ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED february 2012
Aside from the black pirate patch over his left eye and the spar varnished peg leg he looked perfectly normal. I saw him in the parking lot in front of the rock shop in Eagle Nest, New Mexico.
I can’t pass up a good rock shop. The guys that run them are generally old timers who know more about the immediate countryside than a whole team of Wikipedia editors. I was in the area looking for “warm water halting” and “canyons down”. I spent three days on the Cimarron below Eagle Nest dam and didn’t find any treasure to speak of, at least not what I started out looking for. I did recover an Oris Chronograph watch that was laying in about two feet of fast moving river water, trapped by a boulder. Beautiful Swiss made timepiece. Titanium case. Probably fell off a fisher’s vest or out of a pocket. Who wears watches these days? The Oris was running fine. These things can withstand half a mile of water on top of them. The Cimarron’s 24 inches was not a threat. The crystal wasn’t even scratched. It looked brand new. I shoved it in my pocket and kept looking for a bigger treasure.
It was later that afternoon when I stopped at the rock shop. The guy with the wooden leg jumped around to the back of his dusty old Land Cruiser and pulled out a cardboard box of plain looking rocks. He picked it up with both hands and shoved the back door of the Cruiser shut with his peg. He looked to be about 50 and fit. A ring of dark hair and beard framed his pale face. He was wearing a military issue field jacket in woodland camo and even though it was about 35 degrees outside he was wearing green shorts and one, well-worn leather work boot on his right foot. The whole effect reminded me of Mickey Mouse’s arch-nemesis, Peg Leg Pete. There was a bumper sticker on the back of the cruiser that read “keep the hell off my butt”. I followed him into the shop, but not too close.
When I got in, his beat-up box was on the counter next to the register. The shop was warm, not large but had a lot of open space. I said “hi” as I squeezed past the peg leg guy. He said “Hi, how’r the fish bitein?”
“I don’t know.” I said. “I haven’t been fishing.”
“Really, wasn’t that your white GMC down along the Cimarron this afternoon?”
“Yep, That was mine but I was just walking along the river.”
“Long walk. Your truck was there when I drove by at 6 this morning and it was still there when I drove by again at 5 this afternoon.”
“Its a pretty river.” I said
“It is this time of year before the hoards show up.” He replied.
“I take it your not a big fan of tourists.” I said.
“We need em.” He said stoically. “God bless em and their credit cards.”
“But?” I said.
“No buts.” He said. They come here from Texas and Colorado and they buy gas and eat at the cafe. They buy crap from Red’s across the street and occasionally they stop in here and buy a rock or two.”
“But?” I repeated.
“But they’re a pain in the butt. They clog up the roads and drive up the price of gas, punch potholes in the secondaries and make a huge mess out at the park.I need em…I hate em…such is life”
“So you probably don’t work for the Chamber.” I said.
“Naw!” He said and turned toward the door behind the register and yelled, “Shiela, you around? Got two customers out here. One might actually buy somethin!”.
From the back a woman’s voice yelled back, “Well don’t let him leave. I’ll be right there.”
I glanced around the shop. Plenty to look at. It was a good old fashioned shop. No giant tubs of garishly stained Brazilian quartz here. In fact, everything appeared to be of near local origin. There were neatly organized containers of nickel, jasper, amethyst, galena, feldspar, meershaum, fluorite, perlite, mica, agate, turquoise, hematite, quartz crystals and copper. Large sparkling geodes, fire opals, chalcedony roses, meteorites, fossils and ancient petrified wood slices made stunning displays. There were polished gems and raw minerals but no crystal balls or the other ridiculous toys that fill-up what often passes for a rock shop these days. Sheila had nice big tags attached to the front of each bin that told the name of the material, it’s chemical make-up and had a map that showed where it came from. Most were from the southwest but there were a couple of rocks from Arkansas and a tub of polished Petosky stones from Michigan. What wasn’t rock was made of wood. Wide planked, dark wood floors were scattered with Navajo wool rugs. Clear, varnished knotty pine walls gave the place a cabinesque warmth. Photos of long-gone specimen miners and collectors were hung neatly on the walls. Everything was clean and dusted. There were some geology and mining books in the corner, a few gold pans and some locally made jewelry in a showcase by the counter, but mostly the shop’s space was taken up by rocks, gems, minerals and the peg legged guy. There was a small pot-bellied stove in the corner by the books and maps. Two, red overstuffed club chairs invited me to be comfortable. The fire radiated a pleasant, juniper scented warmth around the room. The whole place felt cozy and welcoming.
Shiela came out from the back juggling three steaming mugs of coffee and set them down on the counter then ducked into the back again and yelled, “I saw you boys pull in and thought you could use a hot coffee on a cold day like this.” She returned a second later with honey in a plastic squeeze bottle shaped like a bear, a paper carton of skim milk and a few napkins and spoons.
Shiela looked about 50 and had a model’s slender body. She had natural grey hair, shoulder length, with a pink satin bow stylishly attached over her left ear and bangs that came down to just above her cobalt blue eyes. She was wearing a vintage Pendelton wool jacket over a blue turtleneck, a pair of snug fitting, faded jeans, matching blue wool socks and simple black clogs. Aside from the bow, her only garnishments were a pair of hand made turquoise pendent earrings and a thin band of copper on her right wrist. Feminine yet practical.
