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  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   September 2008

Cracking the Code

Do area rocks hold the secret of the legendary
Seven Cities of Gold?

Story and photos by Donna Clayton Lawder

With an enthusiastic sweep of his arm, Ruben Amador gestures over the huge 3-D tabletop landscape model he and friends have built, now housed in the quaintly humble Santa Clara Museum of Natural History. The topography is easily recognized: from the six-inch mound representing Cooke's Peak to the unmistakable Kneeling Nun, the three distinctive humps of Tres Hermanas on one side and the rolling blue hills of Tyrone bordering the other.

Ruben Amador points out the local mountain ranges on his scale model of the area.

"Look what we have here! Do you see the eagle?" Amador implores, pointing to the Kneeling Nun. "These are all signs. Who could not see this?" He turns to the wall behind him, filled with newspaper clippings, pages cut from magazines, dozens and dozens of photos he has taken. "Look, here he is again. It's the king! Over here, see this cross? This means that these riches are claimed for the church!"

Nearly breathless from his own exuberance, he pauses and says with a guileless smile, "I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up!"

Indeed, Amador does bring to mind a child with a treasure map. And a treasure map is, in fact, what he believes he has on his hands. Petroglyphs carved into rocks in the local hillsides, images hidden in plain sight in boulder formations throughout the area, Amador says, are the keys to finding nothing less than the legendary Seven Cities of Gold.

Having dedicated years of his life to researching the region and the history of the Spanish conquistadors, Amador and his friend and business partner, Rollie Saavedra, established Code Breaker Enterprise in 1999. Their goal: to unravel the mystery of the lost Seven Cities of Cibola, sometimes referred to as the Seven Caves, bringing to light what they believe is the true history of the area.

With mostly their own money and some help from a handful of private investors, the two have tirelessly explored the mountains around the area. They have repeatedly traversed a journey known as the 100 Spanish Footsteps — a journey Amador claims was made by Spanish explorers in the ancient legends about Cibola.

Bringing their mission down to earth, the pair recently established the museum — which Amador staffs — and have outfitted two vans for tours into the surrounding mountains. They offer a one-hour, five-mile roundtrip tour with a panoramic view of a "One Hundred Mile Journey of Spanish Footsteps." They've also launched a Web site, codebreakerrocks.com

In another room in the museum, Amador pulls out a huge binder, full of photos and handwritten notes. He says it is one of nine books he has written to document what he calls the "Codebreaker" explorations. Some of the photos show the late Steve Harvey, about whom Amador speaks in reverent tones.

"Steve started this over 20 years ago," Amador explains. "He did much of the work and handed this mystery over to me, to us. He was an amateur archeologist."

"And a genius!" Saavedra puts in.

But Harvey didn't decode all of the mystery before he died, Amador explains. "He taught me how to read the glyphs, but I've had to learn a lot more on my own and figure out a lot of things to continue the work," he says.

Pointing out photos on the walls of the small museum, Amador weaves his own sweeping history lesson, referencing everything, it seems, from the explorations of Father Marcos de Niza to Jesus to the Great Pyramids. It's no coincidence, he says, that those three famed triangles in Egypt are echoed in the local mountain ranges.

"To make sense of it, I had to look back. Way back!" Amador says. "Maybe what we have here is the true Valley of the Kings!"

In a corner of the room, Saavedra flips on a television set in the corner and plays a 10-minute video about the Codebreaker project.

"This is just the beginning, something we were able to get made by a production company," Saavedra explains. "We are hoping to do a full-length feature documentary on this. That would help us put the project on the map, get it out there to more and more people and draw people here. People talk about tourism for this area. I think this has incredible tourism potential, tourism for people to discover the real thing!"

In the meantime, the Santa Clara Museum of Natural History will be open for discovery, 9 a.m.-noon and noon-5 p.m., plus weekends by reservation.

Santa Clara Museum of Natural History, 408 N. Bayard St., Santa Clara, 537-3225, codebreakerrocks.com

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