Grayling Creek 2017: Dal’s Version…

NOVEMBER 2017
by dal…

 

Earlier this year ABC Nightline contacted Forrest, Cynthia and me about a story the network news folks wanted to produce on Forrest’s treasure and the searchers who go after it.

Forrest agreed, Cynthia agreed and so did I. The logistical problem of a story like this for the producers includes the fact that the search covers four mountain states and searchers are widespread in their opinion about which of those states the chest actually resides in. So if you, as a producer are covering this chase with two searchers and an interview with Forrest you could end up sending camera crews and reporters to New Mexico for an interview with Forrest and two other states to cover the search by two searchers. If I decide to look in Montana in fall and Cynthia decides to look in Colorado in spring and Forrest wants to do the interview when his new book comes out…that’s a lot of trips for one 15 minute story. It takes time and money to cover at least three different locations at differing times of the year with a three or 4 person crew each time. The big networks have the resources to take that kind of story in stride. Independent filmmakers would rather film a single searcher and Forrest both in New Mexico and within a few days of one another. One trip, one crew…get ‘er done.

If a producer should be so unlucky as to plan on filming a searcher who thinks the chest is located inside Yellowstone National Park…a whole new level of problems presents itself. For instance, Yellowstone National Park doesn’t want to encourage searchers inside the park and they will send staff to oversee the film crew and searcher, much like a prison guard at Alcatraz. You have to search within a quarter mile of a road…and many more restrictions for searchers being filmed.

On the other hand an independent filmmaker and searcher might just slip into the park unnoticed and “get er done”. As illegal as that might be, the story gets shot and the park is unlikely to notice. BUT…if the producer does get caught it can lead to arrest and fines…even permanent banishment from entering a national park. So folks who know the rules usually choose not to break them. The cost is too severe if things go awry.

The plan was for us to meet the ABC crew on September 18th for filming in or around the park. Esmerelda, Kathy and I left for Yellowstone on September 14th. It was beautiful the day we packed up. I heard some hooting in the woods and knew one of the critters that inhabit our woods was wondering what was going on.

BARRED OWL IN OUR WOODS

Along the way we stopped near Arco, Idaho at Craters of the Moon National Monument for a walk and a look/see. This was a good time to visit. Dead of summer this place can be uncomfortably (miserably) hot and walking around on black lava rock when it’s 96 degrees is not my characterization of “a good time”. But it’s a unique micro environment and terribly interesting.

CRATERS OF THE MOON

I like getting down on my hands and knees to look for small things. I ran directly into this guy:

HORNED LIZARD

I’m not superstitious but I have to tell you…between the Barred Owl and the Horned Lizard I was beginning to feel like we were favored. If this was the way we were starting out, the rest of the trip could be fortunate indeed!

Since starting her search, Cynthia had been looking in New Mexico. She has written some great stories about her searches there and I highly recommend you read them on this very blog. She is a riveting writer and a fantastic searcher. Her stories will entertain and inform you. But, for a variety of reasons Cynthia wanted to search up near Yellowstone. She had never been there before, not even as a tourist and there were things she wanted to check out. So Cynthia, her partner Michelle and their dog Molly packed up and headed north. Tom and Coreda and their dog Ming, who were visiting Cynthia and Michelle also headed  toward the park. That was great. I had not seen Tom and Coreda since Fennboree.

We were a big contingent. Including the 3 crew from Nightline and my wife Kathy, we would be nine people and two bronze-sniffing dogs. That chest was not going to escape this time!

As it turned out, only Cynthia, Molly and myself would be searching on camera. The question was whether we should search together in one place to make it easier on the Nightline crew or should we each search in a different location? AND…should we search inside the park or outside the park? I had ideas for both…where to search???

Another concern was snow. Winter was moving in and nobody wanted to get caught in a snowstorm while searching. It would send the wrong message to other searchers and anyway nobody looks dignified on camera while slipping and sliding around. As Kathy and I drove the loop road in Yellowstone we saw snow in the hills:

SNOW IN THE PARK

ELK IN SNOW

By the next morning the snow was gone. On the 17th of September Cynthia and I met up for some looking around West Yellowstone, finding a few Forrest Fenn memorable locations and planning our search.

