La Caja Pueblo Ruins – Part II…

SUBMITTED January 2016


Continued from Part One

Molly and I continued to the edge of the mesa east of the Overlook Campground to get a better look at the mesa top across the chasm where the Debris Basin arroyo separated the two hills. The deja vu I had just experienced was still vivid in my mind…what the heck was I thinking. Too late now…I pulled the large binoculars from my backpack, brought them up to my eyes, and carefully focused each eyepiece…to my relief, this is what I saw.


It looked like rocks, or whitish stones…but maybe there were remnants of old pueblo ruins mixed in. Too far away to tell…I couldn’t wait to return…

I barely noticed the ride home…I was in auto-pilot…my mind was racing trying to remember the exact words of the article I found online describing the La Caja Pueblo site. I didn’t even check Google Earth for the location because the description was so detailed “The La Caja site is a large pueblo ruin located within the Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area, west of Cundiyo, New Mexico. The pueblo is situated on the edge of a flat ridge top, overlooking the La Caja box canyon, between the confluence of the Rio Medio and Frijoles and Santa Cruz Lake. The site is in the high vegetated mounded category, denoting a series of room blocks, which here partially surround two plazas…Analysts of ceramics collected from the site suggest that the pueblo dates to the early fourteenth century.” When I first read the details, I thought, oh my God, this is the perfect place for Fenn to die beside his treasure chest…

A couple tortuous weeks passed before I could return…Once again, my mind was racing as Molly and I made our way around Santa Fe and turned east on the High Road to Taos. This time we passed the turn to the Overlook Campground, continuing about half a mile or so to Mile Marker 9 where I made a left onto a dirt “road” that wound back into the hilly terrain above the Debris Basin. My nerves were on edge as I drove slowly through the ruts and loose sand…I desperately was hoping not to get stuck. I decided to drive up a short but steep and tilted section of “road” and park in the trees where the truck was mostly out of sight. It looked like the main dirt “road” continued all the way down and along the east side of the debris basis where it stopped at the bottom of the mesa I was about to climb. I didn’t know about pushing my luck further…maybe Fenn drove there when he hid the treasure chest…but on this day and all those searches in the future, this would be our parking spot, and we’d walk from here.


It was what I considered an easy climb up the hillside to the mesa top. To my liking, there was no trail…we wound our way between the junipers and piñon trees and scurried across the top to the edge that overlooks La Caja Canyon, to the large, whitish rocks we witnessed weeks ago through the binoculars from the edge of the Overlook Campground. My God, once again, I thought how perfect this place seemed…it definitely could be his “special place”. It was easy to get to…I looked around and could hear the river rushing through the canyon below me. I could see the lake off in the distance…I could see the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east…and there was no one in sight.


The number of possibilities where Fenn’s trove could be hidden was overwhelming that first trip. I did my best to scour each and every nook and cranny along the edge…in, under, and around all those boulders, even searching beneath the trees.


When I found this flat rock (is it the “scant”, a large flat stone?) beside the boulders, I about had a heart attack…I was almost positive I’d find the chest secreted beneath it. It was heavy…I used my rock pick to dig along the edge… I slid my fingers beneath the edge and secured my grip. As I slowly titled the stone onto it’s edge, I rested it against my leg so as not to accidentally drop it on my toes, and stood it up. My jaw dropped…I “marvel gazed”…there was just another rock under it…no treasure to behold.


As depressing as this story might sound, it was a glorious day…I had found a new place where I could sit and ponder in silence…and soak in the beauty of this desert environment…But I wasn’t through…I was not about to give up on this area…this flat mesa top where I knew there had been inhabitants 800 years ago…



I made three more trips to search this entire mesa top. I moved my searches east along the edge but also searched the top where there was less vegetation…maybe that’s where the ruins sat…I searched for pottery shards with every step. I perused the shallow draws between hilly areas where the rain water would run off the mesa top down into the canyon. I soon became more obsessed with finding the pueblo than I did finding Fenn’s treasure. The photo above is one of several “blazes” …it reminded me of a Thunderbird, or an eagle. I even found a circle of rocks during one of my searches…it was the only sign of another human being’s presence. I meticulously moved each rock to see what lay beneath…it was an old campfire that had been carefully covered with rocks. Maybe Fenn had been there after all … I carefully put the rocks back.


