SUBMITTED September 2014
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.
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.
We 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.
We 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.
We 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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Except for the not being able to smuggle a cute black burro onto a plane.