ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JULY 2012
After the blue fly experience at the Manby hacienda I headed north from Taos toward the Rio Hondo and then turned west on a dirt road that leads down into the gorge, the John Dunn Bridge, and Black Rock Hot Springs. My plan was pretty simple. Find the treasure chest somewhere down near the union of the Hondo and the Grande and go home. I try not to make things too complicated.
It was a sweltering day to be in the gorge. Miserable for the likes of me. But probably a pleasant day for New Mexicans. I’m a wuss when it comes to heat. Eighty degrees is unusually hot where I come from. Ninety is life-threatening.
On the floor of the canyon one slow moving fisherman wearing a wide brimmed hat is busy stalking Browns. A couple of indignant ravens are perched on the iron portal of the old truss bridge like sentinels at the gates of hell. They watch my approach just ahead of my own dustball. I park in a wide spot in front of the bridge and keep the door closed until the fine brown powder swirls past and settles on the wooden deck. As I open the door the disgusted ravens yell at me and fly off down the river. I tell myself that next time I buy a truck I’ll go for the air conditioning.
I grab my camera and ice axe and walk behind the van to a trail hanging along the steep east side of the river. I know that the bridge’s namesake, John Dunn built a hotel down here somewhere and I figure maybe Forrest hid that chest around the foundation of Dunn’s old structure. However, I am going to have to scrounge around to find any hotel remains. I can’t readily detect where the old hotel might have stood. No part of it seems to leap into view. I know the County took over the road in the 50’s moved it over from where Dunn’s was located and the old wooden bridge was replaced around the same time. That hotel could have been knocked down in the 40’s or 50’s. The space available for building a hotel…even a small one …is pretty limited down in this tight gorge. By my eyes there were only a couple of spots where it could have been.
Over on the other side of the gorge I can make out the remains of a dark brown rock retaining wall that John Dunn’s crew must have erected when they were building the road over there.
Tough buggers those old guys. Dunn and his buddies had nothing but picks and shovels to carve that road out of the steep, hard, side of a solid rock canyon. Before Dunn, Manby had a road there too but it was little more than a very primitive trail that had been used by the Indians and Spaniards. Dunn made it into an actual road where he could drive wagons and later, his car.
After a couple of hours of searching all the spots big enough for a structure and finding no gleaming chest of gold and gems I decide to move on. South and west of the bridge is Black Rock Hot Spring. There is a trail that heads over there. It’s not far. A quarter mile perhaps from the bridge. That seems like the next logical place to look.
Its an easy trail to walk. I spot several bright red and yellow cactus blooms among the dust and rocks. About halfway down the trail there is a pretty good sized cave. Its not terribly deep but I can see how folks would have crawled into it to get out of the hot sun and rain ever since man started coming out to the hot spring.
There are both contemporary names and ancient petroglyphs carved into the rocks all along the trail. It made me realize that I was walking the very same trail ancient humans had walked to get to this prehistoric hot spring. How many trails are left that have not changed since early humans started treading them? How many centuries since the first person might have walked down here? 5…10?..a hundred?…I have no idea.
I decided to climb into the cave and have a look around. Its not a scary, dark cave. Its open with lots of light. This made it easy to look for a blaze. I can count hundreds of names and initials carved into the soft rock around the cave. Then I see it. Off by itself. Near the cave entrance. A big, clear “F”. Holy cow! My heart skips a couple of beats. I don’t feel the heat anymore. I stare at it. It could be Forrest’s. I look directly down from the “F” to the floor of the cave.
I tap the area with my ice axe. It’s solid rock. No holes. No secret hidey spots. I survey the immediate area looking for some sort of place Forrest could stash his chest. I poke around behind and under some boulders. I walk the few dozen feet down to the river and carefully look around. Nothing. It’s clearly someone else’s “F”. I wish they wouldn’t do that!
Once I’m certain no chest is hidden around the “F” I head over to the spring. The closer I get to the languid clear pools of heated water the more carvings there are in the rocks. At the spring itself the rocks are so carved up it’s hard to read the names and dates. Names on top of names. Names chipped off by weather. There are several from the 1920’s. I wonder if Manby or Dunn left their mark here somewhere. It would be cool to find one or both. After a half hour of searching I find neither and no additional “F” either.
I walk around the last rock and before me is the spring. It’s made up of two pools. The pool most inland from the river is clear and blue. It’s about two feet deep and has lots of rocks for sitting. They don’t look like sculpted rocks…like they are going to be comfortable or anything…just rocks. One would think that after all these centuries someone would have carved a nice plushy comfortable rock to sit on…
The pool is no bigger than a kiddie pool from Wallmart. I test the water with my right hand. It’s hotter than I need. I could see using it on a cool day but its already 90 plus. I’m not that interested in being hotter. The second pool is right on the river’s edge. The spring water is mixed with chilling river water so it’s less hot and less blue.
Hot springs are supposed to have all kinds of therapeutic value. I could use some therapeutic value so I look around for others. No one in sight. I strip quickly and step in. Its comfortable enough. Warmer than that icy, river water and cooler than the upper pool. It’s quite comfortable as long as I don’t get too near where the river leaks into the pool. It too is shallow. If I sit on the bottom the water comes up to my chest. I refrain from dunking my head since I don’t know what kind of critters live in the water. I contemplate the world and my place in it. That takes about twenty seconds. Then I start thinking about the treasure again. I stare at the far side of the canyon. A couple of vultures are playing on the air currents. They are doing lazy circles several hundred feet over my head. It looks like fun. The only sound is the splash of the river as it rushes by like its late for a dinner date.
After about fifteen minutes of therapeutic soaking I start getting antsy about someone showing up so I step out of the pool, air dry quickly in the New Mexico arid outdoors and get dressed.
I spend another 15 minutes checking out the area for signs of Forrest. I find none and head back to the truck feeling cleaner, tanner, healthier and unstressed by the weight of a chest full of treasure. I watch the hatted fisher angle for a bit, hoping to learn something, then point the truck toward Yellowstone and head up the canyon wall singing something by the Doobie Brothers and mentally checking one more place off my “to look” list.