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Missing hiker found at Bandelier monument

Monday - 3/11/2013, 10:39am  ET

SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Search and rescue crews combed a rugged area of Bandelier National Monument early Saturday before finding a missing hiker who had traveled to northern New Mexico to hunt for the hidden treasure of a Santa Fe antiquities dealer.

Medical personnel were called to the monument as precaution after the 34-year-old Texas woman was found along the Ancho Canyon Trail, but Bandelier spokeswoman Claudia Brookshire said the woman appeared to be in good condition after running out of water and spending a frigid night outdoors.

"It's been in the 30s at night, so that's definitely a concern," Brookshire said.

Dispatchers had received a call Friday from a man in Texas who reported that his girlfriend was missing.

The woman, whose name was not immediately released, arrived at the monument Thursday to hike to the Upper Falls. She called her boyfriend to let him know she would return the next day. He called authorities after not hearing from her.

Members of the New Mexico Search and Rescue team and the Los Alamos Police Department set out to search the area along the Rio Grande near the Falls Trail and in the backcountry. They thought she might have headed down the trail and away from the monument's headquarters.

The trail from the Upper Falls to the river crosses rough terrain, having been washed out by a flash flood in 2011.

It turns out the woman left Bandelier on Thursday. The next day, she parked her car at a gate bordering U.S. Department of Energy property and hiked down the Rio Grande and up the Falls Trail. It began to rain, the sun was setting and she missed the trail on the way back to her car.

"Realizing she would have to spend the night, she found shelter near a rock," Brookshire said. "On Saturday, the hiker began re-tracing her steps and was able to find the trail back to her car."

She was intercepted by search crews as she was walking back.

Brookshire said the young woman came to New Mexico after being inspired by an interview with antiquities dealer, author and former art gallery owner Forrest Fenn that aired last week on NBC's "Today Show."

Fenn sparked the treasure hunt in 2011 when he released his book, "The Thrill of the Chase," which features clues that could lead readers to the $2 million treasure he hid three years ago in the mountains north of Santa Fe.

Hidden in an old bronze lockbox, the booty includes pieces of gold, a 17th century Spanish emerald ring, a ruby-studded bracelet, small diamonds and other items.

The missing woman's boyfriend told authorities she was attempting to find the treasure.

The search involved dog teams, technical rescue experts and three aircraft.

A blast of winter weather hit parts of northern New Mexico on Friday and the higher terrain was expected to get another inch or two of snow by the end of Saturday. However, Brookshire said the storm missed much of the monument, leaving behind only the chilly temperatures.

Monument officials used the hiker's experience to remind visitors to stay on marked trails and be prepared for changes in the weather. They also noted that it's illegal to dig, bury an item or use a metal detector on federal lands.


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