La Caja Pueblo Ruins – Final Chapter…



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.

The Final Chapter

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.


Click to enlarge and read text


Michelle in yellow kayak on right, approaching the shoreline.

ImageExtract-008 Our plan was under way. Michelle was checking the depth of the water along the shoreline. I wanted to wade to the inlet, if possible.

ImageExtract-009 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.


A possible special place



A name below the red arrow



Approaching where the river enters the inlet. A rock bluff on one side and a shoreline of thick willows on the opposite shore. Definitely not accessible on foot, IMO.



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 …



La Caja Pueblo Ruins – Part III…

SUBMITTED January 2016


Continued from Part Two…

It was now December 8th, and I still hadn’t been able to get to the specific location where the Santa Cruz River enters the inlet. Looking at both Google Earth and TopoQuest, the La Caja Ruins site seems to be immediately above the cliff-face at that imaginary line.

I was positive Fenn didn’t hide the treasure chest on the ruins site…there was just no way up to the mesa top. So my dilemma still was: did he hide it on top the mesa edge not far from the Overlook Campground where he could sit out of view beneath a juniper tree and gaze across the river, imagining the puebloans from 800 years ago? Or did he secret it among the trees along the shoreline beneath the pueblo, where ancient artifacts may have fallen off the cliffside or washed over the edge during the past eight centuries? Did he take a boat to this particular spot to fish 40 years ago, or walk there from the Debris Basin and wade across the stream… and discover pottery shards or other ancient artifacts partially buried in the sand?


I woke to beautiful blue skies that Tuesday morning…my obsession with seeing this specific place, where the river entered the inlet, had not waned; in fact, it was worse than ever. I decided to make one last trip there…I would park at the Overlook Campground, and Molly and I would walk out across the ridge to the point where it overlooks the inlet. I knew from there I could see both shorelines, and search for the treasure chest if he did indeed hide it on top the mesa across the river, at some obscure place out of sight of others. The red arrow in the picture below shows you where I planned to go.


It was barely above freezing as we made our way to the turnoff to the Overlook Campground… no matter, though, I was psyched…I knew today was the day I was going to finally see this spot I’d been trying so desperately to reach. And then I saw it…there was a locked gate across the dirt road to the campground. My heart sank….I think I had tears in my eyes from the overwhelming disappointment. I could park there along the highway and walk the 1.5 miles back to the campground but that would add a lot of time and walking to our day, and I wasn’t prepared.

Quickly, I had to come up with a Plan B…I told Molly we wouldn’t give up…this day was our last chance of finding this place until springtime, and I knew my patience wouldn’t hold. We drove around to the main entrance to the Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area and parked. I decided we could hike along the eastern shoreline again on the Laguna Vista Trail, and instead of stopping at the dead-end like last time, we would climb across the ridge-line towards the inlet, then scamper down the side to the lake edge where maybe we could see the confluence of the river and inlet.


This fallen tree was as far as we could go. I carefully stepped out onto the limb and slowly slid across the smooth bark, balancing precariously as I zoomed in with my camera…maybe I’d see something helpful in the picture later. From the middle of the tree limb, I squinted to see as best I could into the inlet and beyond…it looked like there was already a thin sheet of ice covering the inlet. In my mind I thought…today, this is where warm waters halt…


The hike back to the truck was quick and quiet…I was not especially pleased with another failed attempt trying to reach the imaginary line, the spot…But one positive thing did enter my mind…

Back in October, 10-yr old Thomas and I had made a 10 x 10 x 5 box, and then placed it 200 feet from the edge of the street. To my amazement, 200 feet was much farther away than I expected…and that little box was hard to see. I thought about the three trails I had hiked over the course of the last couple months there…I bet I was about 200 feet from the “spot” at the end of each trail. And another thing, the “spot” was not visible from the end of any of the three trails…Forrest could have secreted the chest there, or died there beside it, and he would not have been visible to hikers, or boaters. Few fishermen would have tried to wade across the river there, making it the perfect place…easy for him to get to but isolated… Is this where he found “solace in the solitude of the trees”?

