More on Drone Day…

January 23rd, 2016

by KATYA

 
This is about the drone activity in the search area that took place on Friday, January 22nd. 
 

For days since hearing about the on-going search, I’ve been thinking about ways of how I can be of help. I thought about the times I was working with the Travel Channel and being filmed for several days, with all the camera men and equipment. The most intriguing was the ‘Drone’. It followed us every where from a great vantage point, capturing great images from air. So I thought how helpful this tool would be.
 
Being that I am an IATSE 480 Union Member in the film industry, I have witnessed how extra-ordinary our New Mexico Union is with being involved and helping the Community, aside from its usual film business. So, I thought about my Union Sisters and Brothers and thought to reach out to them… particularly the Drone Operators. I have met a few expert Drone Operators. The best being “Tizz”. So I put out a call to Tizz and right away he responded with interest in wanting to help. He never heard of the Forrest Fenn Treasure, and it didn’t matter who it was, his interest was sincere in wanting to help find a missing person.
 
I also reached out to our Union main man and representative: Jon Hendry. Instantly he offered his help and support. He offered us lots of water, and the use of the large fully equipped Mobile Unit, to stage on-site to serve as our base operation, and anything else we needed, equipment, and volunteers. Jon also sent out an email blast to all Union Members requesting help.
 
At the time, conversing with Cynthia and Sasha, our next plan was to be set up at Cochiti Lake, bring in the “Drone Team” and search upstream from there. However, after I spoke to several officials at Cochiti Lake and head of departments in the Cochiti Reservation, getting our mission  Granted Access with a Tribal Escort all set up, I then drove down to Santa Fe with my dear partner; Billy (whom I tease at being my paparazzi, who documents all my searches) to have a meeting with Cynthia and Sasha, just after Cynthia and Forrest did their helicopter search.

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We then decided it was not to our advantage to search upstream from Cochiti, since the drones must be within eye shot and signal fades after one mile. I learned some of the advantages limitations of the drones. Even the most northern high peaks of the reservation would not give us enough range to search the area of interest, being the river near and across Frijoles Canyon.
 
And it was also decided after Forrest and Cynthia’s report, the river was so low, we wanted to focus looking on land, on the east side, where Randy’s XX’s and —– marks were on his map.
 
Learning that it is nearly impossible to get to the mesa ridge with vehicles, I declined on Jon’s gracious offer of the Mobile Unit.
 
The community of TTOTC Searchers have been most heart warming and inspiring with all their dedication, that it has inspired me to reach out even more to my community for help. I spoke with my neighbor Cid, who is the owner of Taos local Market; “Cids”, and when he heard of the story and that I was bringing a team of searchers to help, he donated a bag of food for the searchers.
 
Tizz had called a couple of his friends that were on stand-by to come help us search. One of the guys is also a Drone specialist: Danny Nugent from South of Albuquerque, and his other friend; Sam (Savage) Bawcum is an International Search and Rescue Paramedic, who has been saving lives all around the world.  We all planned to meet up the following morning at the Santa Fe County Animal Shelter.
 
It was very Brisk and Breezy, as our Friday Searchers all gathered, piling on more layers of clothing, hats and gloves.Then off we went. Our posse then began the first part of our adventurous journey that took a large portion of the day, where everyone’s best skillful driving was put to the test. Some cars did not make it, and we piled in more equipment and guys in to Billy’s truck.  John Brown led the way, blazing down the road, kicking up dust, flinging mud. He obviously knew the road and the way to the top of the mesa.

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After we finally arrived to our base camp, we gathered in a circle, as Tizz passed out radio’s, Savage went around the circle getting everyone’s name and their game plan, to know exactly who was going where. Cynthia announced our time to return to base would be at the latest 4pm, and departure was set for 4:30. There were 11 of us all together. We separated into 3 groups. Billy and I were with the Drone Team.

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On our way to the Mesa location where the Drones were planning to launch, the way there was much more intense and vast than what appeared on Google Earth. The little dots of Piñon trees were indeed like a thick forest, who’s branches were very unforgiving, grabbing hair, hat, backpacks and clothing, preventing passage. In fact it even prevented visibility. The land was incredibly gnarly and wretched, covered with wicked cactus donning 3″- 4″ of needles. And if you didn’t step on cactus, it was then covered with volcanic rocks that made the footing entirely challenging the entire way.
 
