Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

Forrest Fenn’s Treasure Chest Awaits You!

The Chest! photograph by Forrest Fenn

Santa Fe is the City Different for too many reasons to list, but I think one of the main reasons is our vast number of true characters. One of those characters is Forrest Fenn. Forrest has been a treasure hunter, some would say grave robber, for sixty years. Think a mummified falcon from King Tut’s tomb, Sitting Bull’s peace pipe, a 2,000 year old necklace.

For over twenty years he ran a famous and prestigious gallery selling art and antiquities near the Old Santa Fe Trail. He became famous for his Indiana Jones personae and rich lifestyle. His clients were famous, too,  like John Wayne, Jackie Kennedy, Ralph Lauren, and President Ford, just to name a few.

Forrest is now around 82 years old. The twinkle in his eye and love of life on a large stage remains. That he is alive is a bit of a surprise to him. Several years ago he was diagnosed with cancer. Like any true adventurer, he came up with a dramatic plan for his death. Rather than die in a hospital bed, he filled a chest full of gold, jewelry with rubies, sapphires and diamonds, and ancient treasures and planned to walk out into the desert to die. As fate would have it, his plan was curtailed when he up and lived.

So what to do? He had already filled the chest. If you are Forrest Fenn, you go up into the mountains north of Santa Fe and hide the chest chock full of nearly two million dollars worth of treasures. You also write a memoir “The Thrill of the Chase,” which, according to Forrest,  includes all the clues you need to find the chest. The memoir is only available for sale at Collected Works Bookstore. Forrest donated the books to the store. A percentage from the sale of each book goes to charity.

So come on out to Santa Fe, head to Collected Works for a copy of his book, dress warmly and start looking. A pot of gold is waiting for you in them there hills. Oh, and bring a copy of this  twenty-four line poem which Forrest says contains all the clues. It may not be a literary masterpiece but it is worth over two million dollars:

“As I have gone alone in there

And with my treasures bold,

I can keep my secret where,

And hint of riches new and old.


Begin it where warm waters halt

And take it in the canyon down,

Not far, but too far to walk.

Put in below the home of Brown.


From there it’s no place for the meek,

The end is ever drawing nigh;

There’ll be no paddle up your creek,

Just heavy loads and water high.


If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,

Look quickly down, your quest to cease,

But tarry scant with marvel gaze,

Just take the chest and go in peace.


So why is it that I must go

And leave my trove for all to seek?

The answers I already know,

I’ve done it tired and now I’m weak.


So hear me all and listen good,

Your efforts will be worth the cold.

If you are brave and in the wood

I give you title to the gold.


Footnote: Thanks to a reader in West Virginia for reminding me of the story of Forrest and his treasure chest.


My General Schwarzkopf Story

At the end of May 1991, sometime after the first Gulf War, I spent a long weekend vacation in New Mexico, traveling from my home in Atlanta where I worked for CNN. I had no agenda. I meandered. On the High Road to Taos I saw a sign that said something like “Oviedo Carvings & Bronze.” I turned right and up the hill.

There I met Marco Oviedo. After I admired his beautiful carvings, he introduced me to his enormous Andalucian Mammoth Jacks. At that moment I knew what had to be done when I returned home. It was my mission to let General Schwarzkopf know what I had discovered in the mountains of New Mexico. This is the letter I wrote to the General, who I heard had a great sense of humor:

This is the letter the General wrote to me in response:

As it turns out, the General traveled to New Mexico on vacation where he met both Marco and his namesake Stormy Norman. Marco said they had a great chat. The General much admired Stormy. Marco explained to the General that Stormy’s main job these days was providing stud service. In a spur of the moment decision and in tribute to the General, Marco vowed to contribute a percentage of Stormy’s next stud fee to the General’s favorite charity. And he did.

Rest in peace, General.

Please Vote

Santa Fe County Building

Early voting for Santa Fe County began October 9 and ends Saturday, November 2. It is my tradition to vote early, and I kept with tradition. If entering the Santa Fe County Building built in 1939 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works doesn’t give you the historical perspective you need to vote, I don’t know what will.

After climbing the stairs, I was greeted by three enthusiastic volunteers who assisted me through the process. They said about 12,000 people have already voted at that one location, a little over 10% of those registered to vote in the county.

I waited in what once was a grand old courtroom which looks the way a courtroom should look, now enlivened with a large fresco created by artist Frederico Vigil in 1998. The ladies told me the artist comes to vote here. How cool would that be for him.