Over the course of these few weeks and multiple searches, this mesa top became my “special place”. Molly and I always ate our snacks on the “pueblo floor” in the picture below. I don’t believe it is really a pueblo floor but it sure looked like one the first time I discovered it…

Some days when we searched in that area, I made Molly wear her boots…too often she’d stepped on the low creeping cacti, and it was as painful to me to remove the thorns as I’m sure it was to her. The boots worked great, and it didn’t take long for her to get used to them.


By now it was the beginning of November…I hadn’t even found one single pottery shard. The search season would soon be ending…and I felt empty…well, at least empty-handed. I decided to use Goole Earth to try to find a better blaze, or something I missed that would lead me to the treasure. I tried searching GE using “La Caja pueblo” but nothing came up…then I believe by accident I just used La Caja and GE zoomed right into the Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area. But WTF… it zoomed onto a spot on the other side of the canyon, closer to the inlet where the river enters the lake. I laughed out loud…for a full month I was looking at the wrong spot.

(I hope this made everyone reading this laugh. And you all can breath a sigh of relief…the odds of me finding Fenn’s treasure is pretty low it would seem!)

But wait, this was actually good news…I felt rejuvenated. I was excited all over again. I studied Google Earth. Now my solves had to be revised but I still liked this area for the same reasons. The actual pueblo site on top the correct mesa looks unaccessible…maybe Fenn fished beneath the cliff along the inlet when he was younger….maybe he found artifacts there when he went there to fish. I couldn’t wait to return…


My new “blaze” is the cliff shaped like an “M” where the pueblo site sits above what I believe is the right-side hump…it reflects into the lake to make an abstract “W”. The “M” and “W” are like the wings of two eagles…ff said to use our imagination. For Michael D if you read this, you once used Fenn’s CC double eagle coins as your blaze, “If you’ve been wise and found the blaze, Look quickly down, your quest to cease” = 2 C’s. Hmmm. My dilemma at this point: is his special place where he secreted the treasure chest along the shoreline, or on top the mesa where he can look across the inlet and see the old pueblo ruin site on top?

My strategy was to hike along the Laguna Vista Trail which ends at the land protrusion on the left side of the picture above and try to see into the inlet along the shoreline. Even though it was November by now, it was still relatively warm… I couldn’t wait to begin searching once again.

I felt rushed the first morning Molly and I made our first hike along the east shore of the lake to the inlet. The Laguna Vista trail is only 1.2 miles long and a fairly easy hike, but it seemed to take forever to get to the end…It was a nice surprise to see a fisherman drift by in his boat as he entered the inlet. Unfortunate for me, I couldn’t see around the bend in the lake inlet good enough to satisfy my curiosity at what lay below the M hump along the shoreline…was it a place where Forrest could have stood on land and fished…and ate a pimento cheese sandwich beneath a cottonwood tree…and looked for artifacts long ago buried in the sand?



Plan B: I decided the best way to see beneath the right-side hump of the “M” blaze was from across the inlet/river. The Overlook Trail extends from the Overlook mesa west of the campground area, northward to West Canyon, then down to the lake shore, where the trail divides, one section going east along the shoreline towards the inlet…where I needed to go. By now northern NM had it’s first snowfall but much of this area is in full sun, so I figured if Molly and I were careful, we should be able to make our way down the trail to the inlet.



Once again, we got to what seemed like the end of the trail…there was a rock outcropping in our way…it was snow covered and too risky to keep going. We were so close to where I wanted to be…but I wanted to be safe…the lake looked deep there, and too cold to fall into this time of year. And I’m still not sure if Molly can swim…that day was not the day to find out…

Plan C: The Debris Basin Trail begins at the basin and descends an arroyo to the Santa Cruz Canyon and river, about 200 meters downstream from where the La Caja Trail ends on the opposite shore. The trail then follows the river downstream to the lake, supposedly.

The mornings are now cold and the days are shorter. Nevertheless, my obsession with seeing the entire shoreline beneath the “M” blaze has taken control of me. I packed Molly and my gear in the truck for what I hoped was the last search of the year. As I approached Mile Marker 9, I was concerned I might get stuck in snow going to my secure hiding spot off the dirt road above the Debris Basin. I slowed, and tentatively crawled along the snow-covered dirt until I got to the section that is steep and tilted. I was already in 4-WD…I hesitated…thought WTF, and stepped on the gas pedal. The truck made it up the tiny hill and I breathed a sigh of relief…

The trail from the basin down through the arroyo was relatively easy…there was a fence-like “weir” near the bottom, just before it met the trail along the river.



