackets as my brother said REALLY???. It snowed that night and every stitch of everything we brought was used and still not enough. I do not know how the pioneers did it! I think human thermostats have changed through the years.

  14. I really enjoyed your story and wonderful pictures Mindy. You are a great mom. I applaud your willingness to get out of your comfort zone and go exploring with your son. The Rockies and American west have to be experienced; words cannot describe the vastness of the landscape.

    These are memories that will be cherished by you and your son forever. My oldest daughter turned forty this year; hardly a family meeting goes by that her and her sister donโ€™t tell the story about our encounter with the baby moose while canoeing in Wyoming.

    To have great memories, you first have to live them.

  15. Thanks! I was hoping Dal would include the picture of the happy burros, but he did a fantastic job putting this together! I also wish I had brought a better camera with me. I had a GoPro Black, but the battery died. :/

  16. Thank you, Ed. It’s an awesome feeling to be out in the wide open (and sometimes extremely narrow) spaces of wild America, witnessing first-hand the grand marvel of creation.

  17. Wow, Mr. Fenn, thank you! I’ll take that as a huge compliment. I have always loved being where the adventures are, and I hope to enjoy some more adventures down the road.

    One thing I mentioned to my son while checking out a withered old building in Ashcroft was, “Can you imagine what it was like to live here, Joe?” And he replied with something that still amazes me when I think about it. He said, “Yeah. I think they were lucky, in a way, because they got to see this (the surrounding area) every day, and not just on TV.”

    Thank you again, Forrest. It was an amazing trip! ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Its mid-morning on the West Coast, the 2nd brew is done, time to check the screen.
    And I find I have a debt I can only pay with โ€˜Thank Youโ€. I think Iโ€™ll call my boy, Joe, in Boston today.
    Some advice if I mayโ€ฆ memories fade, put away a hard copy; your Joe may have his own 13 year old someday, and this will be an even better read then. Youโ€™re about to hit a dry spell. At 14, shared journeys are over, Joes no longer hold your hand or trust you know anything at all. so, prepare for spring. And Thanks again.

    • Great story Mindy. Really nice that you and your son built memories together. Colorado would have remained a distant place in a book without your shared experience seeing and smelling Colorado’s sunshine.

  19. Mindy, what a great story of you and your son’s trip to Colorado. You have a wonderful talent of expressing your emotions and putting them down in type. That is a treasure in and of itself, but the real treasure is spending time with your son on this awesome trip. Thanks for sharing your adventure and experiences with us.

  20. Me personally I like the story, I live in Florida and knows what it takes to travel that far on a short time frame. People that live close to a search area don’t know how lucky you guys are. Just to even get acclimated in a short period is rough by itself and that to go hiking up a canyon his equal to smoking a Carton of cigarettes then jumping onto a treadmill less than a hour. The only thing that looks familiar is the donkeys cause Florida is full of the two legged type.

    • William,
      That’s for sure! The hike was a little bit of a struggle even though we were in pretty good shape health-wise. I saw locals hiking up with 3 year old kids on their backs–parent Marines. Lol.
      When we were at the top of Independence Pass at the Continental Divide, the air was even thinner, and it was tough just to walk up a small incline.
      It really is much different than Florida.
      I loved Colorado, though, and would love to live there.
      I lived in Albuquerque for six years when my ex husband was in the Air Force. I wish I still lived there so I could be close to the chase!

      • Just the adventure to he there is something else to 6 hour flight will get you Restless. Sounds like you had fun and best wishes on your next trip. We live in New Mexico for about 3 years on Kirtland AFB and that was nice. We live on a dead end that overlooked the desert but it’s been so long I imagine it’s changed sense then

  21. Loved your story Mindy and Joe! I understand what you mean by the tiny road on the side of mountain with nothing to keep you from falling over the edge; no place for the meek. I have that problem. You and your son will keep those memories in you for a lifetime. Thank you for sharing your Great adventure with us.

  22. Whew! Dang, that sounded like a close call. I was scared for a moment. Makes me happy to know that I have my Dottie to lift my confidence in times of peril. Mindy’s adventure, it appears, could be one I’d enjoy. I certainly look forward to 9-13-14! An adventure is to be had! Please, no storms. To all who are going on end of warm season searches, good luck and stay safe.

  23. Mindy, i just love your story!
    Its a special thing in life when a mom can head out on such an adventure with her son ..I’m so happy that you were able to do this with your son.
    When u mentioned the expression your son had on his face.. and how his “anxiety was evident”..
    Ugg ..I know that had to worry you.. You conveyed that feeling so well i felt it myself!
    You seemed so brave and
    And at the same time you let him know that no matter what happens you will take care of him!
    And, when he grabbed your arm when he seen the moose.. He will always take care of you too!
    Perfect ending to a perfect adventure.. Treasure would’ve only added to the perfection!

    • You have a wonderful imagination Mindy! I enjoyed reading your search story. I truly love animals and find the burros fascinating. I bet I could name them like I named all the horned toads I caught when I was a child.

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