Treasure Mountain, a fabled piece of forest famed for its tales of lost gold. It’s said that French explorers found millions of dollars worth of gold ore near Summitville. They cached the gold in the hills around Treasure Mountain. When the explorers returned to retrieve their buried treasure, it’s said that they were attacked by Native Americans (presumably Utes). One of the French explorers made a couple of copies of the map which marked the buried treasure. He turned over a copy to the French government but kept a secret copy. An explorer by the name of Bernardo Sanchez was then hired to find the treasure but came up empty-handed. It is not known if the treasure was recouped by some of the original party or still lays in the earth of Treasure Mountain still to this day.
Our home in Durango, CO is only 1.5 hours from the storied Treasure Mountain. We couldn’t resist exploring when we heard these stories and realized the plethora of dirt roads and singletrack in the area. Climbing up and over treasure mountain, we looked out over the vast San Juan National Forest. This is where the Frenchman were attacked. Where they lay in hiding without supplies or food. It is said the group was forced into cannibalism and only 5 survived the rugged landscapes of what is now called Wolf Creek Pass.
Never did we actually expect to stumble upon the buried gold. It was buried in the late 16th century after all. But what we did find on the backside of Treasure Mountain was 10 miles and 3000’ of descending singletrack. The forest recovering from a recent fire, the undergrowth was thriving while the pines stood tall and bare. As the singletrack met with the valley below, we started a long and loose climb headed north towards the Continental Divide.
We set up camp under a moody sunset and drifted to sleep. We awoke in the morning, brewed our coffee, and set off on winding dirt roads. Up and down rolling terrain, we enjoyed lonely roads in the early morning. Eventually, we stumbled into the abandoned mining town of Summitville, where the Frenchman supposedly had found their gold. The weathered cabins leaned with age, their lumber shining with colorful hues. Relics of the past lay littered in piles. Rusted coffee cans and scrap metal. Wood burning stoves under collapsed ceilings. The town is obviously full of stories and history, much of which has been forgotten, the details lost or skewed. But still, stories are told of this place and the people who inhabited it.
Many choose not to listen to stories of the past. Caught up in our daily lives, there’s hardly time to listen. For those who choose to hear these stories, they’ll be rewarded with lessons of the past. But to simply hear these stories is one thing, it’s entirely different to seek out their remnants and retrace their steps. By traveling through the landscape, you’re given a sense of perspective for the people who moved through those places before you. You’re able to develop a connectedness to the place and the story. And I think that’s important, especially today.