I would notice Tizz, our main Drone Operator, flash here and there, amongst the piñon. He was there and then he wasn’t. I decided to call him “Flash”. His high energy never quit. He would sometimes disappear entirely. Not a whistle or word or radio would get a response. Billy calls him the “Lone Cyotee”. Billy, Sam, Danny came to the edge of the Mesa and marveled at the expansive and daunting views of the Canyon, peering in to the Frijoles Canyon….
 
Really? I thought. Did Randy really think Forrest would make two trips into this rugged and treacherous canyon with 22 lbs of treasure and box?

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We were looking for Tizz and the launch location, and I don’t know what made us begin this slow crawling decent on the side of the mesa that increasingly became more and more challenging. “Just think like Spider Woman” I thought to myself as I was required to crawl with hands and feet, scaling the steep side of the Mesa walls. Every other step I took, a rock would slip out from under me and go flying down to the bottom. It was difficult to trust any rock what so ever.

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Sam and I sat 50 or so feet apart, on stable rocks, taking a break, discussing possibilities. He then climbed up to continue looking for Tizz. Billy was off to my left, photographing the area, and I climbed closer to him, spotting a cave. I then crawled, clinging to rocks and branches, making my way over to the small cave. It was shallow. Much more than it appeared from the distance. I safely made my way back to Billy, and we rested on a large flat rock, hydrated and snacked when Cynthia and John came out from our right, making their way on the steep, sliding rock terrain. Cynthia paused to take photos of me, as Billy was taking photos of Cynthia.
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This turned out to be more of a Photo Op than we expected it to be…. for what a couple of those photos unintentionally revealed later…
 
Then down the mountain Cynthia and John continued.  Billy and I began to continue looking for our team, and as we were walking, I heard in the distance the sound of Hornets….

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Ah! That must be our drone flying around somewhere, cause there is barely anything else around making noises… and sure enough, the drone lead us to the launch location and we joined the rest of our team.

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I learned a lot watching and assisting Tizz. One of the limitations of the drones is that it can only fly for 8-10 minutes, then return home and replace the drained battery for a charged one. So, the process takes some time to get plenty of footage. It was interesting watching the monitor and seeing that it gets best images in the shadows vs the bright light. Tizz directed the drone in front of a few little caves, perhaps a bit too high to reach on the rugged sliding rocks. We focused mostly on filming the small canyon just NE of where Randy’s flotation device was found.
 
Each time we attempt at returning to our area where we were keeping our gear to get more batteries or equipment, we seemed to loose our way directly there, the pinons again, disoriented us. We became aware of time and all of us were encouraging Tizz to wrap it up, though he  was on a roll and ignored our pleas. I radioed Cynthia, and she confirmed all the teams but us were back at base camp and waiting for us. I suggested I’d start to head back solo, since Tizz walks much faster than I can keep up, but all the guys, especially Billy, insisted we go together.
 
At last Tizz wrapped it up and we began heading back. “Just follow your shadow” said Sam directing us back to camp. More cactus, snow and rocks, our footing wobbling, except for Tizz. He bounced thru the woods and flashed here and there again. The rest of us began to loose our way again. Sam checked his GPS, got us back on track. Billy and I slowed our pace and lost Sam and Danny, though we’d holler now and then and get kind of close. Sam calls Tizz on the radio to get his location, Tizz replies “Just follow my voice!” Sam looks down puzzled at his radio with Tizz’s voice in the little box. Oh, I see, just follow the radio. More circling around more pinon trees and the light is darkening.
 
We understand well how easy it is to get lost and disoriented in that territory. We can hear the car engines in the distance leaving camp. We are still off to the left, now too much to the right. Whew! At last! Back at base camp where Billy’s big red truck is the only vehicle waiting next to his ceremony drum and bag.
 
We piled all the gear and headed down the deeply rutted slippery muddy road, with Tizz running in front of us, guiding our way down the path. We caught up with a couple cars, that nearly flipped over wildly sliding their way. There were some large impressive Bulls in the meadow on our left, stretching their necks up high to see the posse go by. Their eyes widely peering at the rare visit.
 
Tizz continued running ahead, then he noticed a set of footprints leading OUT down the road. It went on for about 1/2 mile til the road came to a fork then disappeared. Billy got out and photographed the footprint. Billy is size 11 and he placed his foot next to the print which appears to be approx size 13 and narrow.
 
As we continued slipping and sliding down the crazy road, flinging heavy waves of mud all over the truck, and then suddenly to our left, there was a small heard of beautiful healthy wild Horses! Billy got out to photograph them and the mares shied away as the Stallion came forward to defend his lady tribe.

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At last, we made it out of the road, which took as much energy out of us as the hike did. All the cars and teams met once again at the Animal Shelter, and said our good-byes. A few of us met at Forrest’s home and shared our days and thoughts.
 
