Last week I returned to Cortez, CO to pick-up the repaired Ezmerelda.
A little background-
Shortly before Kathy and I left on a trip to Missouri in August I had Ezmerelda bumped out and painted. She had a couple of minor dings and a few more rust spots after what I now know was 483,000 miles and over 18 years on the road. Mileage was questionable because I replaced the instrument panel/odometer a few years ago and her actual mileage required a few computations based on the mileage of the original odometer plus the mileage I put on the replacement odometer, less the mileage that the previously used odometer actually showed when I got it from a scrapped van in the salvage yard.
She looked great on the trip, shiny and proud and was running like a stealthy cat. After Missouri we came back through Santa Fe to see Forrest and then headed north and west for a new-to-me area where I had a long-shot search I call the Taos Artist Petroglyph Search. Once again I had a place to begin, great canyon down with a decent road to travel on since the hoB was too far to walk…
If the truth be known, I didn’t really have much faith in this search as a likely candidate for the location of Forrest’s hidden chest…but it was in a nice piece of country that I hadn’t really walked around in much, and well….I was using the TTOTC as an excuse to do a little reading and take a nice hike in some “new to me” countryside. Probably the last one of the search season for me.
As always though…once you start some basic research…and have settled on a WWWH location to begin…and a canyon to travel in…things tend to fall into an enticing place. All of a sudden the location wasn’t such a bad choice after all…The whole solution seemed possible. There was a meek trace and a paddleless stream . The water was high, the lure was strong, BUT, once again I had no blaze.
I had determined from reading the story of the two Taos Artist’s what the blaze would be. But I didn’t know where it was within several square miles…and even then I had no idea if it was still in existance. I knew that I was looking for a very specific petroglyph…not ancient but older than me and from the early 20th century.
My petroglyph/blaze was the result of a camping trip taken by two of Forrest’s favorite Taos artists to this scenic area in the 30’s. It was both a sight-seeing and a working trip and they left their mark on a rock face to memorialize their visit. It was this mark that I thought could be the blaze…but could I find it?
Now…I have to admit that I ran across this story about the Taos Artist’s camping trip quite by accident and when I read about their petroglyph I worked it backwards in the poem to see if it was possible that the clues could lead me there…and they could…easily…
This is exactly what I warn others not to do-
Start at the beginning, I say…find where warm waters halt and follow the clues in chronological order to the chest…
DO NOT…I repeat…DO NOT pick a cool location where you think the chest might be and then head there and look…If you do this you will be looking for a needle in a stack of needles…impossible!!! But I did it anyway…
The bad news is that I had knowledge of only a general area where the rock etching could be. I could find no modern reference to it as having been found by others and for all I knew the mark had been erased by weather or grown over by vegetation. Heck, maybe it was whacked off by a road building crew fifty years ago.…or it could have been such a shallow scratch that it is now impossible to find…However, hope springs eternal…and I decided to go looking for it. If still there, that mark could be the calling card for Forrest’s hidden chest. At least that was my sideways hope as Ezy and Kathy and I sped smoothly west from Missouri toward Cortez, CO.
Then it happened…suddenly…on the highway between Durango and Cortez, a long up-hill stretch of insignificance really… but in an instant one of Ezy’s 18 year old valve bearings seized and in the process bent the cam and damaged the crank. It was the end of a beautiful engine that had allowed Ezy and me to explore 486,000 miles of highways and trails. mountains and deserts, canyons and valleys since the year 2000 when I bought her new.
Although destroyed, the engine still ran and Ezy still moved but with great effort and a frightening rattle and clank that clearly meant the bitter end. We hobbled clumsily the remaining few miles into Cortez and a nearby repair shop where I had to make a decision about scrapping Ezy or having them replace the engine….and I had to figure out how to get Kathy and Dal back home to Lummi Island. The mechanics figured I was crazy for even considering putting a $5K engine into a vehicle not even worth half that amount.
These guys had evidently never felt attached to their vehicles. When I looked at Ezy I saw a friend who took us on hundreds of family camping trips, explorations, adventures, road trips from Michigan to Arizona and Alberta to Texas. I saw wonderful family history and exciting solo memories. I remembered treasure hunts, river crossings, desert journeys, 17 Christmas trees and lots of love. I did not see a simple white box of steel and plastic that could be replaced by money. Ezy was…and still is…a trusted and reliable companion, a family member that was having a bad day.. I consulted with the blog and a comforting number of my fellow searchers thought I should bite the bullet and get her repaired.
There was an economy in repairing her too. A new van would cost a minimum of $38K which meant $700 monthly payments for 5 years….Eeeeek!!! I’ve purchased houses for less and I’d like to retire some day soon. No room for a $700 monthly payment in my approaching retirement scheme.
So Ezy was getting a new engine-
The other problem was getting home…Kathy and I saw no way to spend the next month in Cortez…and we had two weeks worth of collecting stuff at garage sales between Lummi Island and Missouri and Cortez stuffed inside Ezy…we needed a reliable vehicle for a few weeks and it had to be roomy enough to take most of our collected “stuff” back to Washington. Worse…no rental cars were available in all of the Cortez area…Some big event was going on at Mesa Verde and none of the rental car places had anything available for at least a week…
Enter the used car dealer-
I bought a 2005 Ford Expedition for far too much money from a used car dealer in Cortez…I did not buy the car from Fast Eddie…I am at least smart enough not to do business with a used car dealer by the name of Fast Eddie. I bought it from Joe instead. It ran great but only got about 13mpg and cost nearly twice as much to drive home as Ezy…bummer!!!
Almost exactly a month later Ezy was finished and ready for pick-up. I took another week long vacation from the studio and packed up the Ford with my camera gear and bedroll and headed back to Cortez. That trip is about 1200 miles each way and takes two long days of driving to get there. By the way, although that Ford was made for driving and handled great…it was designed by a saddest when it comes to sleeping. That Ford is the most uncomfortable thing to take a nap in that I have ever driven. In comparison, Ezy is a dream to catch some zzz’s in. Spread out the bedroll and snooze in the back…If I ever buy another vehicle I will definitely take it for a “nap test” before I buy it.
As I entered Cortez I saw Ezy waiting patiently for me out in front of the shop…I waved as I drove by. First stop was Joe and selling him back that outrageous Ford. I traded it back for considerably less than what I paid for it after one month and 4,000 miles…such is life…I rationalized that I still made out because it cost less than if I had rented a van for a month and drove it 4,000 miles.
Next I retrieved Ezy…no vehicle left behind…I felt really good about seeing her again…I was told to get an oil change at 500 miles and the mechanic bid me well on my trip home…him shaking his head at my decision to put a new engine in her and me delighted that I had gotten rid of the Ford and had Ezy’s steering wheel in my grip again.
First order of business was to follow that solution I had to abandon a month ago and head out to look for my memorial blaze…I am writing the Taos Artist Petroglyph Search as you read this and will post it in the next few days.
Thanks fellow searchers…for your collective wisdom to hold onto Ezy…She looks really happy to be home, and she purrs like a cat again. I believe she is happy in our comforting fall rains, on the island. Don’t you think she looks grand???
Oh…and she has 1,415 miles on her brand new, shiny engine.