Santa Fe has the reputation for being an opulent place, but in fact New Mexico is one of the, if not the, poorest states. There was not a suit and tie or a pair of Louboutin shoes in the crowd at lunch time. I did see a young women with a pierced nose dressed in black, an old women leaning on a friend and a cane, a woman with her two small kids, a young man in shorts and boots, an old guy in sweat pants, lots of baggy jeans and comfortable sweaters, and one famous movie star in jeans and high boots, just to give you a sampling.

Everyone was respectful and patient as they waited for their names to be called. Everyone I saw said thank you to the volunteers as they exited the room. People said they saw voting as a duty, an honor, an obligation in light of those who have fought for us to have this right. People said they were motivated to vote for fear the guy they hate would win.

As I see it, we all vote by either omission or commission. You either stay at home and give others the power to decide for you or you take the time, stand in line and  fill in those little eggs next to the candidate’s name yourself. Please vote by commission.



The Classical Gas Museum

Three pumps from 1941-1944

Johnnie Meier, a retired Los Alamos scientist, has a theory that everyone has a proclivity to collect something or another as a remnant of our old hunter gatherer days. I collect antique French textiles which are kept in an armoire. Johnnie, on the other hand, went big. He collects and restores vintage gas pumps, cars, oil cans, clocks, neon signs, diners, S&H Green Stamp books, Coca Cola memorabilia  and old car stuff. And each piece is a work of art and a bit of history.

The Museum Building

Johnnie started “messing around with old cars” as a teenager. He started his serious collecting about 25 years ago. In 1992 he purchased 2 acre in Embudo which sits between Santa Fe and Taos on Highway 68. He built and opened the 1,000 square foot Classical Gas Museum in 1997.

“I love it when people walk into the Museum and say wow,” he says. “The way I have things displayed, they can see the design, see these functional pieces as art as I do. I appreciate the graphic art, the use of color and unique tints.”

1935 Flight Gasoline

I was quite taken with this 1930′s Wayne Model 60 gas pump. “This one is considered one of the most beautiful pumps ever made. It was important to the company that it be beautiful.”

1920′s Powerine Gasoline

Johnnie has provided gas pumps for 6 major motion pictures, including “No Country for Old Men,”  “Wild Hogs,” and the newly released “God Bless Me Ultima.” His museum is the backdrop for fashion shoots and inspiration for artists and photographers. He also sells his restored pumps.

1940′s Indian Gasoline

There is no cost for admission but Johnnie has a big jar collecting dollars for the local animal shelter in Dixon. Last year at Christmas he handed the shelter a check for $1,500.

Polly Gas from 1940′s-1950′s West Coast

If you stop by next weekend you might get a glimpse of  the new Jetta Hybrid being introduced by Volkswagen as well as the vintage pumps. Seems VW is gathering 80 journalists from all over the country to test drive the new car on a route between Santa Fe and Taos. They will be stopping at the Museum, not for gas, but a cool drink from one of the beautiful old coolers.

1957 Chevy Being Restored…NFS

The Museum is located at 1819 Highway 68 in Embudo. Johnnie is open most days, but best to give him a call at 505-852-2995 before you come. Don’t forget to leave a few dollars for the animal shelter.

Autumn on Canyon Road

Santa Fe is either the second or third largest art market in the United States, depending on the latest poll and who polled. Without question, Canyon Road, with its historic adobe architecture, historic homes, and views of the mountains, provides one of the most beautiful settings in the world to peruse over 100 galleries and unique shops. If you do not appreciate art, go anyway. You will enjoy the scenery, and it is a painless way to get a little exercise to walk off the breakfast burritos.

You will find a wide range of art, including Native American, contemporary, early 20th Century, traditional representations, and, I have to say, a few pieces which I think you could probably skip and head for coffee, tea or a meal at one of the great restaurants, but taste is subjective.

Any season is lovely for a walk on Canyon Road, but autumn and winter right after a light snow are my favorite times. Recently photographer Ann Murdy enjoyed a walk down Canyon Road with her camera on a crisp fall morning, just to let you see a few of the galleries and the sculptures sitting outside. Add the sound of crunching leaves and you are there.

FOOTNOTE: I had to remove Ann’s photos given the fact people have been lifting them in violation of her copyright.



We see them all along the highways and public roads of New Mexico: crosses decorated with flowers, teddy bears, photographs, Christmas decorations. These tributes mark the last place a person was alive. In New Mexico, we call them descansos, which is Spanish for place of rest.