Over the next couple weeks, I continued researching this area…looking for better “blazes” or anything that could help…using Google Earth to zoom in on the mesa top where La Caja supposedly sits.

I continued to study Scrapbook 107, one of the few I thought actually contained hints…I especially like the word “CruZ” that was formed by the edge of the envelope, the “r” in Mr, the “U” in the guy’s first name, and the “Z” formed by the layout of the pen, pen cap, and $5 bill.


I reread the stories in TTOTC, and studied each and every drawing…I remembered Forrest saying ”The hints are in the aberrations at the edges”…I was not one to previously believe the drawings in the book were of any help…but I knew it couldn’t hurt to look.

I noticed in the drawing on page 43, the woman’s boot that I circled is an aberration…it is not


connected to a person…is this a hint to the picture of the inlet to the lake, which also resembles a woman’s boot? Did Forrest add this to the drawing?


Then on December 17th, Dal posted the Air Force Interview. I reserved a block of time the following afternoon where I could turn off my cell phone, close the door to the library, sit back in my big comfy recliner, and listen attentively. Forrest did not disappoint…his stories were both informative and entertaining. In part three, he described with great detail ejecting from his wounded fighter jet that was about to crash into the countryside…but what stood out to me was his description of his landing spot…he called it a “karst”, to us a bluff or cliff. At that moment, I pictured the drawing on page 99 of TTOTC.

Back in October, Mindy posted a story on her blog about Diggin’ Gypsy. In that story Diggin’ talks about her discovery of Fenn’s treasure map. She surmises that Fenn is the one who drew this drawing, not the artist who drew all the other ones in the book. At the time (this was posted Oct 28th on The Fenn Hotspot), I looked at this drawing…this “treasure map”…I was impressed with the ideas Diggin presented…they were cute, clever. Then I closed the book and never looked at that drawing again…until Dec 18th.


I am not going to add to my story Diggin’s specific hidden gems she has shared with the world… you can go to Mindy’s blog to see each one. But the one she didn’t highlight was the “arrow” circled in red above. What if…Forrest did draw this picture? What if…the arrow points to his special place…both where he safely landed and where he hid the treasure? What do the ladders signify (look to right of red arrow)? Puebloans used ladders in their multi-story pueblos…

Now Diggin’ turned the book/drawing upside down to understand the clues…one small scribe says “FLY TAOS”. It appears the man wearing the large brimmed straw hat is wearing sunglasses (for the ArcLight?), and possibly carrying something. I studied this drawing for hours over many days…I compared it to pictures I had taken over the course of the last two and a half months…

Do the palm tree fronds or the propellers and “FLY TAOS” scribe represent this aircraft marker?


Or do the palm tree and man-in-shades dressed for a picnic represent the Overlook Campground with it’s covered picnic tables…a place for local folks?


In the drawing, it looks like a river runs between two mesa tops…does this suggest the area where the river enters the inlet to the lake? It looks like the arrow circled in red comes out of a formation shaped like the right-hump of my “M” shaped blaze, the cliffside just below La Caja.

Many times throughout the past five years, Forrest has mentioned the word “IMAGINATION”… Is “imagination” the word that is key?

In Diggin’s story she says “Forrest said he melded the memories of his experience in Vietnam with his favorite spot.” I do not know where she saw that written or if he said it to her. What if… he did? What if… he drew this particular drawing? What if …it is his secret “treasure map”?

To quote Shakespeare, sort of: “ To be(lieve), or not to be(lieve), that is the question?”

I never had time to get to the imaginary line separating the river and inlet before the last snow fell…I do believe that ultimately someone will follow their crazy idea…their vivid imagination… their “what if…” and Fenn’s treasure will be waiting for them…

Until springtime (nah, I won’t wait that long)… Cynthia


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…

La Caja Pueblo Ruins – Part I…

SUBMITTED December 2015

My biggest dilemma: How can he “walk out into the desert” but stay “in the mountains north of Santa Fe?” How can the spot be described as both desert and mountains? I think the following picture visually explains it…


The most important question: What makes the place where Forrest secreted his treasure chest “Special” or “Dear” or “Fond of” to him?

