ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Fixated on computer screens and video monitors, an army of volunteers scattered across the country has been painstakingly reviewing hundreds of images and hours of footage recorded over the last four months, desperately hoping to find a single clue to the whereabouts of missing treasure hunter Randy Bilyeu.
The Colorado man disappeared in early January in a remote part of northern New Mexico while searching for a $2 million cache of riches supposedly hidden several years ago by an eccentric antiquities dealer.
From the shadow of a blue heron flying low over the Rio Grande to a scrap of cardboard, nothing has gotten past the volunteers who are looking for Bilyeu.
The group, linked through email and social media, is analyzing every stretch of the rugged canyons and plateaus along the river via drones and telephoto lenses. Some are searching by foot and boat.
Psychics have even reached out and federal authorities say they're checking areas within Bandelier National Monument where it's too dangerous for the public to go.
"Words cannot express the gratitude the family has for all the caring individuals who take time out of their busy lives to help, in one way or another, search for Randy," said ex-wife Linda Bilyeu. "He would be humbled if he knew how many people he has touched."
The family has no intension of giving up the search for Bilyeu, a father and grandfather who would have celebrated his 55th birthday in February.
"However long it takes, we will find Randy," said Linda Bilyeu, as she sorted through dozens of messages while trying to coordinate the hunt from her home in Orlando, Florida.
Pulses quickened last week when, for the first time in months, a clue was discovered — a blue backpack near the top of a rugged, rocky slope at Bandelier. The search was re-energized and park officials began investigating.
Based on what's in the pack, there's a strong indication it belonged to Bilyeu but authorities have yet to make an official determination.
Bandelier Superintendent Jason Lott confirmed this week the search is still active.
As they wait for word, the volunteers are focusing instead on areas outside the park. They launched a canoe trip down the Rio Grande on Thursday and another drone flight is planned this weekend.
Thursday marked four months since Bilyeu set out in his raft in search for the treasure — a bronze box said to be full of gold, jewels and other artifacts.
Bilyeu dreamed of finding the treasure. He moved out West two years go and began researching spots where he believed New Mexico antiquities dealer and author Forrest Fenn hid the loot.
Bilyeu vanished after setting out to raft part of the Rio Grande west of Santa Fe. His raft and dog were found after he was reported missing but there was no sign of him.
He had scouted the area in the weeks leading up to his disappearance. His maps were dotted with notes and references to the cryptic clues laid out by Fenn in his memoire.
"Where warm waters halt ... in the canyon down ... too far to walk ..." The clues have inspired tens of thousands of people to look for the treasure, from Yellowstone National Park to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Fenn dismisses those who suggest the treasure isn't real. It's still out there, he says, while cautioning would-be hunters that it's in a place where an 80-year-old man could hide it.
Some say the treasure hunt should be called off. Even the volunteers are mindful of the dangers of searching — whether it's for the treasure or for Bilyeu.
After four months, the odds have yet to deter the volunteers — a nod to Linda Bilyeu's determination and the efforts of family and friends to keep alive Randy's sense of adventure and humor.
"Randy is going to continue to play hide and seek while we continue to guess where he is," Linda Bilyeu said.