I took a mug of coffee and said, “I’m Dal, thanks for the coffee.”
“Your welcome. I’m Sheila.”
Peg leg looked at me and said, “I’m Jake.” Then turned to Sheila and said, “Thanks.” and took a sip.
I was a little disappointed that his name wasn’t Pete but Jake was pretty good too.
“So if you’re not fishin what are you doin around here this time of year.” Jake asked.
“Freezin his buns off, probably.” Sheila replied.
We all chuckled.
“I’m trying to figure out where Forrest Fenn hid a chest of gold and gems.” I said.
Sheila put down her coffee mug and said, “THEE Forrest Fenn?…from Santa Fe?”
Jake said, “Who’s Forrest Fenn?”
Sheila answered, “He’s that art dealer from Santa Fe that kept alligators in a pond at his gallery and was always doing something to shake up the town. He wrote a couple of gorgeous and very expensive books on Santa Fe artists. Oh…come on Jake. You remember him. He bought that ruin down south.”
Jake was trying to remember. He had his one eye closed and was leaning a little toward Sheila. She turned to me. Took a sip of her coffee and said, “I was in high school and worked on Canyon Road. I thought he was the most interesting person in the whole wide world.”
Jake asked, “Was that the guy that was a pilot in Vietnam?”
Sheila and I both said “Yes.”
“Oh yeah.” Jake said, “I remember his place. He’s an interesting dude.” and pulled his mug back up to his mouth.
“ I loved his gallery.” Sheila said. “When I was working on Canyon Road, the Fenn Gallery, around the corner, was the wildest collection of expensive fine art and books, old arrowheads and ancient pottery in town. I wanted to work there in the worst way. Winding hallways leading to different rooms. Very lovely. Very exotic. I could spend hours in there.”
“So what’s this about treasure?” Asked Jake.
“Well Forrest took about 22lbs of gold and gemstones and put them into a 20lb old bronze chest and hid the whole thing. He invited anyone to go looking for it. That’s what I’m doing.”
“Wow!” Said Sheila,
“How do you know where to look?” Asked Jake.
“He wrote a poem that has nine clues to where he hid it.” I said as I reached into my pocket and took out a copy of the poem I keep there. I placed the poem on the counter. Sheila grabbed it first and started reading it aloud.
When she was finished Jake asked, “How do you know there are nine clues in there?”
“He’s said as much.” I said. “And he’s written and said a few other things about where the treasure is located too.”
“So you think it’s around here?” Sheila asked.
“I think it could be.” I said. “But there are lots of places it could be. This is just one possibility. I have a list of places I’ve looked and more where I want to look.
There was a short silence while Jake stared at the poem.
“I see how the Cimarron fits the poem, except for the part about being brave. There isn’t much scary or bad about that little stream.”
“Yeah.” I said. “That’s the line that makes a lot of places not work out. But you don’t know til you go there and see.”
“How did you get the poem?” Sheila asked.
“Thats the easy part.” I said. “Just go to Forrest’s web site. He has information there and links to interviews he’s given with the media about it.
Sooo…not to change the subject but what’s in the box?” I asked.
“Thunder Eggs.” Said Jake. He picked one out and handed it to me. “On the inside is Apache picture jasper. I get these from down near Deming. Nothing much to rave about like this but when you slice them up you get really spectacular scenes.”
Sheila held up a piece of already cut and polished jasper from the counter so I could see what Jake was talking about.
What I saw was a pink and red agate like material that appeared to show a desert scene with foothills dotted in green poplars. A yellow sun glistened on the left. It was very cool.
“That’s very cool.” I said.
“Tell you what.” Said Jake. I’ll trade you a thunder egg for one of your search spots.” He looked me straight in the eyes.
“I don’t think so” I said. “But tell you what. I’ll trade you the exact GPS location where you find these eggs for one of my search spots.” I looked him back straight in the eye.
“Deal.” He said.
I went to the van and copied a set of coordinates from my computer. I brought them into the shop and handed them to Jake. “The top one is the starting point…where warm waters halt.” I said. “The bottom set is my best guess about where the chest is by following the clues in the poem from that starting spot.”
“Good enough.” Said Jake and he handed me Sheila’s business card with the coordinates for the location of the eggs written on it.
“Perfect!” I said. “One more favor though. Do you have a loupe back there Sheila?”
Sheila reached for her loupe and handed it to me.I took the Oris out of my pocket. Flipped it over so I could see the back of the case and checked it out with the magnifier.
“Expensive watch.” Said Jake.
“I know. I found it in the river and it has an engraving on the back. Looks like a name, date and phone number. Date’s probably when they got it. Last year.” I said.
“Can I look at it?” Asked Sheila.
I handed it to her. She eyed it closely and hefted it. Took a small tool and tapped it on the crystal.
“Not a fake. Its the real McCoy.” She said.
“Whew-ee!” Said Jake. “That’s a 3 or 4 grand watch. Bet the person that lost it is pissed. I know a guy in Red River that’ll buy that from you.”
“No thanks.” I said. “I’ll probably hang onto it for awhile anyway.”
I put the watch back in my pocket and said goodbye, finished up the remains of my cup of coffee and headed out to the truck, jumped in, buckled up and pulled away. I drove about a mile west before I pulled off the road, grabbed my cell and called the phone number engraved on the back of the watch.