Thursday, August 18, 2005

Treasure at Living Springs


"Wait - don't go in the mine. The map says the treasure is buried somewhere off to the side, near an old tree, which, by the way, doesn't seem to be there any more," I said. I was looking at the treasure map, feeling increasingly frustrated by the landmarks used to indicate location. Didn't people realize that trees could die and disappear and that structures could be torn down and others placed in their stead? The northern Sonoran desert here in the California and Nevada border area, with its rocky desert pavement terrain, sparse and stunted Joshua trees and mesquite scrub, seemed unchangeable and unchanging. It seemed to be totally impervious to the caprices of nature.

However, this was evidently not true. The old map was a little over a hundred years old, and even though some things were clearly the same, most were altered. Signs of human activity had undergone a subtle but profound process of erasure, and few of the structures on the map remained. The storage shed, mill, and bunkhouse were gone. The opening to the mine was boarded up, but vandals had torn away some of the old, graying planks. A narrow, deep ravine held evidence that it was not always a dry creek bed, but that there was often flash-flooding, which transported large boulders along with gravel and other debris. I noticed a patch of green vegetation on a ledge on the side of the arroyo around a little bend from the old mine entrance.

We were standing at the entrance of the abandoned mine entrance. According to the map, the old gold and silver mining operations were active in the late 1860s, when Farley Kritzoff buried the gold, pink garnets, and rubies. Now, nothing was left except collapsing timbers the color of bleached bones and a few rusty implements and shards of glass turned blue by time.

"I'm going in anyway," I said. "Hand me a flashlight."

"You're crazy," said Marcus. "Plus, I don't think it will do any good.

Marcus sat on a rock next to the mine entrance.

"This is strange. The treasure is in some sort of mine, all right," he said. "The map shows another mine, but this is a tiny one. It is located next to what appears to be a water well or a spring. At any rate, it seems to be a source of water."

I looked over to Dad, who was about a hundred yards away, scanning the horizon with his equipment. He had lost interest in the mine shaft and the maps when his equipment determined there was nothing there. I could tell he was merely indulging us by taking us on what was likely to be a wild goose chase.

I refused to admit the possibility that there may be nothing. It would be terrible if Marcus' mother had died for nothing. I guess in a certain way, everyone dies for nothing. Even if they have died for something, they end up dead, so it's the same outcome however you look at it.

"A well? In this country?" I said. "Highly unlikely."

Marcus pulled a scrap of paper in the bundle of the maps. It was hand-written with spidery script, and faded black ink.

"What's this? It's not really a map. Directions, maybe?"

"This doesn't seem to fit with the others, but somehow it got mixed in," he said.

Jhn 4:14 But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

"It's a Bible verse," I said, quietly.

Marcus ignored me. Instead, he was looking intently across the small arroyo, or wash, to the small cluster of trees.

"Is that a mine opening?" He pointed to a dark shadow in the back of the creosote trees.

We gathered up our rock hammer and other assorted items and made our way across the rock-strewn wash and up the steep bank to the brush and trees. Surprisingly, the ground was wet beneath our feet in what seemed to be a small, dry creek tributary coming from the cluster of trees.

"There's some sort of spring here," I said.

"Then the maps and papers are right," said Marcus.

As we approached, we found there was indeed a small mine opening. More precisely, it was a digging, since it too small to be considered a mine.

"Help me pull open the door," said Marcus.

"Watch for snakes," I said. "And scorpions."

"Don't worry," he panted as he pulled apart the small, faded, weathered boards and sticks that blocked it from view. He let out a yelp.

"There's something in here!"

I pulled out my flashlight. The wide ray of light, together with his, illuminated the small digging. In the corner was a metal-clad trunk.

"Wow! Here it is!" Marcus gripped the edge and pulled it toward him.

It was an old tin chest, with rusty metal lock and leather straps. The tin had been hammered into star, moon, and filigree shapes, making it appropriate as small end table as well as a storage item.

Marcus pounded on the rusty padlock with his rock hammer until it gave way. The lid was stuck tight to the opening, and we had to work hard at prying it open.

"There's something inside!"

The lid broke free and we leaned close to see what might be inside.