Fenn says you have to look at the big picture. There are no short cuts…This means you have to use the entire poem to understand his special place… Then you must use the nine clues to locate the specific area: WWWH, the canyon, the hoB, the put-in, the heavy loads and water high, the blaze, and ultimately the treasure chest. I believe the poem describes an old pueblo ruin, even comparing it to his dig at San Lazaro. He has often referred to his favorite fishing places as “special places”, and finding pottery shards when he planted flowers at his former gallery/home as “special”. This area at Santa Cruz Lake combines both…

The Poem
As I have gone alone in there …And with my treasures bold: This means he went to the spot (his special place) at least twice, the first time alone is when he discovered it, the final time was when he took the treasure chest there. Bold implies he was somewhat exposed or out in the open when he hid the treasure, or just that he hid it in the afternoon in broad daylight. I walked across the mesa top in the picture above multiple times without seeing a soul, and the only way I would have been noticed is by someone specifically looking from the Overlook Campground mesa edge across the Debris Basin canyon/arroyo onto the top of this mesa. There are no trails there and absolutely no reason for anyone to be up there wandering around…unless you are searching for Fenn’s treasure or old Indian artifacts / pottery shards.

I can keep my secret where, And hint of riches new and old: “Riches new and old” describes an old pueblo ruin. Did Fenn find this pueblo before the archeologists? The first record of La Caja Pueblo site was in 1973, a year after Fenn moved to Santa Fe…hmmm. (Tony Dokoupil wrote in 2012 “From the sky, he (Fenn) learned to spot ruins by the pattern of cacti.”) Is this where he can keep his secret? Is one of his secrets that he visited this place before the archeologists? Is the word “hint” implying his treasure chest is not on top the un-excavated pueblo but near it? Is his special place and the treasure on top the mesa across the river/inlet from La Caja Pueblo? Where he could sit in solitude and look and imagine the inhabitants from 800 years ago?

One of the hints in the book TTOTC which might help unlock a clue is Fenn wrote that he and Eric Sloane as his co-pilot used to fly just above the tree tops between Santa Fe and Taos. I drew a straight line between the SF and Taos airports, not the towns themselves. This area is dead-on the line. This also supports the supposed quote from Fenn when he said not only do you need a good map, you need the “right” map.


Begin it where warm waters halt: The Santa Cruz Watershed specifically at the confluence of the Rio Medio and Rio Frijoles. Both these rivers flow west out of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and eventually flow through a wide valley where the waters slow down and warm from the abundant sunshine. At their confluence at the Cundiyo bridge, they hesitate as they combine into one river which now becomes Rio Santa Cruz, makes a turn in direction and begins the way down the narrow La Caja Canyon (also called Rio Santa Cruz Canyon on some maps) where the flow hastens and the water becomes colder due to little sunlight hitting the water through this narrow canyon.

I believe another hint in TTOTC which will help unlock the clues is the word “warm”, when Forrest describes the kids that touched the bronze and said it felt cold (because their hands were warm.) Fenn’s description of “warm” waters is about temperature but relative to the temperature later on downstream.


And take it in the canyon down: La Caja Trail through La Caja Canyon. This trail dead-ends 1/2 mile downstream from the trailhead (at the bridge over the Santa Cruz River near Cundiyo) at a point along the north side of the canyon due to steep terrain. You can wade across the stream here and pick up the trail on the other side to continue down the canyon…or drive around and “put-in” below the Debris Basin, where you follow a trail and eventually walk through the arroyo to the river’s edge.

Not far, but too far to walk: This means there is a road CR503 to the “Put-in” spot instead of dangerously wading across the river where the trail dead-ends.