BISON IN THE PARK

We decided to search together but outside the park. I was particularly interested in an area around Grayling Creek I had not been able to examine. So we made plans to look there.

Grayling Creek has interested me for several years. The clues can take me to a number of places on that lovely creek and I know Forrest fished here.

I wrote earlier about searching on Grayling Creek in Grayling Creek Part One and Part Two on this blog. They can be found HERE

The creek starts in the park and winds its way west down to Hebgen Lake. It is one of many creeks I was investigating along the line of “There’ll be no paddle up your creek”

So here are the major points of the solution we were following:

WWWH = Madison Junction

Canyon Down = Madison Canyon

HOB = Baker’s Hole Campground

WAIT!!! Stop there…Why is Baker’s Hole the Home of Brown…?

That might be the worst fishing hole on the Madison. I’ve never seen anyone lift a fish from that spot. So it can’t be because of Brown trout.

Wellllll….We were using some old information that has been around this blog and others for many years. Namely that Baker’s Hole has not always been known by that name. You can see this for yourself on a 1912 Map of Gallatin County which is easily found on the internet.

Click HERE to go to the 1912 map.

You can see on that map where Baker’s Hole is today was once known as Brown’s Camp. Not too far below Baker’s Hole is Hebgen Lake…Hebgen Lake has a number of Creeks flowing into it and I have been checking them out as potential “No paddle up you creek” type places. By the way that map was also drawn by Fred Brown. I have not been able to find out if he was the Brown of Brown’s Camp…Maybe someone smarter than me can look into that…

In earlier years I had looked at the lower portion of Grayling downstream of the old Culligan Ranch to the lake. I have also looked upstream at the stretch between the Culligan Ranch and the waterfall. Much of this stretch is on private land and I had obtained permission before venturing in. Now, Cynthia and I were hoping to search the stretch between Hwy 191 downstream to somewhere above the waterfall. Our emphasis would be on the high elevation meadow along the north side of Grayling Creek. This stretch is completely on public land.

GRAYLING CREEK

In particular there is a large open meadow on level ground where animals (In my mind) would congregate for grazing and watering. It looked to be a pretty place…somewhere maybe Forrest might choose to be his final resting place.  Isolated, but not remote.

We met the ABC crew on the evening of the 17th around a campfire at Cynthia’s cabin, down the road from the park. The crew staged Cynthia and me at a picnic table looking over maps and discussing our search plans for the next day. It was here that they interviewed us prior to the search.

PLANNING THE NEXT DAY’S SEARCH

The next morning the crew and Cynthia met at my cabin in West Yellowstone. From there we headed up 191 about five miles to where Grayling Creek goes under the highway. The day was overcast but still and comfortable. Perfect hiking weather. Cynthia and I watched as the crew prepped their film gear and armed us with wireless microphones. Then we headed out, five humans and one ambitious dog.

Cynthia always searches with her dog Molly, who seems to really enjoy snuffling around in the sage and wildflowers. She also has no problem wading in hypothermic trout streams.

MOLLY

MOLLY & CYNTHIA WALKING THE CREEK

The weather was spectacular and the meadow was beautiful. A perfect place to come and enjoy animals, the smells of pine, peace, and a beautiful trout stream. I had high hopes…EXCEPT…what Blaze????

THE MEADOW

This is almost always my dilemma. I get to a spot but cannot identify the next clue…in this case, the mysterious blaze. If I had been by myself I would have explored the place and then left…blazeless.

But Cynthia saw it right away. She was not coy about it at all. “There is the blaze”, she shouted, and five humans and one dog marched quickly toward her large, bold blaze, high on a cliff at the end of the meadow.

THE BLAZE IN THE DISTANCE HIGH ON A CLIFF FACE

As we were parading toward the blaze Cynthia stopped to investigate a willow thicket mid-meadow. To our surprise, inside was a partly camouflaged and very recently killed deer. Frighteningly fresh. That morning perhaps. It made what’s left of the hair on my head bristle. I knew exactly what we were looking at. I had seen a hidden type of cache like this  about forty years ago while filming a documentary with the Craighead brothers.