Of course, like all of you, we are filled with wonders and unanswered questions. As Treasure Hunters on TTOTC, we understand a bit more of the thinking, though at times, may not agree with it, and we are all still standing in the mystery of it all.
 
After we closed our meeting at Forrest’s home, Billy and I began our long and winding trip through the Box Canyon home to Taos. Bewildered and exasperated, Billy randomly chooses a few photos to send to Cynthia and Dal to update everyone on the blog.
 
Saturday Morning…. I wake with a message from Cynthia. “Kat, you gotta look at one of the photos Billy sent! One of the Blog viewers has noticed in one of the images a blue thing hiding in one of the ledges covered by a branch! We need the high res image to examine it!”
 
So I run over to Billy’s house and sure enough, there it is, Blue shinny fabric, like a sleeping bag or backpack. Right there below Cynthia’s feet, just below where Billy and I took a break on the big flat rock. Looking at the image blown up, you can see, it is not old fabric, it is intensionally placed and not been there long.

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Interesting, isn’t it? How a trivial collection of small events: one leaning on a rock, two others pass by, another takes a photo and snap! Something more get’s in the picture and changes the story.
 
It show’s us how close we can be to something, and even if we are intensely focusing, we can totally miss it! And so, it makes me wonder, how many times have we come close to the Treasure, and totally missed it! Only this time, we were lucky to have Billy’s camera capture something hiding that our own eyes missed. We were focused on Cynthia, and missed the blue object peaking out at us!
 
I do hope that the continuing searchers can find our location. If not, I’ll have to return with Cynthia to recap and find our spot. It’s something, even if it turns out to be nothing, at least we have a sliver of hope.
As I close this entry, the full moon is shining brightly upon the wintery towne of Taos and the wild cyottes are partying it up!
 
Katya-

After the Search on Friday…

January 22nd, 2016

by CYNTHIA

 

As I pulled into the Santa Fe Animal Shelter parking area this morning, I was astonished to see the number of vehicles awaiting my arrival. Despite the brisk 34 degree temperature, most of the folks were already milling around, introducing themselves. I immediately joined the gang and handed out a few packets of photos of Randy’s maps that I had printed for 3 teams. We discussed the plan for the day. We all would caravan in seven vehicles as close to Montoso Peak and the canyon edge as possible within the red circle on the maps. If any of the vehicles could no longer tolerate the muddy, slippery conditions, we would stop as a group and place those folks in the vehicles that could climb and grip the sloppy tracks to a spot close to the canyon edge.

We put John Brown in the lead because he knew the way to the mesa area we intended to go… he had been there previously with Gene, I believe. I followed in the FJ, Radcrad and Mike Hendrickson were next in line, followed by Katya and Billy who had organized three guys to help search using their drones (Tizz, Sam, and another). Eventually Tom G and Amber and her little dog June fell into line.

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One nice thing that Katya mentioned before we were under way was that Cid’s Market in Taos paid for a bag of groceries for us to make a nice lunch in the field. Kudos to Cid’s…really cool.

About the time we hit the asphalt, Katya received a call from her 3rd drone operator that he was running late but he’d catch up on the dirt road to Montoso Peak. If you don’t know the area, you’d likely get lost in a second. So anytime we came to a fork, Roger (Radcrad) tied an orange ribbon to a branch to mark the way.

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During one of the stops, some of the guys revisited the map of the area.

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I wish I had pictures of the “road” once we started the journey around Montoso Peak because I’m not sure I have the proper words to describe the drive…for me, it was basically terrifying… and I was the one driving the probably most capable vehicle for the conditions out there. The path twisted and turned and tilted between the juniper trees, all the while our tires slinging mud and snow. To make it even worse, there were sections of jagged rocks poking up here and there, as well as an area the guys referred to as “the steps”…large rocks that we crawled over and around going down a short section of steep grade…which I knew we had to climb up over on the return trip. The only saving factor for me was that there were no cliff edges on either side, so even if we’d slide off into a ditch and flip, we likely wouldn’t be killed. Sometimes the path through the trees was so tight the branches would sweep both sides of my car….one branch was large enough to knock my side mirror against the side…

John finally stopped ahead of me, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I realized he was parking…we had made it.

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After each person gathered their gear, we teamed up, traded cell phone numbers (yes we had a good signal), and Tizz handed out radios to each team. We agreed on the return time to the vehicles as 4:00 pm since we knew returning home would be difficult as well and we needed daylight.

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Amber from Texas and her dog June, Roger, and Mike Hendrickson.