Put in below the home of Brown: I believe the home of Brown is the un-excavated La Caja Pueblo ruin which sits on top the mesa at the edge of the cliff overlooking La Caja Canyon. I have two different places to “put-in” that lead to the same location, sort of. The traditional phrase “put-in” refers to the boat ramp or put-in at Santa Cruz Lake. Years ago, there was even a place to rent boats there. Forrest’s friend from Texas Laurens said (to our table of folks at the book- signing) that when he used to fish with Marvin Fenn and Forrest as kids, ‘Put-in” referred to where they got into the boat to go fishing. I do not believe Forrest used a boat to get to the hiding spot when he hid the treasure, though…The Laguna Vista Trail starts near the parking lot and boat ramp and follows the shoreline to the end of the lake where the Santa Cruz River enters, where La Caja Pueblo sits un-excavated at the top of the cliff edge there, just above the inlet. OR, the other “put-in” is at the Debris Basin area, which is my first choice, and ends up below the hoB, but on the other side of the river inlet. Or you could wade across the river (put- in) where the La Caja Trail dead ends and end up at this same spot.

From there it’s no place for the meek: From the Debris Basin area there is a trail part way to the river but then you have to follow the arroyo to the river’s edge (no human trail in close proximity), and you need a 4-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle to get to a place to park.

The end is ever drawing nigh: Hike up the “draw” to the top of the mesa if the chest is hidden on top and not along the shoreline.

There’ll be no paddle up your creek: The (dry creek) arroyo coming from the debris basin.

Just heavy loads and water high: The Santa Cruz Debris Basin whose purpose is to collect the debris (heavy loads) washing down the arroyo during heavy rains (water high), keeping it out of the river and lake.

If you’ve been wise and found the blaze: Wise = Y’s. Look at the big picture on a topo map. The confluence of the Rio Medio and River Frijoles make a Y with the Santa Cruz River. Further down stream towards Santa Cruz Lake, another Y is formed by the emergence of the debris basin arroyo where the Santa Cruz River then turns north, making another Y. Fenn wrote “If you’ve been wise and found the blaze…” which means you have already found the blaze by the time you get to the top of the mesa and the pueblo. Pictures of the blaze are later in this document.

Look quickly down, your quest to cease: Here Fenn tells you to “look”, not “dig” because it is not buried. Quickly down means close to the top of the mesa. Look near the edge…ff has stated in emails: “How will you know where the edge is if you don’t go out there and look?” “The hints are in the aberrations at the edges.”

But tarry scant with marvel gaze: You can see the road (CR503) from the top of the mesa here. You marvel as you gaze at how close (scant) this spot is to the asphalt (tarry) road. (SB70, Forrest wrote “…Esmeralda, who still glides the tartop…”

Just take the chest and go in peace: Means exactly what it says…the last of the nine clues. (Caja means box or chest in Spanish…hmmm. Is “chest” the word that is key?)

So why is it that I must go…And leave my trove for all to seek: Future archeologists who might excavate this site someday, find his bones, and the treasure chest.

The answers I already know,…I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak: Fenn spent 30 years excavating San Lazaro, until the ripe old age of 84, and knows the answers to why excavate.

So hear me all and listen good,…Your effort will be worth the cold: The cold is the loneliness when you search for the treasure, (or you waded across the cold river to get here) but he knows the end result will be worth it just like when he discovered the artifacts at San Lazaro…he is telling us “listen to me…I have already done this”, again implying the special place is an old Indian ruin.

If you are brave and in the wood…I give you title to the gold: Brave implies Indians (pueblos); in the wood refers to the old saying meaning aged, old which is the old pueblo. Title to the gold may be a reference that gives land owners title to archeology, putting artifacts in the same category as oil or gold (like San Lazaro).

Fenn statements:
Fenn said “some searchers have figured out the first two clues but didn’t understand the significance of where they were, and went right past the next seven.”

