ATV Adventures: A tale of Montezuma’s lost gold in Three Lakes Canyon near Kanab
Lynn Blamires, Special to the Standard-Examiner
Over 13 years ago, I wrote an article about a cache of gold that belonged to the famous Aztec emperor, Montezuma. I learned about this ghostly story on a ride near Johnson’s Canyon not far from Kanab. With some additional information I have uncovered, a good ghost story is always worth retelling.
As the story goes, in the summer of 1914 a boy on a bicycle rode into Kanab waving a tattered map with clues to buried treasure. Freddie Crystal was sure this map would take him to Montezuma’s gold. The announcement did not stir much excitement among the residents of Kanab because their day jobs were more important than the risk of treasure hunting.
However, Crystal had gold fever. He began digging in Johnson Canyon where the map indicated the gold was hidden. His quest was uneventful for eight years.
Suddenly, word spread that Crystal had uncovered an old tunnel sealed with crude bricks and mortar. Now those day jobs seemed to be less important as men young and old scrambled to Johnson Canyon.
Brandt Child, a longtime resident of Kanab, recalls those days on the project. It took a while, but they penetrated the plug that blocked the tunnel.
“It led into a big room,” Child said, “but all they found was just bones of mules and a few artifacts. No gold. But then they found another tunnel and it had a plug in it too. So, they dug it out.”
The end of the second tunnel brought them to another cavernous room where they found a large skeleton propped in a sitting position. According to Child, they called him Smiley because it looked like he was smiling.
No one else was smiling because there was no gold. What they did find was gruesome — a sacrificial altar, some ancient artifacts and some ashes from campfires “with human fingers all wrapped in bark, ready for roasting, and human legs, and things like that.”
Disappointed, they packed up and went back to their fields. As far as the citizens of Kanab were concerned, the case for Aztec gold was closed.
However, Child had seen enough to think that maybe Crystal wasn’t crazy after all. What they found in Johnson Canyon could have been a ruse to throw people off the scent of the trail to the treasure. Brandt believed that place to be in Three Lakes Canyon, 3 miles to the west.
He discovered enough evidence to confirm his theory when he found a symbol etched into a sandstone cliff above the largest of the three lakes. He recognized it as an Aztec treasure symbol so he purchased the property.
Child measured the depth to be 35 feet. He had read in a National Geographic magazine that Aztecs liked to bury their treasure in water traps 35 feet deep. Digging a tunnel to the place where the gold was hidden, they flooded the entrance by damming a stream. Finally, they killed everyone who knew where it was hidden.
Exploratory dives into the lake revealed a narrow opening into a tunnel. Sonar detectors indicated a tunnel 100 feet long ending in an 80-foot chamber. The sonar also indicated a high concentration of metal at the end of the tunnel.
Divers successfully entered the tunnel but each one claimed to experience choking sensations and to see ghostly figures. Every diver who entered the tunnel swore never to dive into the lake again.
A decision to drain the lake was stopped by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when it was discovered that the lake is the last remaining habitat of the Kanab golden ambersnail. Killing one carries a $50,000 fine. The lake was fenced and warning signs were posted.
I learned that there is such a critter and there are only two places they are known to exist. One is at a large spring on the Colorado River known as Vasey’s Paradise and the other is here in Three Lakes Canyon.
A nephew of Child reported that in 2007 a young man drilled a large hole from the top of the cliff into the chamber. It grew dark. With plans to return in the morning, he died of a heart attack that night in his motel.
Residents of Kanab believe the lake has been cursed. Witnesses have reported seeing ghosts patrolling the lake and other strange episodes.
Should you decide to go, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down and keep telling yourself, “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.”
Contact Lynn R. Blamires at firstname.lastname@example.org.