By Marc Simmons
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Additional resources for Treasure trails of the Southwest
Mr. Leavell told me that later he did contact Sanchez and made arrangements for saddle horses and pack burros to transport himself and seven companions. Tom Lea had become ill and was unable to go. It was a hard ride through rough country, he related. "The cave was perched on a ledge about 100 feet from the valley floor. Three of our party roped up, then hauled me up. Everything was just as the document pictured it. The cave had been partially closed with caliche, cemented with burro blood. Back in the floor at the center of the cave was a deep depression, as if something had been removed.
The mines lay ten days farther on. The trail was steep and difficult with no water. Hostile tribes had to be passed the entire way. That news was too much for the weary De Vargas and he returned to Santa Fe. But he did not go away empty handed. From the Hopis, he obtained samples of the red mineral which he later sent to Mexico City to be assayed. When the specimens were finally examined by experts, they turned out to be nothing more than red ochre or iron oxide, not quicksilver. That disappointment quenched the enthusiasm of the Spanish government.
For years I have been writing short articles on hidden treasures and lost mines, and my fascination with the subject has continued to grow. It seemed time to gather together some of my favorite pieces and offer them as a collection to those readers with a special interest in southwestern lore. Some of the oldest stories may sound familiar, even though I have worked them over with the aim of imparting a new freshness. In other cases, I have dug into obscure records, permitting me to recount a tale that is largely unknown.