“Some folks correctly mentioned the first two clues to me in an email and then they went right past the other seven, not knowing they had been so close.” They figured wwwh is confluence of Rio Medio and Rio Frijoles, the two rivers of the Santa Cruz Watershed, that combine to make Rio Santa Cruz. They went downstream on La Caja Trail through the canyon, but it dead ends. What they didn’t understand is home of Brown is the un-excavated La Caja Pueblo which sits atop the cliff above the inlet where the Santa Cruz River enters Santa Cruz lake. They didn’t know they could skip wading across the river but instead drive to the debris basin area and walk down the arroyo to the river. Instead they drove around to the main entrance into the Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area and parked where everyone else parks, thereby going “right past the other seven, not knowing they had been so close.”

“Some searchers have been within 200 feet of the treasure”. This statement stumped me for awhile, but I think the 200 feet distance is elevation. La Caja Trail and canyon where the Santa Cruz river flows to the lake is at 6500 feet, while the mesa above and treasure location is at 6700 feet.

Fenn said “there are a lot of places in the Rocky Mountains where warm waters halt and most of them are north of Santa Fe.” I believe warm waters has to be something obscure by Fenn’s definition but something common enough for many to occur, like the confluence of two separate rivers that combine to become a new river before flowing downward through a narrow canyon. Maybe Fenn considers the confluence of these rivers as “halting”, momentarily, when they combine and turn direction drastically to make one river. Or the wwwh refers to the Santa Cruz “water shed”.

SB116 Peek-a-Boo Art about the shower tiles. Is this a hint to warm waters (taking a shower) halting/draining, collecting water that’s delivered down stream? Is it a hint for his bathroom (water closet to Europeans. Does water closet mean water shed?)

SB115 Proper Dental Care about his tooth brushes. Again hinting warm waters draining, and includes a photo of his frog jar in his bathroom (WC).

SB99.5 I have rules: about his bathroom (WC)
SB98 Closet Stories: about his walk-in clothes closet. Is this the predecessor about the word closet (shed?)

Fenn said “many are giving serious thought to the clues in my poem, but only a few are in tight focus with a word that is key.” I believe the word that is key is chest, in Spanish caja (also means box).

Fenn wrote in TTOTC “So I wrote a poem containing nine clues that if followed precisely, will lead to the end of my rainbow and the treasure.” Does “rainbow” allude to the state record rainbow trout caught in 1999 at the end of the Santa Cruz river in the inlet where it enters the lake? Which is just below (in elevation) La Caja Pueblo.

Fenn said “People will be surprised when they find out where it is.” Because it is close to the road. And only about 25 miles north of Santa Fe.

Fenn said “When it’s found, people will say ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ “ Could be the key word caja.

“It seems logical to me that a deep thinking treasure searcher could use logic to determine an important clue to the location of the treasure…” He uses the word “deep” which suggests “elevation”. He often said you might as well ask him, how deep is a hole? IMO, this is the important clue to the location of the treasure…200 ft above La Caja Canyon/river.

“What surprises me a little is that nobody to my uncertain knowledge has analyzed one important possibility related to the winning solve.” I believe this to be the same…200 ft above canyon.

Fenn said: “The clues did not exist when I was a kid but most of the places the clues refer to did…” Santa Cruz Lake was finished in 1929. Some of the trails were developed later.

I warned the path would not be direct for those who had no certainty of the location beforehand, but sure for the one who did.” The path is not direct because the La Caja Trail dead-ends before you get below the La Caja Pueblo ruin. You can either choose to wade across the stream there to pick up the trail on the other side of the river, or drive to the Debris Basin area and walk down the arroyo to the river where you come out at almost the same spot.

Boots on the Ground

I started searching this area in late September of this year…I felt confident in most of the solutions to the clues beforehand, but couldn’t find a good, solid blaze prior to starting my searches. My original plan: hike all the trails in the SCLRA (Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area, which by the way is governed by BLM), along with scouting the tops of the mesas that look across the Santa Cruz River inlet to the site where Google Earth shows La Caja Pueblo. Below is a picture using GE of one of my more interesting “blazes”…a martini glass! Forrest once said on Jenny Kile’s Six Questions More with Forrest Fenn: “It is important that I drink a martini at least once a year so I can continue to remember why I don’t like them.” La Caja supposedly sits above and just to the right of the rim of the glass.


