A burned out cabin ruin with an aspen tree growing out of the inside, bear claw marks 12 feet up, 3 hand forged nails, a longtom sluicebox axed out of a 3 foot diameter log, a spring 75 feet above the sluice, an arrastra below.
A mysterious map chiseled on the face of a 300 pound rock surface depicting the exact layout of the canyon, the cabin, the waterfall, all so accurately depicted the person had to have scrutinized the layout from the mountaintop, then scratched it on this stone 600 vertical feet below and half a mile away. The rock was carefully placed on the canyon wall above eye-level so it was easily seen, but only by someone looking up.
I’m guessing the date must have been spring, 1995. I’d moved my search to the mountain I described above and was performing a systematic search of the canyon from the discharge to the mountain crest. I’d filed two mining claims at the location of the cabin and sluicebox pictured in the earlier post, and downstream. I hadn’t yet found the map rock, and I was spending every moment I could squeeze between job duties, romantic obligations and financial constraints camped on that mountain.
I headed down there planning on spending a week, but on the road the Mitzubishi Montero sprung a water hose a few miles outside of Grants. It was raining while I mucked under the hood, taping the hose and getting enough coolant in it to drive it to a parts house in Grants, where I installed it in the rain. I was chilled and soaked as I drove south from Grants, but in too much of a hurry now to change clothes.
By the time I arrived at my usual camp site I was running a high fever and feeling my breathing becoming hard labor. I hastily dragged a tarp out of the truck, put my sleeping bag under it and got inside, hoping I’d shake off what I was afraid was coming. I’d had pneumonia enough times this lifetime to recognize the onset.
The next morning found me weak, fever skylining, knowing I’d better try to get out of there while I still could. I threw some brush over my gear because I was too weak to reload it onto the truck, and started down the mountain. My vision was blurred and I was hallucinating, barely able to stay on the two-track. When I reached the US Forest Service road a line of fenceposts ahead briefly became a line of riflemen aiming at me.
I remember nothing of the trip after that until I found myself at the home of my lady friend in Albuquerque, wrapped in a blanket on the floor of her downstairs because I wasn’t strong enough to climb them, burning with fever, shaking with chills. She, nursing me with herbs and leftover antibiotics from her medicine cabinet.
“There are some people missing out there where your claims are.” She was sipping coffee at the table, looking over the paper at me. “A man and his wife. The State has people out searching for them.” She shook her head. “They must have been right near where you were.”
The couple lived across a basin at the base of the mountain. I could probably see their dwelling through binoculars from the mountaintop. They were woodcutters, but I’d never encountered them, to my knowledge.
As I recovered in Albuquerque the search died away. The local sheriff announced the couple had probably just abandoned their house and gone somewhere else. They were nobody, outsiders. He refused to treat their vanishing act as a possible crime, didn’t allow the State Police to investigate their home. But the time on the floor in Albuquerque weak as a kitten, tended hand and foot is one of those tender, grateful memories of my years with the lady.
Over the next several months I continued, sometimes in company with Keith, sometimes with other friends, sometimes alone, exploring, sampling, puzzling over what I was finding there. Then, the first day of elk season that fall I encountered two elk hunters with their truck stuck in a stream bed. When I finished towing them out, we introduced ourselves.
“Did you hear about those bodies they found in the canyon over there?” He gestured to the mountain indicating a canyone one over from mine, plus one. Renfro Canyon on the rock map sketch. Less than a mile from my claims. “A bear dug them up. They were buried in an Indian ruin and a hunter found them this morning.”
The bodies turned out to be the people who’d turned up missing while I was giving myself pneumonia. I felt reasonably confident the police would be contacting me with questions about whether I’d seen anything, because I was probably the only person on the mountain besides the victims and the murderers at the time it happened.
The Bureau I worked for, Emergency Management Planning and Coordination [EMPAC] was part of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, though a step-child and somewhat separate. I went to my Bureau Chief and explained what had happened, asked whether he thought I should go over to the State copshop and volunteer to talk to them about it.
“Man, I wouldn’t touch that. Let them come to you. You might be the best suspect they’ve got.” A lawyer friend gave me the same advice, informally.
So I kept quiet and waited, and they never came. I kept working that mountain, homicides and multiple-homicides continued to happen over the next couple of years remaining unsolved and generally thought to be uninvestigated, and the entire county became a quagmire of paranoia. Everyone carrying firearms, nobody trusting anyone.
Meanwhile, the mountain echoed the weirdness and pressure the county was experiencing. Somewhere during that time began the strangest chain of events and experiences of my entire life.
Which I might describe in a later blog or series of blog posts.