“Onward! Faster . . . faster!”
I imagined myself as an ancient chariot driver. There I was, bouncing over the broken surface of some long-ago battlefield, ducking javelins and fending off sword thrusts. Suddenly my faithful steeds pulled up, and my magnificent chariot rolled to a dusty stop . . .
“Winston, stop your daydreaming and please open the gate.” The voice came from the driver’s side of the pickup. “Sure, Dad,” I answered, leaving my imaginary world behind.
Since Uncle Jim and Mr. Johnson were seated up front with Dad, I was riding in the bed of our old pickup. We had been jouncing along a rough and rutted track, following a tortuous route into the foothills of New Mexico’s Oregon Mountains. The sway and bounce had propelled me into the world of make-believe. Even my dog, Snipe, seemed caught up in my excitement. When I leaped over the tailgate to open the barbed-wire gate, Snipe also bounded down, barking and growling at whatever he thought he saw–probably our own dust catching up to us!
I stood by as the pickup passed through the gate. With the gate resecured, I hopped back in the truck’s bed and began musing about the real-life adventure I was on.
It had all begun when we rented a two-room cottage from Dave Cooper in Alpine, Texas. Mom had died seven years before. Dad, a better-than-average carpenter, was soon working off our rent by doing a few small jobs on weekends for Mr. Cooper. Our new home was next to Cooper’s corrals, and Dad’s love of horses and rich experience with stock of all kinds soon built a solid friendship between him and our landlord.
Mr. Cooper had another interest, too–one that was to change my life. He had lived in west Texas for many years and knew the old tales and mysteries of the area. From time to time he had known adventurers who were more interested in the exciting possibilities of lost mines and buried treasure than in the slow and tedious business of cattle raising. And through the years his own devotion to such things had grown.
When Dave Cooper learned that my father was an experienced miner, his quick mind immediately saw possibilities. From that moment on, Dad’s weekend work for Mr. Cooper changed. Holidays, weekends, and vacations were swallowed up in a whirl of treasure-hunting hikes, trips, and diggings.
Somewhere along the line Uncle Jim and Mike Johnson slipped into our lives. Now on this crisp Thursday morning Dad and I were headed for our fourth and most exciting expedition. A buried treasure of Spanish gold was the object of our search, and the entire project was paid for by Mr. Johnson.
As I rode along, a flash of light through some tamarisk trees caught my attention. Two quick thumps of my knuckles on the top of the truck’s cab brought us to a halt.
“What’s the matter?” Dad queried from his open window. Pointing my finger like an accusation, I replied, “Dad, I think there’s a jeep hidden in the dry creek bed over there.”
Dad opened his door and stood on the running board to peer across the cab. It was Uncle Jim who spoke, however. “I see it, Bill,” he volunteered.
Dad had also seen it almost as soon as he had stood up, and he nodded ever so slightly. “I think there’s an armed man in the brush there!” continued my uncle.
At that moment a man with a rifle stepped out of the dry bushes and cacti and waved a friendly greeting. Thankfully, his orange hat and vest identified him as a hunter.
“Let’s ask him about the road ahead,” Dad said, breaking his cautious silence.
We soon learned that the road ended within another mile and that a footpath went from there up a rugged canyon to our next destination: Isaac Springs.
As the men talked, I took in the rugged surroundings. We were stopped near where two dry washes from the mountains joined. Between them was a hill that jutted sharply from the desert floor in a series of steps, reminding me of a prehistoric monster. “I’ll call you the dinosaur,” I mumbled half aloud.”You say something, son?”
“No, Dad, just thinking out loud, I guess. Ready to go?” “Yeah, hang on tight. The road is partly washed out where it crosses the creek.” Fifteen minutes later the road ended.
Snipe had been allowed to run ahead instead of riding with me. He always took his job as scout seriously, and his occasional bark was usually not because he saw anything, but to let us know he was on the job. Since we were stopped, Snipe made a quick circuit of the area, then wagged and panted his way over to us. Soon he lay down by a nearby mesquite tree and assumed a self-satisfied expression.
We were all seasoned campers except Mr. Johnson. Still, he was doing his part. “Here’s some firewood,” he said upon returning from his short jaunt to the nearby foot trail and back. I was thankful for the large amount he brought, since I knew without being told who would be hauling most of the fuel for supper and breakfast!
“There’s a ranch house about a mile south of here,” Mr. Johnson reported. “It’s near the next canyon.” He and Dad talked on while I fetched still more wood and Uncle Jim rummaged around in the food box.
Within 20 minutes camp was set up. Uncle Jim had potatoes frying and water boiling for hot drinks. Soon we were enjoying a hearty meal of canned vegetables and potatoes, with store-bought cookies for dessert.
After supper we sat around the fire discussing plans for the next day. Cicadas buzzed and sang nearby while Snipe dozed, missing the sight of a pair of cottontail rabbits hopping and nibbling not 50 feet from camp.
“Son,” Dad spoke, “come look at these markings again. We’ll need your eyes, too.”
In his hands Dad held a copy of a book about famous treasures and lost mines. We’d all read it at least once; its listing of old treasure signs left behind by Spanish adventurers had been studied again and again. Tomorrow we’d be looking for such signs carved into rocks or trees. We were to be especially on the lookout for a snakelike form. A snake going up a tree or rock indicated we were on the track. One coming down was to be measured: 10 times its length, starting from its base on the carved side, was supposed to mark the looked-for spot. (No one ever explained how to adjust for growth, should the marking be on a tree!)
By the yellowish-red firelight I strained to read the book once again. I would need its wisdom in the morning when we would start up the trail to Isaac Springs. But now the evening hush reminded me of church, and that reminded me of my bedtime prayers, which I rarely skipped. After I finished praying, I drifted off to sleep, Snipe snuggled at my feet.