Almost every square inch of the area in the picture above is fairly accessible, even for an “almost-eighty” year old physically fit man, except for the mesa top where La Caja sits (near the martini glass.) I’ve studied the sides of the canyon and the sides along the lake, looking for a way to hike up onto that mesa top. If Fenn hid the treasure chest on the un-excavated pueblo, I think he would have had to parachute in, or get there by helicopter and I am almost certain he did neither. This is why I think he wrote “And hint of riches new and old.” His treasure chest is a hint away…

La Caja Trail…
I found the small parking area on the north side of the bridge just beyond Cundiyo where the Rio Medio and Rio Frijoles merge, change directions, and proceed through the canyon.


The air was still and crisp that morning as Molly and I departed the truck…she anxiously climbed the log steps from the parking area to the trailhead as I gathered my pack and slid the handle of my rock pick under my waist band…The undulating trail started high above the river… it was narrow but easy to follow…we made a few stops along the river’s edge to take pictures… there were small waterfalls and deep pools along the way. Occasionally yellow leaves drifted lazily to the ground, making a soft amber mat beneath my feet.


We reached the beginning of the end of the trail, where the stream continued it’s flow through the canyon towards the lake…here the trail led us through thick clumps of willows that slapped across my face and grabbed at my hair like tentacles, as it started to rise up the canyon wall.


Molly and I went as far as we could go…we looked all around us for a blaze. There were various rock-outcroppings…if the sun hit just right, the rocks gleamed from the mica, glistening like diamond flecks…but none stood out. There were no petroglyphs to be seen, no owls (If you’ve been wise…) to contemplate…

We left after a short break and snack…but our day was not over.

The next part of the agenda was drive to the Overlook Campground and walk to the edge of the mesa where I could use binoculars to look at the top of the mesa where I thought the old ruins stood. Previously, I had seen whitish “rocks” or something from the distance but couldn’t tell what it was…

We paid our daily use fee at the station and parked in one of many empty campsites … only one site was occupied. I could see a nice big 5th wheel and pickup truck with Utah plates…hmmm, “maybe other treasure hunters” I jokingly said to Molly…but I really doubted it. It was quiet… there was no one around.

I picked the way across the sandy terrain, trying to be careful not to lead Molly into the low growing, creeping cacti that looked like patchwork on a giant quilt. All of a sudden we came upon this…a marker for aircraft, maybe? Did Fenn fly his plane over this exact spot between Santa Fe and Taos when he and Eric used to fly just above the tree tops?


As we approached the edge of the mesa overlooking the chasm between the two flat ridges, I discovered the folks from the campsite…their mountain bikes lay under a cedar tree and their yellow lab cautiously approached…the woman followed. I asked if the dog was friendly…yes. I asked its name…Ella (sounded familiar). We exchanged a few pleasantries…then her boyfriend/husband appeared holding powerful binoculars. I asked if they were treasure hunting…no, she is a rock-hound and they were looking for a way to get down into the Debris Basin arroyo. (It wasn’t JDiggins…I met her in person at the La Fonda book-signing a week before.) She said they’d just arrived in New Mexico three days ago.. I asked if they’d heard of Forrest Fenn…an immediate “no”…I said google him and treasure. I told her I thought the treasure might be in an old pueblo across the chasm, pointing to the top of the mesa. I told her they might as well be searching for Fenn’s treasure while they rock-hound around northern New Mexico. She asked again his last name…I replied Fenn. She said oh that’s easy to remember because my last name is Finn. Then Molly and I departed to go look through my binoculars at “the ruins…”

All of a sudden a sick feeling of deja vu overwhelmed me like a heavy veil…In my exuberance to pass along Fenn’s Thrill, did I just give away his special place and the location of the treasure? to another treasure hunter? They already had powerful binoculars and were looking the same direction I was about to look (See very first picture…my dilemma). If they were there for the same thing, I knew the race had begun…

Part Two