The Craigheads were considered the crowned princes of Grizzly bear research and in the process of filming with them over several days they had taken me to a number of bear “locations” during the fall and winter. In addition to a bear den we had also visited a bear food cache. It looked uncomfortably like what we were now staring at. What I didn’t know and what concerned me most was where the owner was. The bear could be very close by. If the griz saw us messing with his food there would be hell to pay. I stepped back from the cache. I quickly glanced around 360 degrees. My nervous system was on high alert. I thought that if I were a bear I would have headed to high ground to keep an eye out for anything approaching my food.

The best we could hope for was a napping bear. I did not want to alarm anyone. We were having too much fun. I moved away from the cache and quietly mentioned tp Cynthia what I figured we were looking at. No bear revealed itself. I held tightly onto my thoughts and moved toward the blaze while keeping my eyes peeled for anything large and furry.

CYNTHIA’S WILLOW THICKET IN THE BACKGROUND

As we crossed the meadow to the blaze and ventured into Lodgepole Pine thickets near the creek I yelled out “HEY BEAR!”, just so we wouldn’t surprise any napping or foraging grizzly.

Finally, we stood underneath the blaze and looked quickly down. Cynthia saw the perfect hiding spot for Indulgence. A boulder that had peeled off the rock cliff hundreds, or perhaps thousands of years ago. It was trenched under at one end. Possibly as a shelter for some previous dweller…a badger or weasel or coyote. Molly was interested in the hiding place too. It was an exciting moment. Cynthia encouraged Molly to get into that den…Molly sniffing and getting excited…Cynthia and the crew adrenalized with the possibilities in front of us…me swiveling my head watching for bears…

A GOOD HIDEY PLACE

After both Molly and Cynthia had explored the den and found nothing of significance we gave the area a thorough walk through, looking for any other possible hidey spots or smaller blazes while the crew filmed our every consideration. We noticed that there were no trails in the area and we saw no others in our luscious meadow the whole day. Not even a fisher on Grayling Creek. It seemed like such a perfect place. I thought about spreading my tarp here and spending the night anyway.

CREW FILMING

CREW FOLLOWING

After spending a further hour scouring the edges and creekside…nothing was discovered and we reluctantly headed back to the highway and our vehicles.

I have to say that I really enjoyed searching with Cynthia. She is very respectful of the landscape and very appreciative of a beautiful meadow and trout stream. We had a great time. Cynthia is enthusiastic, agile and walks fast…so be warned if you have the opportunity to keep up with her…and Molly is a hoot…Always quiet and always observing as much as possible whatever is around her. Great hiking buddies.

dal-

You can read Cynthia’s version of this search HERE

 

Grayling Creek 2017: Cynthia’s Version…

SUBMITTED NOVEMBER 2017
by CYNTHIA

 

The sound of chirping crickets awakened me as my iPhone announced it was time to rise and shine. It was still dark but I knew I had to hustle to get ready to join Dal and the ABC Nightline crew at Dal’s place in West Yellowstone where we’d planned to meet to start the filming of what I hoped would be an outstanding piece of Fenn treasure hunting.

It was Monday, September 18th, 2017. I’d been thinking about visiting Yellowstone National Park ever since I moved to New Mexico 25 years ago. I’ve been searching for Forrest’s elusive treasure chest for almost 5 years, and now I felt like I’d run out of places where warm waters halt, at least in New Mexico. It was time to broaden my search area, and West Yellowstone and the National Park was my new destination. I was ecstatic!

Lucky for me, Dal had agreed to meet me and my friends in West Yellowstone when we were still in the planning stages of synchronizing our itinerary way back in August. Soon after, ABC Nightline asked if they could film us on one of our searches… we both said yes.

Since Dal has searched this region repeatedly over the last several years, I let him decide where we should take them. I prefered a place outside the National Park boundary so that Molly could tag along. He agreed and knew the perfect spot…. at the bend in the road where Hwy191 crosses Grayling Creek. He knew Forrest had fished from the bridge downstream along Grayling Creek to the canyon.

Dal had the solves for the first 4 clues… all I needed to do was find the BLAZE. It sounded simple at first but the previous night I laid in bed worrying about my ability or lack of knowledge in finding one that made sense for the film crew.

