Last updated 9/5/2017 at 9:40am
What I call the “treasure map” lay at the bottom of a strongbox in the attic of my family home, placed there a few months before the house went on the market. I’m not a treasure hunter, but rather a 36-year old and recently separated criminal psychologist with no kids.
The patients I treat are as crazy and murderous as any demented gold seeker you’ll ever meet, but there is a difference: Those who trek the mountains and deserts tend to wander...and search...and dream, and seem always covetous of secret information that could lead to the “motherlode.” Their journeys can take a lifetime but are, sadly, mostly in vain. By comparison, my arguably insane constituents can only wander the labyrinths of their minds, for they are confined within prison walls.
In full disclosure, my father was crazy as a loon, and the treasure map in the strongbox was his; I know because I saw him put it there, a twinkle in his eyes of renewed hope, expectation even. A family attorney had just sent him the strongbox via Federal Express after the death of his father, and Dad said it would be like old times if we went out to the desert together to find the spot marked on the map to, as he said with a false shrug, “just to check it out.”
My dad was not crazy in general, but specifically with regard to his gold fever. He traveled in his adventures mostly alone, but he carried a .38 revolver side arm for protection. My childhood experiences with him included weekend forays to potential gold-bearing locales in the mountains of Southern California. “Potential” is the operative word here, because we never found a damned thing!
Perhaps that’s why, at least in part, I chose to explore psychology as a chosen life’s work. And given the fact that Mom and Dad were both killed recently during what the police said was probably a home invasion, although nothing was apparently stolen, I can identify with the mind of the killer.
The treasure map was a yellowed parchment, folded in half twice, and a bit frayed around the edges. It had been unfolded and refolded many times, surely the habit and practice of dreamers like my grandfather and father who could survive a sleepless night only by one more look, hopefully one more insight as to the motherlode’s location.
Mountain and valley map contours, as well as cryptic names like Deadfall and Badwater, were drawn with what appeared a standard #2 pencil. And where a dry streambed was shown on the map extending several hundred feet up and to the west of the desert valley floor, in heavy bold strokes, was an “X,” plus exact GPS coordinates. Next to that was written “Borregan Gold!” Why the exclamation point? I wondered the first time I saw it, plus what the heck is a Borregan?
Also in the strongbox was an old deed dated July 10, 1921 (plus clear title for Dad, Mom, and me, signed by my grandfather and notarized, with all mineral rights retained). It was a quarter-acre of land, located near the bottom of a rather steep mountain slope just southwest of an unincorporated town in San Diego County called Borrego Springs.
It was mid-morning on what would become a blistering hot and humid Saturday in late July when I stopped the car at an overlook on the Montezuma Grade 3,500 feet below Ranchita summit in the San Ysidro Mountains. It was 115F in the shade, but I wasn’t in the shade. Pulling out the yellowed map and carefully unfolding it, I located the small canyon 500 feet below and to the south, reached by a little-used dirt road up the inclining Borrego Valley floor. The parcel lay on private land just outside the boundary of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. With my bearings set, I made my way down the Grade and around to the mouth of the canyon.
It was a 10-minute walk to a sandy spot in the ancient streambed, marked by the X on the map. I sweated profusely verifying the coordinates on my iPhone, looked around for a few minutes, and saw nothing but rocks and dirt and sand.
But then my eye caught something up on the steep hillside, a dislodged granite boulder about five feet in diameter with a dark space behind. I was drawn to it. I climbed up, peered over and around the rock with sweat partially blocking my vision, and adjusted my focus to try and see inside the dark shadow. There was an obvious deep void behind that rock, and it was a tight squeeze to get to it.
On my knees, I peered into the darkness and waited for my eyes to adjust. The void was just big enough to crawl into, and there was no end in sight, with only solid rock all around what looked to be a natural rock tunnel. At least it was cool in there.
The next day, I donned a spelunker’s hat with a strong light and carried extra batteries, plus water, 1000 feet of string anchored at the entrance, and enough food to last at least two days, if necessary. I began to crawl on level ground through the tunnel; the diameter changed very little at first. About 100 feet into the face of the mountain, the tunnel opened up enough to stand and walk upright. It was soon thereafter I heard the sound, unmistakable.
I was fired from my job at the prison hospital, now living uncomfortably in one if its cells waiting for a pre-trial hearing date. I can see when it’s light or dark outside, but not much else. I’d much prefer the grander view of my land and the electrified fence that now keeps out would-be trespassers, one of whom I had to shoot dead on the spot.
Sad, that, but I felt it unavoidable given the circumstances. The old bearded man came unarmed in the dead of night and looking for gold, saying in trembling speech while bleeding out that he’d heard certain unconfirmed rumors about a local gold find and thought he could take what he wanted since no one appeared to be on guard. But I was, ever vigilant against those who would trespass against my valuable property, and by association, me. And now I’m charged with first-degree murder, although not his.
I would love to go over to my land once in a while just to hear that unique sound I first heard while standing in the tunnel – fast flowing water – a powerful, continuous, and almost deafening underground river, hurtling down inside the eastern slope of the San Ysidro Mountains and feeding the ever dropping aquifer hundreds of feet beneath the Borrego Valley floor.
Only now there is a 4-foot diameter pipe coming out from the tunnel with 250 pounds per square inch of head pressure. It’s enough water to turn a thirsty Borrego Valley into a virtual paradise. And it would have made me a rich man.
It turned out the words on the map - Borregan Gold! - referred to a mine, of sorts, but having far more value to Borregans than the bright precious metal men have craved and dreamt about and even died for over many millennia. I can now see the reason for the exclamation point, because water is what folks in the Borrego Valley prize most.
I wish Mom and especially Dad could see the fruits of my labor, and to spend all the money. I sure can’t, at least until my lawyer gets me off based on a plea of temporary insanity.
I don’t know what came over me after I first saw the treasure map close up, but I chalk it up to mistaken identity; I thought it was going to be all about gold, not water! In any case, the police found my dad’s .38 revolver and the remaining two bullets in the previously full chamber, which I rather un-expertly buried on my land. I confessed right away to offing my parents, but not to any involvement in the disappearance of my estranged wife.
The only really good news so far is the charges against me were dropped for shooting that evil, claim-jumping trespasser! Well, that and the prospect that Borrego Valley will have enough clean, fresh water to last a thousand years.