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Billy blessing us and our surroundings before heading out. Drone operators Tizz, Sam, and ?…

Even though we were sort of close to the mesa edge, we still had quite a distance to the river. I teamed with John Brown and Roger…our destination was to sweep the gully along the hill in front of us as we made our way to the edge. Tom G and Amber headed to the edge farther south, and the drone team meandered where needed to find the best place to launch the drones. According to my GPS coordinates, we were exactly where I’d hoped we could go… within the red circle on Randy’s map.

You will see my day through pictures of John. Roger searched a bit away from us so I have few pictures of him or the other teams.

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John heading down the mesa hill into the gully.

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As I walked, I searched every nook and cranny along my route…

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Heading towards the rim…three searchers near center of photo.

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John ahead of me as we made our way down into the gully.

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I was above John about 6 feet when he said he saw “something”…”what” I anxiously asked. 
He described it as a place where branches and pine needles may have been placed on the ground. There was a small yellow spot in the snow where someone may have urinated and what looked like dog kibble scattered about. He picked up the kibble and told me to look at it…it was a stretch but we made the exchange. Excitedly, I examined it and said I thought it was rabbit scat, but I couldn’t be certain….I handed it back. He broke it in half and smelled it… confirming what I suspected. We discussed the yellow snow…even if it was human urine, it could have been from SAR…we left it alone.

John and I continued our hike and search for Randy down through the gully…we eventually got to an area that was too steep to continue, so we started a diagonal descent out of the gully and across the hill side. We wanted to get to the river… to the raft.

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I included a lot of pictures of the terrain, trying to capture the unfriendly ruggedness…there are no trails per se in the area we were at. There was a lot of scree…the loose stuff that causes people like me to fall on their butt and slide part way down…it worked, and I was happy to be wearing my heavy canvas pants.
I think John and I got about half way down the side of the hill to the raft area when we decided we just didn’t have enough time. Disappointed, we both agreed to be safe…we didn’t want the burden of time along with the uphill struggle when we had to climb back up the hillside to the vehicles.

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We ran into Katya and Billy taking a breather. Notice the steepness of the side of this hill. Tough hiking conditions, IMO.

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John and I continued a diagonal path up and saw the slab of rock in below photo. It would be our break stop. We each used binoculars…looking for Randy.

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The teams began streaming to the vehicles a bit early…the drone folks radioed to us that they’d be a bit behind schedule. We agreed we all leave together…we’d wait. No man left behind.

As we began the dreaded drive out of there, I noticed it was already 4:30. The progress was so slow due to the horrible road conditions that sometimes my speedometer barely moved off zero. It wasn’t long before twilight fell upon us…seeing all the ruts and jagged rocks became even more difficult. At the last stop while I waited for the others to catch up, I took the photo below… Despite all that mud, and snow, and ice, and rocky terrain, this was the view as we went home…an almost full moon over the mountains above Santa Fe…

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I’m sorry to say that none of us found clues to find Randy. The drone crews each took over an hour of videos which they will download and analyze over the next day or two. They filmed the entire side canyon just south of where the raft was found. They also filmed, I believe, the edges of the Rio Grande canyon as well.

We all said our good-byes at the SF Animal Shelter where a few of the cars awaited their owners. Forrest requested a small group go to his place and provide him with an update of the day’s activities. I was delighted he was so kind as to have a platter of snacks available for us… with 6 little cans of Dr. Pepper. I was famished and ate accordingly…

There is no organized group search planned for tomorrow. A few individuals are going to go out on their own. Katya and her crew will analyze their drone videos, and we will go from there.

I want to thank all you awesome people who helped search today…everyone used good judgment and stayed safe. We really worked as a team and made sure we didn’t leave anyone on the mountain or stuck in the mud. I’d also like to thank all those who post their ideas on Dal’s blog. Because of the maps that Stephanie made available, we had a good idea of where to go today. We realize this area had been searched by the professionals previously… I guess I just had to see it for myself.
God bless Randy and his family and all you wonderful folks in the search community…

Cynthia

 

Drone Day…

January 22nd, 2016

by Katya and Bill

I just got home. Long drive home to Taos after long intense day searching. Sasha was not there today.
I brought a crew of 5 of us today. Two drones and two drone operators. They got a lot of footage and we are eagerly waiting the results.
Taos Internet is very s l o  w. Billy is working on uploading still photos from the day. Says it will take an hour and will send them off to you right away.
I’m crawling in to bed now.
Katya

 

Bill’s Photos Below. Click on the pic to make it a bit bigger.

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