Bizarre Vanishings and Mysteries of Pecos, New Mexico

Some places seem to have a habit of drawing people in to never return. Whether it be the terrain itself or some other forces beyond our current understanding, there are places on this planet of ours that appear to be in a sense malevolent, hungry even, pulsing with an undercurrent of ill-defined but detectable dread. One such place is located in the U.S. state of New Mexico, which at first glance looks like a land of rugged beauty and pristine wilderness but which under this veneer has a darker aspect, and is the the location of strangeness and vanishings that defy explanation and continue to remain unsolved to this day.

Located in San Miguel County, New Mexico, of the United States, the village of Pecos lies just outside of the city of Santa Fe, and lies right in the center of some of the most scenic terrain in the state. The immediate vicinity holds the expansive Pecos Wilderness area, as well as the Santa Fe National Forest, featuring vast swaths of pristine wilderness just a stone’s throw from the Santa Fe metropolitan area, making the region a popular place for hiking, fishing, camping, and a variety of other outdoor activities. However, it seems that some of these weekend adventurers are destined to make this a one-way trip, swallowed by the area under often bizarre circumstances.

The Pecos Wilderness

The Pecos Wilderness

One of the more well-known mysterious disappearances associated with the area is that of 61-year-old Mel “Melvin” Nadel. A successful business man who owned a gym, and in very good shape for his age, Mel lived with his wife and teenage daughter in an affluent residential area south of Santa Fe called El Dorado. On Sept 6, 2009, Mel decided to go off on a hunting trip with two others, his brother-in-law and his friend Joe Muniz, into the wilderness of Elk Mountain, just north of Pecos, New Mexico and not far from Santa Fe. The group drove in along a logging road and set up camp right along the lane and discussed their plans for the trip. At around 4:30 PM, Mel’s two companions went off along a trail deeper into the forest to hunt while he decided to build a hunting blind closer to camp.

The two other hunters returned to the camp at around 7 PM but Mel was nowhere to be seen. A quick search of the camp and the area around it turned up no sign of him, and his jeep was parked right where it had been. The men called out into the woods but there was no answer, and after several hours passed with no sign of their companion, they began to worry that he had gotten lost. They honked the horns of the vehicles and even fired off their weapons in an effort to help the possibly lost Mel find his way back, but it came to nothing and authorities were notified. It was assumed that if he was lost he would probably get through the ordeal, as the area was not particularly remote, with the city lights of Santa Fe glittering in the fairly near distance, he had been adequately dressed for the weather and terrain, and he was well-armed with a bow, hunting knife, and firearm, which had all gone missing with him.

The following day, with still no sign of Mel Nadel, a search was launched of the area, which grew in scope until it became one of the largest in New Mexico history, involving hundreds of people, all terrain vehicles, scent dogs, and aircraft, and some strange clues were found. Dogs were able to locate Mel’s footprints and scent trail, which led out to around 100 yards from the camp along a path until they just suddenly stopped. When the dogs reached the end of the tracks, they reportedly became confused and unable to pick up the scent again. In the spot where the footprints and scent abruptly ended there was no sign of a struggle or wild animal attack, no torn clothing, no blood, no vehicle or animal tracks, no nothing, just those taunting footprints that just stopped in their tracks. It was as if Mel Nadel had simply stepped off the face of the earth into oblivion.

Mel Nadel

Mel Nadel

Baffled authorities could make no sense of it, and they began to form theories as to what may have happened. One was that Mel had carefully backtracked and then fled to go off and start a new life, but why would he do that? By all accounts Mel was a happy family man and successful business man who did not owe money to anyone and had no known enemies. Monitoring of Mel’s bank accounts showed that they were untouched, with no money ever withdrawn in the wake of his vanishing. Another theory was that he had been attacked and dragged off by some wild animal, but there was absolutely no evidence of this. Both the trail and the camp itself were pristine, with no sign at all of any kind of struggle or violence and no animal tracks anywhere in the vicinity. More far-out, unofficial ideas that have been brought up in the years since the vanishing are that he was abducted by aliens or had somehow stepped through an inter-dimensional portal. To this day Mel Nadel has never been found and his strange disappearance remains a perplexing mystery.

