“You see that notch, right there on that mountain?” Jack said, extending his arm. “Look through it. See that ridge behind it? That is where the Spanish buried their gold.”
Jack and I had just hiked up to the top of Mount Pico Blanco on the Big Sur Coast. The blue Pacific Ocean arced to the horizon in the west. The rumble of crashing surf mixed with the sound of the wind as the salt air raced uphill from the shoreline below. Waves of green coastal mountains stood silently to our east. The notched mountain Jack pointed to was about five hundred feet lower and a few miles to our southeast.
“Those Spaniards stood right here and looked with their spyglasses, through that notch, to see the spot on the ridge where their treasure was hidden,” Jack said. “Used to be a rock on top of the notch, making like a big window. That’s why they call it Ventana. You know Spanish for window.”
I had heard this legend before, but I had never seen the notch on the mountain, let alone the perspective Jack and I had today; the actual location of the Spanish gold. From where we were, it would take two days to hike into the wilderness, reach the ridge, and find the gold. We were thirteen years old.
“You’re not going to hike over there right now, are you?” I asked.
“No, of course not, stupid. We’ve got to plan this out carefully,” Jack said. “We’ll start tomorrow.”
We hiked back to the scout camp at the bottom of the mountain and began making secret plans to get to the ridge and retrieve the treasure. Over the next few days, Jack stole some freeze-dried meals from the camp kitchen and hid them under his cot. I studied a topographical map in the ranger office, making detailed notes on the line of sight from the mountaintop, through the notch, and onto the ridge beyond. I was cautious not to mark the map and reveal my real intentions, lest I give away our secret plans. We covertly trained in orienteering, survival skills, stealth, and digging. We needed to find a shovel.
Our week at the Boy Scout camp came to an end. Jack and I returned home with secret plans to go back later to find the Spanish gold. Maybe next summer, we vowed.
Twenty years later, I called Jack on my cell phone; I was still thinking about the ridge we never made it to and the gold we never found.
“Jack, remember that Spanish gold in the Ventana Wilderness?” I said.
“Yeah, we had plans, didn’t we?”
“What you say we get our old gear together and try to hike out to the ridge?”
“Sure,” Jack said over the phone. “I think about the day we stood on top of Pico Blanco. I believed everything I told you.”
“Do you still believe it?”
“Why shouldn’t I? I am sorry we never made it out there.”
“Yeah. Me, too,” I said. “How about sometime this summer, some weekend when you and the kids are not busy?”
“Sounds good. I’ll check with Kate and get back to you later,” Jack said.
“Yeah, later. Call me. Bye, Jack.”