In 2007 while I was working as media liason for the Majority Office of the New Mexico House of Representatives, a bill was passed which was later signed into law making it illegal to knowingly or willfully deface or destroy “a memorial placed alongside a public road or right of way to memorialize the death of one or more persons.” Descansos may be removed by the state under certain circumstances, but it would be a rare occurrence. In New Mexico even when roads are under repair, the descansos are treated with great respect by construction crews.

Descansos are a symbol of remembrance for the family and friends, a place to honor their loved one. To me, the hundreds of descansos lining our roads are even more poignant knowing the people who passed away had no idea they would die that day. They sat in their cars to drive to the store, to have a bite to eat at a restaurant or just drive home. Unfortunately, all too often in New Mexico, the death was related to a drunk driver on the road. These people did not have to die that day in that spot but for someone making a hideously poor choice.

So while the descansos mark a celebration of life, they provide a constant caution to the living: Do not drink and drive. Drive safely. Best not to have a descanso erected in your honor.

©Catherine Trapani

A Trip to Pecos

Pecos Wilderness

Between Santa Fe and Las Vegas, New Mexico, sits the small village of Pecos at the site of an historic mountain pass. You can add your footprint to those of the ancient Indian tribes, Spanish settlers, Santa Fe Trail traders and Route 66 speeders who have passed through this 223,000 acres of wilderness. The area offers fly fishing, camping and hiking with views of mountains, lakes and meadows.

Monastery Lake

Leave your electronics and worried minds in the car. Listen. Look. Know you are a part of it all.

Aspens and Big

Please do not forget to extinguish your campfire.  Thanks to Catherine Trapani for the use of her photographs.

The Invasion of the Mountain Men

Mountain Men invaded Santa Fe this weekend with their knives, furs and a few of their women folk in tow.  These two men are verbally jousting about who is the uglier.

“No, you are uglier.”

The annual Santa Fe Mountain Man Trade Fair, held right off the Plaza in the courtyard of the Palace of the Governors, was chock full of all manner of beards and knives and animal skins.

And more skins.

And more skins.

This man told how he played the banjo for his son when his son was still in his mother’s womb.

The son came out playing a tune.

for Dave the Elder

Now they come out together to these mountain men gatherings and sell old saddles, powder horns and guns.

The blacksmith was at hand making nails on this hot summer afternoon. I took one home for $1 out of appreciation for his efforts. Even the  penny nail has been hit hard by inflation.

I was born too mouthy, too blind, too adverse to the cold and too much the vegetarian to have lasted a day in the mid 1800′s when the mountain men made their mark as fur traders.  So glad I was born in the right place at the right time.

Antiques+Interiors on Grant

Antiques+Interiors on Grant, located in the historic Hovey House  at 136 Grant Avenue, has gathered together in one spot some of the most popular antiques dealers in Santa Fe and a few new ones who will soon gain that title. As a seasoned antiquer and lover of beautiful objects, I could not be more pleased to find 14 dealers under one roof.

Each of  the 10 rooms and free standing cases reflects the particular passions and discerning eye of  the dealer, yet the rooms somehow manage to flow seamlessly from European antiques to Americana textiles and furniture to eclectic contemporary to industrial to antique Native American jewelry and rugs to antiques of the Americas to cowboy and cowgirl treasures to modern paintings. What Santa Fe has here is a 3,000 square foot house of treasures.

The Hovey House itself is a treasure. The adobe house was built in the 1850′s. At some point in the late 1800′s the house was “Victorianized.” A porch or portal was added and, to reflect the trend  of the day, a brick pattern was painted on the adobe exterior walls. Look closely at this fuzzy photograph I took. You are not looking at a brick house. You are looking at an adobe house painted to look like it is a brick house. Those clever Victorians.

Antiques+Interiors on Grant opened in early June, but the Grand Opening Party will be held this Saturday, August 11, from 4-7pm. They are located next door to the Andrew Smith Gallery and  about 3 or 4 blocks from the Plaza. Normal hours are Monday -Saturday from 10am-5pm. For further information call 983-0075.

We can thank these people for showcasing their collections so that we may bring a bit of the beauty and whimsy of the past home with us: Julie Vaughan – Sparrow Antiques; Jonathan Parks -Homestyle by J P Fabric Man; Gloria List; Omer Claiborne-Claiborne Galleries; Dana Waldon-The Scout Collection; Melissa Delano; items from the Estate of Teal McKibben; Jim Godman and Theresa Bohn-House of Ancestors Antiques; Anna Heiniger-The Standard Art &Antiques Co.; Patricia von Buelow-REZidDENZIA; Anthony Whitman-Provenance; Lana Straight-Lana’s House; Eric Erdoes and Lane Coulter and Jane Brooks.