It was starting to get light outside when I grabbed my camera and backpack and lifted Molly into the pickup truck. The temperature was chilly and the sky overcast and gloomy… thank goodness I’d brought a raincoat. Thank goodness I’d brought warm clothing…

The film crew took some departing shots of Dal, Molly, and me as we packed our gear into Esmerelda and drove towards Hwy191 where we turned north and headed to the bridge ten miles up the road. There was a wide enough area along the highway on the south side of the bridge where we could get both vehicles off the road. On the map that follows, the red arrow at the bottom is the town of West Yellowstone, and the red arrow near the top is where the road bends and crosses Grayling Creek, our destination for the day.

In the picture below, the small bridge crossing the creek in the grassy area is for snow mobiles to use in the wintertime. This is where the crew staged their cameras for our intial interviews that morning.

While the crew transported their gear from their SUV to the bridge, Dal headed across to scout a place where we all could safely get down the bank to the creek and forest.

The ABC crew was comprised of Michelle Kessel producer, Clayton Sandell correspondent, and Connor Burton producer and drone operator.

After the interviews, Dal and Molly took the lead as we scurried down the embankment and bushwhacked our way through the trees into the grassy meadow.

Dal had explained that the trees and brush were too thick along the creek downstream from the bridge so we’d walk through the woods into a large meadow and from there we could make our way to Grayling Creek. We could see trees, we could see mountains, and we could tell there’d been animals. We could smell the sweet smells of pine needles and sage brush…

And holy moly, off in the distance at the far end of the meadow, I could see a BLAZE… a rock face looking towards us.

As the film crew and Molly and I made our way through the sage brush, Dal walked up the hillside a bit to get a better view of the area.

Dal took some pictures from his vantage point, then came back down to the meadow and joined us. I had dropped Molly’s leash for a minute to take some pictures as well, only to lose her momentarily. She had wandered off to the thicket of willows behind the folks in the picture below.

Her nose led her to this… a dead mule deer with its front legs dismembered, and brush covering her body to hide her… Dal said it looked like a recent bear kill. Hmmm, were we being watched?

Instead of continuing straight to the BLAZE, we moved to our left and walked down to Grayling Creek. The pictures make the water look brown but it wasn’t… it was clean and clear and did not look deep.

At this bend in the creek, we left the shoreline and walked back through the trees to the base of my Blaze…

There, surrounded by trees, was a perfect hiding spot… beneath the end of this large boulder. I got down on my hands and knees and peered in… I didn’t see anything glistening nor anything that looked like the bronze chest with the loot… so I crawled in even farther. Just rocks… no treasure chest. But it looked like a great place where Forrest could have pushed the chest in a hole in the rocks… but he didn’t.

The crew asked us to walk back to the large meadow. They went to the far end as we stayed put. Then they launched their drone.

Before we knew it, hours had flown by. The crew told us they had enough footage and we could head back to the bridge and our cars. In the picture above, Dal is trying to find the game trail we used to get from the meadow through the forest and back to the road.

Eventually, we all made the short climb up the embankment and back to the bridge. Clayton asked us a few more questions on camera, and asked both Dal and me to read the poem for the final footage of the morning.

Our mission was over… we provided ABC with a damn good search story and an awesome half-day adventure. They were happy… I was happy… I found a good BLAZE. Were Dal and I disappointed because we didn’t find Fenn’s loot? Not at all… despite it being after noon, our day was just beginning.

He cranked up Esmerelda and off we went… into Yellowstone National Park and Forrest Fenn’s childhood special places.

To be continued… 2018! Cynthia and Molly and Dal

Cynthia-

 

You can read Dal’s version of this search HERE

A Method to the Madness…Finding WWWH

SUBMITTED FEBRUARY 2017
by Cynthia

 

Forrest has stated many times: “Start at the beginning so figure out WWWH.” Or simply, “Start at where warm waters halt.” Followed by “WWWH is the hardest part of the poem to figure out.” Yes, Forrest…we understand. Any searcher who has placed their feet on the ground traipsing from their parked car to what they think might be a good solve for where their warm waters halt , understands. I doubt if any of us know for sure if they are one of the searchers who knowingly, or unknowingly, was within 200 feet of his treasure. I’m in that boat…and I feel like I’m sinking fast.

