It was not until some five years later that the memory dislodged itself and came floating down through the ether by way of a
black book with red lettering sitting on the store shelf of a small shop in Jerome, Arizona. It read Death Traps to Treasure,
Spanish and Mexican Mine Traps, Warning Signs and Symbols. I grasped the glossy cover and flipped through the pages. I
did not notice much, if any, similarity with Emmett’s map other than three crosses on an arc which apparently were intended
to be a warning sign of death traps, but the crosses were on an upper arc not a lower one. Quickly I produced my plastic
credential and was out the door proudly with my new manifest. When I arrived home I Googled the author and found another
book Spanish Monuments and Trail Markers. Euphoric and with a sense of accomplishment I ordered it ‘next day air’
determined I was now going to unlock the puzzle.
It is mesmerizing how tenacious and creative the Spaniards had been in creating their elaborate trail systems. I read about
Heart Monuments, Mule Monuments, Royal Poodle Monuments, Bird Monuments, Indian Monuments and Compass Rocks.
Intriguing, I thought, but some are so subtle I doubt I would recognize them even if the Royal Poodle bit me in the ass. I
placed both books on my shelf with the other partially read books in my collection. My intent, of course, was some day to
finish each and every one of them. Again more immediate distracting adventures waylaid me.
It was a Death Valley venture like most, tooling along backcountry roads, the sun bright, casting clean crisp shadows onto
the sparkling desert sand, when I noticed in a rock pile, a pile I had driven past many times, a boulder that just did not fit
with the rest of its accompaniment. I stomped on the brake, bringing the Toyota to a dust billowing halt. I could not believe
it, there it was, what appeared to be a compass rock. It sat just as the book described it, elevated by other stones and light
shown under it indicating it was arranged by man. I grabbed my camera taking pictures from many angles until I was out of
film. Now what do I do with it? I rushed home ferociously digging through my pile of books.
On a whim I Googled Spanish Monuments and to my surprise the search revealed a book I did not own. It had a title
designed to be remembered, Turtles Lead to Treasure, A Guide To Spanish Trail Monuments written by Calvin Keys. In his
book he outlines the system the Spanish used to mark their trails and yards. Calvin writes “I have come to know the symbolic
language well after studying Spanish Monuments for more than twenty years, comparing many sites and numerous
monuments and across several states in the Southeast.” His book is a fascinating journey into realms the producers of Indiana
Jones could only dream. I found this book, with its many photos, filled in large gaps of missing information but I still could
not fit all the pieces of this elaborate puzzle together.
I scanned the old photos of my compass rock and emailed them off to Calvin. In a short time through the electronic labyrinth
of the Internet came a reply. ”…After viewing your photos, I cannot rule in or out exactly what part of a trail those boulders
represent...What I do see is the light hole…you can almost never get a direction by looking through the light hole. They are
usually in line with something, or other light holes, but not facing the other symbols. At least the ones that give direction.
When following a trail, you just follow along below the ridges and watch for more light holes…Keep looking for more light
holes and climb any ridges that you think could have yard monuments…”
After reading Calvin’s email our intent was to head back to the light hole and start a new search from there but in the shadow
filled evening, while waiting for friends to arrive at camp, we ventured out on a short hike. Much to our surprise we found
another light hole almost immediately, along with a few other monuments. Through the smoke and the crackle, and glowing
embers of the campfire we discussed the evening’s find. I settled in for the night wondering what tomorrow would bring.
Overnight the condensation froze to the glass of the camper shell creating tiny crystalline structures that ceded to water
drops in the morning sun. A few drips on my sleeping bag and my fitful sleep came to an abrupt end. With coffee swirling in
the brisk morning air the plan was made.
We were going to head to the newly discovered light hole and check out the monuments. After a hard days hiking, over a
few ridge lines, we found that the monuments led right back to the first light hole I had discovered! Although a good
distance away it was clearly visible through the binoculars. From here, we decided the next morning we would go back to
the original light hole I found years ago and see if it would really lead us through to the newly discovered monuments. With
a new perspective it was now clear that the signs were indeed pointing to our new find. We now located one section of the
trail. From here we have been working remotely with Calvin to decipher where it leads and with his help we have gained a
greater understanding of Spanish Monuments and also a great respect for the skill and perseverance of those that created
So it appears that we inadvertently stumbled onto something that is not directly related to the 1834 date or the petroglyph,
but could be a significant chapter in the history of Death Valley. Perhaps the 1834 date was inscribed by someone who had
knowledge of the Spanish and their mines. Who later came back to relocate the mine or mines after the Spanish were forced
out of Mexico and Alta California? One thought I have often pondered is who built the stone corral in Pleasant Canyon? I
have read that it was used as a landmark on many old maps and it was assumed that it was built by Indians but maybe there
is another answer…
As Calvin would say, be safe, beware the death traps and do not play fetch with the Royal Poodle no matter how much he
Happy Trails - Matt
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|Wandering with Matt & Kat