County, feds look out for treasure hunters

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Public Safety > Officials point to stiff fines, jail time for digging on public lands

By Tris DeRoma

Chanon Thompson may have been the first, but county rescue officials are betting she won’t be the last.
Search and rescue teams found Thompson Saturday after she hiked into the rugged wilderness of Bandelier Monument allegedly looking for a treasure chest.
According to news reports, Thompson was inspired to visit Bandelier National Monument after seeing a report on a morning talk show about a millionaire in Santa Fe who said he buried a $2 million stash of gold and jewelry “somewhere” in the mountains of Northern New Mexico.
The report centered on the millionaire’s recently published biography, “The Thrill of the Chase,” which includes a treasure map and clues as to where the treasure is buried. Ever since she was found, many stories on her rescue have surfaced. One included a quote from the millionaire that may help future treasure hunters. “Don’t look any place where a 79- or 80-year-old man could not carry a 42-pound box,” Fenn has been quoted as saying.
Rod Torrez, public information officer for Bandelier National Monument, would also like to add to Fenn’s advice: Don’t go looking for it in the monument, because it probably isn’t there, and if it is, it will undoubtedly cost you more than a foot blister or two to remove it. Anyone caught digging in the park is looking at the prospect of heavy fines and jail sentences.
If someone is found trying to unearth buried treasure on federal land they can expect to pay a fine of up to $5,000 and face six months in prison. If the dig involves archaeological artifacts, then it’s up to $10,000 and one year in prison if the archaeological property happens to be less than $5,000.
If the property is worth more than $5,000, then the fine goes up to $20,000 and two years in prison.
Second-time offenders could be fined $100,000 and get five years in prison, and so on.
“We are relieved that the missing woman, who was searching for Mr. Fenn’s treasure, was found in good condition,” Torrez said in a written statement. “However, we want the public to know that it is illegal for visitors to dig, use metal detectors or do any sort of personal prospecting on national park lands. It is also illegal to bury things or leave things on national park lands.”
Torrez added that Thompson was not charged with anything.
“She was just looking and she got lost,” he said.
Phil Taylor, emergency management coordinator for Los Alamos County, said he is talking with other sources about strategy, just in case the county starts getting an influx of would-be treasure hunters as the weather gets better.
“Before this rescue operation wrapped up, we were already talking about this,” Taylor said. “Right now, we are asking the same questions you are on what we can do to head this off, or if we should do anything at all. Does even talking about it only serve to fan the flames?”
Taylor said he will talk to some more people before an official policy is announced.
In his written statement, Torrez noted an irony that may have gotten lost in the headlines of the past few days.
“The only treasures we know of at Bandelier are the beautiful canyon country, the wildlife and the dwellings of the ancestral pueblo people, which are out in the open, for everyone to see. So we encourage the public to visit, and enjoy the treasures that are always here,” he said.