Like many of you wiling away the days until the snow melts, re-reading TTOTC for the hundredth time, and trying to sleep while Fenn’s poem loops through your head, I wondered if there is an easier way to find a warm water spring that is not indicated as “warm” on a map. One of the conundrums I’ve noticed since the Little Girl from India appeared on MW is that since she can solve the first two clues and WWWH is probably one of the first two clues, then doesn’t that mean “it” (the warm waters) has to be identified on her map? Here is a picture of a section of the map and spring just upstream from the Red River Fish Hatchery near Questa, New Mexico. This is my story…to prove my point, maybe.

I am a map person. I have always loved road maps. When we, my family, traveled by car over 50 years ago (as interstates were still being built), I was the kid in the back seat holding the road map, squished in the middle between a brother and sister who honestly didn’t care about maps, or where we were going. They were idiots, I thought at the time.

How can a person not care where they are going and not be anxious with anticipation of what is just around the next bend? I always kept an eye on where we were to make sure my dad didn’t miss a turn…he never did…he was born with a “compass in his nose”, so to speak, and I think, luckily, I inherited the same gene. Now my entire wall is covered in large National Forest maps, and I couldn’t wait to head north to one of them, where the springs are marked by small circles, no names attached.

Saturday, Feb 4th started off just as the weatherman predicted…sunny, blue, cloudless skies with temperatures to reach the low 60’s in Albuquerque, unseasonably warm for this time of year. Molly and I hit the road…it was time to put my theory to test. I thought it might be easiest to find a warm water spring in the winter when the creek banks are snow covered. If a spring had warm water, the snow should be melted around it, right, making it easier to spot? While researching fishing spots in New Mexico, I had read that the lower portion of the Red River is popular in the winter-time because the springs above the fish hatchery helped keep the water warmer there than in other fishing places. So by deduction, I assumed that at least one of the two springs I circled on the map had warm water.

The ride up through Santa Fe, Espanola, and Taos was uneventful. It was the weekend and, despite the beautiful day, there was little traffic. I had been to the Red River Fish Hatchery 4 years ago. I smiled as I remembered my first honest to goodness boots-on-the ground search…. I was such a rookie back then. I thought I had nailed Fenn’s location and the poem would be pretty easy to follow to the loot! (I hope you all are smiling as you read this.) Boy, was I ever wrong!

Today’s search was different…I wasn’t in a quest to find Fenn’s trove but to find the little circle on my map marking a spring. I was searching for where the warm waters halt…


I parked at the far end of the hatchery, hoping no one would notice the empty truck sitting there unattended, with no one visibly walking amongst the various tanks of fish. Molly strolled freely while I snapped a few photos. Then I grabbed her leash and steered her to the path along the privacy fence, containing the off-limit properties to folks like me. We moved rapidly along the path of footprints in the snow, quiet, stealth-like, hoping no one would notice us.

The end of the path led to this property, a private residence surrounded by more fence. It looked like a lovely vacation home, or week-end retreat. A sign said “Beware of dog”. I laughed, and whistled…I wanted to see the dog. None showed up.

The narrow path now opened up into an old road. It was still partly snow covered, and where the snow had melted, the slick mud made the walking messy. But, when you are a Fenn treasure hunter, the condition of the trail does not matter. I dismissed the thought of Molly’s muddy feet and my disgustingly muddy hiking boots inside the clean truck later. We were on a mission…I couldn’t let it matter.

Within 10 mins or so we came upon a footbridge crossing the river. The snow looked quite deep on the other bank where most of its days were spent in quiet shade. There didn’t appear to be a path upstream on that side…we’d check it out on the way back.

In another 5 minutes or so I could see a spot of tiny green leaves peeking through the brush along the river. I knew it had to be the warm spring.

We carefully made our way down the short embankment to the green vegetation growing in the water there. The water trickling from the mouth of the spring was tepid, not nearly as warm as I had anticipated. But it was warmer than the river water…does this count? I didn’t know.

I poked around in the spring’s brush while Molly poked around the edge of the river. I was sort of disappointed but felt I proved a point, sort of. The snow had already mostly melted on the sunny side of the river, but the green vegetation growing in the tepid water did help identify the “warm” spring before I got to it, and I didn’t really need to touch the water to know it was “warm”. But mostly this supports my theory that the place where the warm waters halt can be marked on Little Indy’s map, but still not be identified as such. I mean, yes, you know it’s a spring, but there are a gazillion springs in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe, so you have to solve the poem to identify where the right one lies; hence Forrest saying, “WWWH is the hardest part of the poem to figure out.” Capiche?

