ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Authorities on Wednesday resumed the search for a Colorado man who disappeared more than three months ago while hunting for a $2 million cache of gold, jewels and artifacts in a rugged part of New Mexico.
Officials at Bandelier National Monument confirmed that a search-and-rescue mission was underway in an area of the monument off-limits to the public.
Bandelier Superintendent Jason Lott declined to provide details but said authorities are encouraging people to stay out of the area, which covers steep slopes and a mass of loose rocks.
"It's rugged country and it takes a pretty high level of expertise to work in that area," he said. "We're actively pursuing the search and rescue and just ask that others don't try to engage in this."
The search was triggered by the discovery of a backpack last weekend. Authorities wouldn't say whether it belonged to Randy Bilyeu of Broomfield, Colorado, who disappeared in early January after he set out to raft a portion of the Rio Grande northwest of Santa Fe.
Bilyeu's dog and raft were found along the river, but authorities called off the search in mid-January when the trail went cold.
Bilyeu's ex-wife, Linda, has been helping to organize volunteers who have spent countless hours hiking along the river and using everything from drones to telephoto lenses and dogs to scan the area for clues.
There has been only speculation and frustration until last week, when the blue backpack was spotted at the upper end of a scree field near a waterfall at Bandelier. Linda Bilyeu said her ex-husband had a blue backpack.
It potentially marked the first clue in months.
Linda Bilyeu and her family have been steadfast, saying they're not giving up until they find out what happened to the 54-year-old father and grandfather.
Randy Bilyeu had moved out West to live his dream — finding the treasure of Santa Fe antiquities dealer and author Forrest Fenn. Thousands have been inspired over the last several years to search for the cache using cryptic clues provided by Fenn in his self-published memoir.
Like Bilyeu, treasure hunters have scoured remote corners of New Mexico, Yellowstone National Park and other parts of the Rockies in vain for the small bronze chest.
Fenn believes some 65,000 people have gone looking for the treasure. He said his intent was to get people outside and onto an adventure.
Family and friends say Bilyeu bought a raft and set out on Jan. 5 after scouting for two weeks along the river west of Santa Fe. He had a GPS device, a wetsuit and waders, and brought along his little dog, Leo.
More than a week passed before a worried friend reached out to Linda Bilyeu, who filed a missing person's report on Jan. 14.
Bilyeu left maps with markings in his car that fellow treasure hunters used in an attempt to narrow their search for him. He also left a sandwich, suggesting that he hadn't planned to be gone long.
The community that has formed around the search for Bilyeu shared their support and prayers Wednesday as the search-and-rescue team worked at Bandelier. They were all hopeful for some kind of news.