Somewhere in the White Cliffs of Utah, sits a cave with a ledge of gold. White Cliffs is part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante River. The Grand Staircase is a colorful series of rising cliffs, terraces and mesas which expose 200 million years of geology. Each major “step” represents a geologic formation; the Vermilion, White, Gray, and Pink Cliffs chronicle the passage of Triassic dinosaurs, Jurassic sand dunes, and an ancient shallow ocean. In this vast landscape, it’s not hard to understand how a ledge of gold might become lost.
Legend says that one night in 1870, an old prospector named George Brankerhoff had a conversation with George Hubbell (of the Hubbell Trading Post). The prospector spun a tale of a narrow cleft that opened up into a cave hung with a ledge of quartz crystal stringers that were laced with gold. Hubbell never saw the prospector again after that night, but the story had burned a hole in his imagination.
According to the old miner, the cave was located somewhere along the White Cliffs, just a few miles shy of Deer Springs Wash and Hubbell decided to try and find it. A few years later, he set out and spent weeks traversing the area but never found the cleft in which the cave was hidden. After an argument and a gun battle with locals in the nearby town of Panguitch, Utah, he fled to Mexico to lick his wounds. When he returned to the territory a few years later, it was to start building the Hubbell Indian Trading Post empire. However, he never forgot the story of the cave and the ledge of gold.
Over the next 30 years or so, he would often grub-stake miners to find the ledge. In 1891, a successful miner named Warren Peters stopped in Gallup, New Mexico, on his way to find gold along the Mogollon Rim. He and Hubbell struck up a friendship and Hubbell told him the tale. Peters was eager to try his luck and set out immediately and, by some miracle, Peters actually found the v-shaped cleft, the cave and the icicle formations. He knocked down several of the crystal stalactites and as he did so, they shattered on the floor, freeing large chunks of gold. Peters filled several pouches with the gold and returned to town.
Delighted, the old prospector was sure he could easily locate the cleft again, but when he returned to the site, the location eluded him. He spent months hunting, only to return to town deeply frustrated. He and Hubbell spent the winter theorizing on why it was so difficult to find. Hubbell was determined to return with Peters the following spring, but his business prevented that. In his place he sent a friend, Henry Sharp. Along with Peters and two Navajo Indians, the men returned to the White Cliffs area and began the search.
A few days into the search, the party was accosted by cowboys who told them to leave, claiming that they were protecting their herds from rustlers. The party refused and continued the search. They took no chances and moved their camp just to be safe, but one evening, the cowboys returned in force with a man they claimed was the sheriff with an order to arrest them. Peters didn’t believe them and a gun battle ensued. Sharp took a bullet in the leg and the party hastily retreated back to town. Hubbell decided the search was too dangerous and called off the hunt.
Legend says that the cowboys dynamited the entrance to the cave to prevent other prospectors from finding the ledge of gold. To this day, no one has ever been able to locate this lost treasure or even the v-shaped entrance. The sad ending to the story is that now the White Cliffs are part of the National Park System and treasure hunting is forbidden. So somewhere, in one of the most remote spots in the continental U.S., is a lost treasure that will likely remain lost forever.