After a few more photos of the spring, we headed back to check out the footbridge before hitting the parking lot. Along the way, I noticed a few things I wanted to mention to someone…(please don’t mention this to other searchers, insert smiley face here.)

Look at this next picture. Notice how the sunny side of the river is desert-like with its rocky, sagebrush covered terrain, but the shady side has more trees and is more mountain- like. Is this why Forrest sometimes says “walk out into the desert…” and other times says ”in the mountains…”? This place looked like both.

And although I don’t think this particular section of the canyon is where Fenn’s treasure chest is hidden, I think it is “like” the place where it “could” be hidden. The spring was maybe, at the most, a half mile from the parking lot at the hatchery. Look at the path…easy, not dangerous. Take your kids and let them play in the water. No wild animals to eat them, you, or your dog. This is CNF land…so not private property as long as you don’t jump that fence. No one pointing a gun in your face because you are trespassing on their land. The road to the hatchery is open all year long since fishermen fish the river year round. (Remember, Fenn originally thought he was going to die where he hid the chest. Would he limit it to a seasonal place…one where the roads were closed due to snow for 4 months a year?) And, it’s not a busy place crawling with people, but there might be an occasional passer-by, especially if it was summer.

If any readers are freaking out now because I gave away their solve, relax. This particular stretch of canyon was written about and searched to death 4 or 5 years ago. I didn’t discover it … some earlier searchers used the tailing ponds and Pope Lake as their solutions. I prefer using an actual warm spring as my warm water. But, IMO, this is not the right one.

By the time we reached the truck, it was after 1:00 but still enough daylight to drive into the town of Red River and continue our exploration of the river itself. As I approached the Moly Mine on Rt38, I stared at the movement ahead… Holy smokes, after dozens of times driving through this area, I was finally going to see the mountain sheep. I parked along my side of the highway, turned off the engine, and watched, and took photos, and watched some more. I was in awe… Molly was not. After a quick glance, she curled up in the passenger seat and took a nap.

I hated leaving the sheep but had an agenda I wanted to finish. So on we went…into the town of Red River, a sleepy little old western ski town, a dot on the northern stretch of the Enchanted Circle.

I made our usual stop at the City Park, a dog-friendly place with dog-friendly accessories, namely poop bags and a trash can to put them in. Molly wandered aimlessly whereever her nose took her, dragging her leash behind her with nose on the ground on the scent of those noisy squirrels. Molly LOVES squirrels…coming here is a treat…we do not have squirrels at home. I used this time to call Michelle and see if she’d look on the Red River city webcam to

see if she could see us. She saw the truck and we discovered there is about a 20 second delay. Why does any of this matter? It doesn’t…but with Michelle directing me to point to align my arm in a direct path to the web camera, I found where it is located. On a pole above the Town Hall building. See the arrows pointing to it in the second picture below. (Slurbs, that black arrow is for you, my dear friend…I want all color-blind searchers to see what I see!)

We continued east on Main Street at the far end of town, going straight where the main road Hwy 38 bore off to the left. Even though this stretch followed the Red River, there was soon so much snow, I knew we would not be hiking to find any more warm water springs.

We did continue to the end of Rt 578, and I stopped to take an occasional picture or 12. I was amazed at the snow depth where the plows made snow banks along the pavement that were 8 feet high. It was a beautiful valley, even more so this day with the snow-covered terrain.

On the way back through Red River, we stopped at the Dairy Bar for a bite to eat. Then mosied on home the 3 hours or so it takes to make the drive.

If you’d like to see more pictures of our day, click on this link:

If you looked at the pictures, you can see the snow is really deep when you approach the end of Rt 578. This is where so many good trailheads begin, trails we used to backpack up to Lost Lake, Horseshoe Lake, Middle Fork Lake, Wheeler Peak the long way many years ago, trails that take fishermen to their special places. Might there be warm water springs along any of these trails or forks of the Red? I don’t know…there aren’t any tiny circles on my map. Will I hike these trails, walk along these streams, search for Fenn’s treasure here? Probably. Will I wait until May when the snow has melted from the last shady spot on these trails? Hardly! I will pack my snow shoes the next trip!

