SUBMITTED May 2016
Continued from Part Three…
It was January when I last published Part Three about searching La Caja Pueblo Ruins. I was still trying to get to the “Imaginary Line” where the Santa Cruz River enters the inlet to Santa Cruz Lake. This area of shoreline, I thought, would be directly below the ruins, my home of Brown.
I made an attempt to access this spot in late February via the Debris Basin Trail. My day was cut short when I found a German Shepard caught in an animal trap just to the side of the trail. She was big and beautiful and timid… her foot was pinched and she couldn’t escape. Eventually, I found help, and she was released, unharmed. I wanted to take her home, but she bolted as soon as she was free.
In early March I decided to try a different approach. I parked at the gate to the Santa Cruz Lake Overlook Campground and walked back the road. My plan was to walk across the ridge tops to the inlet and look down at the shoreline at this imaginary line. As I ambled along the edge of the road that day, I found a $10 dollar bill lying there. Another five yards and I found a $5 dollar bill, and then a trail of $1 dollar bills…six of them in succession crossing the road to the weeds on the other side. A total of $21, I was thrilled. I mean, ecstatic…you’d think I had found the treasure.
I continued my hike towards the edge of the ridge-top. Before I got to the final spot, I realized this was too difficult for Fenn to have made two trips…I retreated once again.
Here it is the middle of May. Despite being pretty positive by now that Fenn did not hide his treasure chest here, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I had to get to this area to see it for myself.
Plan D: A couple days ago Michelle bought a kayak. I suggested we take it to Santa Cruz Lake for its maiden voyage. I’d drop her off at the boat ramp, where she’d set off and paddle to the opposite shore at the far end of the lake. While she paddled, I’d drive around to the trailhead up by the Overlook Campground, and Molly and I would hike down to the stand of cottonwoods where she would meet us. She agreed.
That night I could barely sleep. I knew, or was at least pretty sure, that I was finally going to get to see the “imaginary line”, both shorelines beneath the La Caja Pueblo Ruins where the inlet meets the river.
It was a gorgeous May day with no wind…perfect for kayaking. Plan D started off perfectly. Molly watched from the end of the pier as Michelle paddled away.
It was an eight mile drive from the boat ramp, around the winding road through Cundiyo, and back the dirt road to the Overlook Campground and Trailhead. In less than fifteen minutes, Molly and I were headed down the trail. The Sangre de Cristos stood out on the horizon to the east, still displaying pockets of snow on the Truchas Peaks.
As Molly and I made our way down the twisting trail, we could see Michelle off in the distance, waiting for us to meet at our destination beneath the stand of cottonwoods.
I carefully made my way to the water’s edge as Michelle continued around to the inlet. I removed the bottoms of my pant legs, and exchanged my hiking boots for old, worn- out sandals to wade through the water.
Molly and I waited patiently for Michelle to return and give us the news. Was the water shallow enough the entire way to the inlet to wade along the shoreline? I crossed my fingers as my excitement swelled…
Michelle returned with bad news. The shallow water soon gave way to really deep- looking water…no wading was possible after about ten yards. I told her to paddle to the inlet and river and asked her to take a lot of pictures, especially the shorelines and bluffs, etc, anything that could be construed as a blaze, or anything that looked like a “special place”.
As she paddled away, I had a good idea…Molly and I would climb up the hillside and cross the ridges on top, and then find a ravine or run-off to get back down to the water’s edge nearer the inlet/river. I was in such a hurry I didn’t bother to put my hiking boots back on. I clutched them in my left hand as I looked for a path upwards.
At first this seemed doable but then the terrain became really steep with scree filling the run-offs that I was trying to climb up. The footing turned treacherous and my feet slid out from under me every few steps. I was even using my hands on the ground as I crawled along and up. I smelled skunk and hoped it was the vegetation and not the animal. I had lost track of Molly and hoped that she didn’t find the skunk, or any rattlesnakes, or anything else. I now was consumed with only my safety as I approached 40 feet up the bluff/hillside and across the first ridge.
Soon I could hear Michelle shouting to me from below…I couldn’t see her but knew she had come back to where we had been. She told me to turn around and go back to the cottonwood stand immediately. She found Molly perched precariously on a crumbly-looking pinnacle 30 feet above her, with only rocks beneath, not even the water. If she fell there, it would be bad.
I wasn’t sure of my retreat path, but decided to try to go down the same ravine of scree I had used to ascend. Almost immediately, my feet went out from under me and I started to slide downward on my knees and elbows…I grabbed a pine tree branch as I slid by but a large rock continued and banged my left ankle…it hurt. Thank goodness the branch was sturdy and stopped my rapid descent. I stood up, sort of and assessed the damage. Abrasions, trace of blood, no broken bones. I turned around and purposely sat down…I would ride down this ravine of scree on my butt. Still holding my hiking boots in my left hand, I began the descent…I thought of Randy. Obsession and over-confidence are probably the worse two traits when we search for Fenn’s treasure. I was ashamed to admit I exhibited both of those this day with my bad decision, even putting Molly at risk.
It wasn’t long until I was at the shoreline, Molly found her way to us, and Michelle landed the kayak so we could come up with another plan. She said she had found a good “special place” that I needed to see. She gave me her life jacket and off I went in her kayak.
I did not exit the kayak and search for Fenn’s treasure chest at the “special place”. There was no way Forrest could have arrived there on foot, and I don’t think he used a boat or kayak or canoe to hide the chest. I paddled away, content that at last I had seen the “imaginary line”.
As Molly and I headed up the trail, I turned around to get one last picture of Santa Cruz Lake. I could see Michelle as a tiny dot in the center of the lake as she paddled towards the boat ramp. It was a bittersweet moment for me. I had made many trips to this area to search for Fenn’s treasure since last October, and now it was over.
As Michelle and I drove home, we discussed the day’s adventure. Despite the abrasions, bruises, and her accidently rolling out of the kayak into the lake (near the cottonwood stand which was hilarious but unfortunately not captured on video), we all had a great day…no, we had an awesome day!
As I was explaining to her how I was done there and how I’d need to come up with a new search location, a brilliant thought flashed through my brain…what if Forrest …