At the river’s edge the trail became more difficult…there were willow branches to push away and rock slides to cross as we trod downstream to the inlet. And once again, just before the turn in the river where the “M” stood, we hit a dead end.


Stay tuned…I’m not done yet!

Part three coming soon…

32 thoughts on “La Caja Pueblo Ruins – Part II…

  1. Cynthia, you are a good story teller. I laughed at the very end where we have to stay tuned. I’m on the edge. Please don’t take too long. Thanks for all of the beautiful views and I was very excited also when you found the flat rock. Wish I was there. Great story!

  2. Great story Cynthia! I love Molly’s boots and that she has boots on ground. 😉 The flat rock is an amazing part of the story. The photos are beautiful and thank you for sharing. Looking forward to part III.

  3. Cindy you sure do know how to tell a story and you are pretty darn good with a camera also! I felt that I was with you every step of the way.
    I can’t wait for the next installment.


  4. Wow! I was on the edge of my seat! You are an awesome story teller. Maybe you could write a book if you don’t find the treasure. Adventures of Molly and the missing treasure!

    • Cynthia, love your story! Like Helene said you should write a book! And your pictures are so amazing! But how do you get the pictures of you and Molly? Are you doing it Survivorman style setting up a remote camera?? Can’t wait to read more please post more soon!

      Can’t wait to meet you and Molly at the Fennboree… Wish I could bring my Little puppy Zelos with me but he won’t fit in my suitcase…:)

  5. Beautiful pictures. You are so awesome at telling your story its like I’m there with you.
    U also know your directions as for me I had no idea I searching Central Colorado. Ha ha, until I called the hotel we stay at and I asked them if they were Central. (OMG). 🙂 and I’m trying to follow directions from a poem. Ha ha how funny. 🙂 🙂 I love the Chase.

  6. Wow, Thank you so much for sharing your adventure! Love the photos esp the first one with the large boulder on the left. Is it just me or does it look like a gator or lizard is sitting on top of it?

  7. When I look at the area on Google Earth I really can’t tell where you are talking about. Maybe you should just get a boat and go over to the inlets that way to hike around. It would not be the method taken by FF, but this season it could be easier.

  8. Great story again Cynthia. You can always write a book and call it “Treasure hunt – Finding myself, the real treasure”. I would by it. The way you put us there with you and the pictures are placed in the exact spot in the story to help draw us in even deeper. I loved it. Thank you so very much…

  9. Great story Cynthia! I thoroughly enjoyed every step of the way. Good solves too. You are a world class Treasure Searcher!

  10. Great Story Cynthia! We are all waiting with baited breath. You should contact that company that wants to do a story on the searchers. It is on this site somewhere, ask Dal. You would be awesome to follow. Keep us in the loop and do not (Please) wait too long!! As always stay safe in the Chase, see you in the funny papers and God Speed!!! Ms. Girl

  11. Cynthia, you made my day. I’m frozen in, and have a case of cabin fever. It was great to read your well written story, and enjoy the photographs you took. Thank you for sharing, this has been a real treat for me.

  12. You are Amazing Cynthia, I just love your determination and your get up and go.
    Putting boots on the ground and going for the gusto. Looking forward to part 3.
    Thanks for sharing.

  13. You take me alive no with every sentence. Thank you Cynthia for taking the time to share your searches with us all.

  14. Thanks everyone for your kind words and encouragement. I am currently writing part three and was hoping to get back there this weekend so I could have a more finite ending (if you get my drift!)…will give the weather a few more days to cooperate. Then will send part three to Dal to post regardless.

  15. Cynthia, you should spend more winter weekends telling amazing stories at the Santa Fe Library to inspire those youngsters to “Take a walk in the Woods”

    and find treasures that are as yet unseen, somehow I feel ff could have written that story, since he has done it tired and now is weak, considering Robert Redford could have collaborated in writing it with him RR certainly understands the reverence Forrest has for saving the Rockies and all the great outdoors.

    Your story is the stuff America should be listening too, and watching more RR movies, and of course I mean no offence, to the Kardashin’s and that self-indulgent IMO worthless shooting stars ilk. So if you find treasure in that kind of life, then I will not see you very often on a mountain trail looking for life’s real treasures

    Tom Terrific

  16. Can’t wait for the snow to melt, either, cynthia ! Great writing! Beautiful pix! 🙂

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