Cheers!
Cynthia and Molly…

The High Road to Taos

SUBMITTED march 2015
CYNTHIA

The High Road to Taos

Like many of us Fenn treasure hunters, I can’t wait to get out there again and head to my new primary search area in the mountains north of Santa Fe. However, it seems like the calendar pages are turning in extra slow motion this winter and that spring-time will never arrive. To try to satisfy the desire to search, yesterday I went out to the Battleship Rock/Little Bonita Falls area in the Jemez Mountains to re-search an area I’d been to several times prior…however,  I found this to be disappointingly unsatisfying.  So upon waking this morning, I decided to drive to my primary search area high in the Sangre de Cristos to check out the snow depth there, with hopes of heading there in a week or two…

Since I had lots of time today, I decided to travel to my destination via the scenic byway called The High Road to Taos, one of the most spectacular routes in the Southwest, winding through the rolling hills of the high desert mesa, through tiny hamlets and villages, and eventually through part of the Carson National Forest, before dropping back down to Taos.

a1 high road to taos sign (800x533)

The beginning of The High Road to Taos at Nambe.

Winding through the hills with the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in the background.

Winding through the hills with the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in the background.

I have driven The High Road to Taos many times, and never tire of its beauty…my eyes can’t seem to absorb the splendor quick enough to fill my brain, just as pictures cannot capture the exquisite uniqueness and enchantment of this high desert landscape. As I was driving along in awe and stopping here and there to take pictures (add another 100 photos from today’s trip to the hundreds I already have), the village of Cundiyo popped into my head…where Eric Sloane had drawn a picture of the church there, and Forrest published that drawing in Seventeen Dollars a Square Inch. I had never been there but after seeing Eric’s drawing, it was on my list of places to see, someday…and today was that day.

a3 cundiyo sign (800x533)

Entering Cundiyo from the south.

As I entered the little village, the road abruptly went from two lanes to one lane, with the buildings built right along the twisting, narrow street…making it seem like a quaint little European hamlet, but not…some of the places probably hadn’t seen new paint for decades, and it was obvious there wasn’t a designated crew for litter pick-up…but, nevertheless, it was worth the visit.

Main Street through town

Main Street through town

Main street through town

Main street through town

The tidy Cundiyo Church…the gate was not in Eric’s drawing, nor were there any trees in the background.

The tidy Cundiyo Church…the gate was not in Eric’s drawing, nor were there any trees in the background.

 I had parked in a small area across from the church and decided to walk the dogs through this quaint little town to take more photographs, only there was a large dog, unleashed, standing in the middle of the street, intently watching us as we got closer. I stopped to contemplate the situation…my dogs are friendly but …about this time a car began to drive by so I sort of waved…the car stopped, a lady rolled down her window, so I asked her where the road went if I kept going north…she asked where I wanted to go…I explained anywhere, I didn’t care…I had stopped to photograph the church, and oh what a lovely little village this was. She and her adult daughter seemed more than happy to chat…they explained where the road went, if I went left or right at the t-intersection, and that there was another church in Rio Chiquito just before getting back up on the High Road to Taos. I also asked if they knew the dog that was still staring at us from the middle of the street (they obviously don’t have leash laws there)…they didn’t know, and the lady said that even if we got past that dog, there were more unleashed ones to venture past if we went farther. I made the decision right then to forget the walking and do more driving for pictures…so back in the truck we went. Not far from there, we encountered these two places, across the street from each other, both unique in their own way…

I loved the bright colors

I loved the bright colors

a unique place but I probably wouldn’t want him to be my neighbor

a unique place but I probably wouldn’t want him to be my neighbor

That's a lot of cow skulls…

That’s a lot of cow skulls…

Traveling on, we soon came to the village of Cordova…Eric also made a drawing of a church in Cordova so we took the main road through town, only I never saw a church…but we did find a cemetery…one of the most colorful ones I’d ever seen.

a10 cordova sign (800x533)

a11 cemetery (800x533)

Somewhere between this cemetery and Truchas, I noticed a van at an odd angle off the side of the road…a young man leaning against the side eating an apple looked at me and sort of waved…I stopped, rolled my window down, and looked curiously at him. He wondered if I could pull him out of the dirt embankment his front wheels were immersed in…I thought for a moment and said I’d pull off the road to see…happily, I found the heavy duty tow chain I carry beneath the back seat, assuming that some day I would be the truck needing pulled out of a snow drift or mud-hole. Out of all the times and miles I carried this, I never used it, so was delighted to finally be able to rescue some poor soul from his misfortune…and misfortune it was. Seems it was unlucky John Gray’s first day of work as a delivery man, and he wasn’t familiar with the area…he thought he could make a u-turn there in that muddy turnout  and soft dirt bank…not. It didn’t take long to attach the chain to his back bumper and my tow-hooks. He asked me to go slow, so as to not pull the  bumper off his employer’s van…it made me nervous…he watched as the chain grew taut…hollered when it was good, jumped in the van and put it in neutral, and gave the go-ahead to proceed. I was so pleased when his 4 wheels were on solid ground, and I smiled since the van’s bumper was still attached. He was grateful…I felt like a hero.

Continuing our journey, we soon started the uphill climb to Truchas…made famous in Robert Redford’s movie, The Milagro Beanfield Wars. I love this picturesque-in-its-own-way little village.

The Truchas Peaks in the background

The Truchas Peaks in the background

Loved the fire hydrant…very spiffy in an otherwise non-spiffy environment.

Loved the fire hydrant…very spiffy in an otherwise non-spiffy environment.

I love this mural...and photograph it every time I drive past…today the traffic was kind enough to wait for me as I took the picture from my window.

I love this mural…and photograph it every time I drive past…today the traffic was kind enough to wait for me as I took the picture from my window.

We traveled through many other small villages as we made our way to the Carson National Forest stretch of the High Road to Taos. The higher in elevation we went, the more snow we encountered…these kids looked like they were having a blast…

a15 kids sledriding (800x533)

a16 mountains coming down to taos (800x533)

Finally we got to Taos…as I was waiting for the light to change, I decided to take a picture through the windshield of Pueblo Peak aka Taos Mountain.

a17 taos mountain from the intersection (800x533)

At this same intersection, I turned here to head over to my route. I noticed an old, skinny, hippie-looking guy standing on the corner,  hitchhiking in the direction I was headed. I didn’t give it much thought since I NEVER pick up hitchhikers. Well, I pulled into the Visitor’s Center parking lot to send a text…when I pulled back out onto the street five or so minutes later, he was still standing there holding his plastic grocery bag containing a couple cans of Fosters, smoking his cigarette down to the filter. I rolled my window down and asked him where he was headed…he said one and a half miles up the canyon…I said I was going that way if he’d like a ride…I asked if he minded sitting beside a big dog…he did not mind…I asked him if he minded putting out his cigarette (hell, it had to be burning his fingers and lips by now)…he said no, he didn’t mind and tossed the butt on the ground. I pulled Molly out of the passenger seat beside me so the fellow could get in…despite missing most of his teeth, he was a chatty fellow and wondered where I was from…we chatted, he offered that he is a poet but never published, and wondered if I’d like him to recite a poem to me while I drove..I said that would be nice. He had a pleasant voice and nice delivery…it was a poem about the old days, and buffalo that roamed, and Indian spirits, automobiles and new highways. I wish I would have asked him if I could record it on my phone…it was delightful. I asked him if he had heard of Forrest Fenn, a famous poet and author who lives in Santa Fe who has published several books, mostly about the Taos Society of Artists from a century ago…sorry, Forrest, he did not know you. We reached his destination and I dropped him off…he was the icing-on- the-cake, so to speak,  of my pleasant day…his name was John Mason, just in case he ever gets published…and I will always look for him on that corner in case he needs a ride home.

On up the canyon we ventured…my dogs Molly and Emma and me…I was still hopeful of a search next week in this area…the snow was minimal, until I got here……………

a18 first snow (800x533)

a19 second snow (800x533)

I think it might be April until this snow has melted and we can find the blaze…

Until next time…Cynthia (and Emma and Molly)

a20 dogs (800x533)

Cynthia