Another weird vanishing in the Pecos area is that of 71-year-old Emma Tresp, who was originally from North Little Rock, Arkansas. On August 31, 1998, the very healthy and active Tresp left her daughter’s home in Stillwater, Oklahoma to begin a road trip to Pecos in order to join a retreat at the Benedictine Monastery there, where she had been several times before and which was a familiar route for her. Her drive took her to out over the horizon and into the annals of mysterious vanishings. Although she had planned to be at the monastery in the late afternoon or early evening Emma never arrived, and on September 6 Emma’s car was located by a hunter abandoned along a stretch of Pecos County Service Road 63A, also locally known rather ominously as Camino Del Diablo, or “The Devil’s Road.” Emma Tresp was finally reported missing on September 8.

The Devil's Road

The Devil’s Road

An investigation found that the woman had last been seen alive at a service station in Santa Rosa, New Mexico on August 31, at 3PM, where she had filled her car with gas and was picked up on security footage. After that she had for some reason ended up on the rugged, rutted Devil’s Road, which leads off into unkept wilderness and was strange considering that it was certainly not the well-paved road that led to the monastery, and Emma should have known this as she was quite familiar with the area and had been there before. This led authorities to believe that she had somehow gotten confused and taken the wrong road, after which her car had gotten stuck in a rut, but it could not be ascertained just how she could have possibly mistaken the eroded, unforgiving terrain of the decrepit Devil’s Road for the immaculate paved lanes of Pecos Monastery Road. The Devil’s road starts off smooth enough, but quickly devolves into a mess of potholes, ditches, ruts, steep inclines, and overgrown portions, eventually ending at a crumbling old abandoned fire tower. Why would she have chosen this unforgiving route she did not know, and considering her car had apparently continued along this rough terrain for some time before becoming stuck, why would she have not turned back? Indeed, where had Emma herself gone off to?

When a search team was brought in, it was found that there were footprints from the missing woman circling around the car, but that none of them actually led off into the wilderness. Strangely, scent dogs that were brought in were unable to find a trail to follow off into the woods, and trackers could not figure out what direction she could have possibly headed off in. All evidence seemed to suggest that Emma had never left the immediate vicinity of her vehicle, yet she was not there. Within the car itself were found all of her belongings, including her suitcase, purse, a working, fully charged cellphone, and all of her cash. There was no note left behind and no foreign fingerprints or sign of any sort of struggle to be found. No one could figure out why the elderly woman would have set out from the vehicle without taking at least her phone and money, and without leaving any discernible trail behind.

Hundreds of trackers, law enforcement personnel, and volunteers scoured the area on foot, horseback, and using aircraft, and a hefty reward was offered for information on her whereabouts, but nothing was found. Indeed, not a single scrap or trace of the missing woman was turned up except those tracks around the car, and Emma Tresp has never been found. Theories of what happened to her include animal attacks, foul play, or her simply becoming confused or disoriented and wandering off, perhaps with every intention of coming right back, only to get lost or injured out in the forest, but there is no evidence of any of this. Of course there are also the ideas that she was abducted, by humans or otherwise (aliens), but again there is nothing to point to this. Another possibility is that she was chased down the road and this is why she had continued along it until getting trapped, but the questions of who would have been chasing her or where she had then gone remain unanswered. As State Police investigator David Martinez said of the weird mystery, “It’s like she vanished off the face of the Earth, there are no answers.” Eerily, and adding another dimension to the strangeness surrounding the case, is the fact that Emma Tresp vanished a mere 5 miles from where Mel Nadel had disappeared, and both remain missing.

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Although these two cases are the most modern and well-known vanishings of the Pecos area, though which the Devil’s Road meanders, apparently the region has a rather sinister history of disappearances and strangeness. The native tribes of the area long believed the region to be inhabited by a wide range of evil spirits and supernatural creatures, such as a shapeshifting demon known as El Viveron, as well as giant snakes and shadowy specters, and it was a place they mostly avoided. Early European settlers also claimed that strange lights haunted the area and that people had a habit of vanishing off the face of the earth here, although it is impossible to know just how many. It is also worth noting that the Pecos area is often the the location of UFO reports, as well as sightings of mysterious dancing lights in the woods and sudden flashes of brilliant light that seem to have no obvious cause.

Are these disappearances the result of the rugged terrain of the area getting the better of some? Are they the result of foul play, a serial killer, or people just wanting to disappear? Or is there some other mysterious force at work which lies at the bottom of these mysteries? Is this all inter-dimensional portals, aliens, or is there perhaps something to the old Native tales? Is this a place imbued with forces we cannot comprehend? Whether the reasons are rational or mind boggling, the fact remains that these people have gone missing under bizarre circumstances that have baffled investigators and amateur sleuths for years and the only ones likely to ever know their fates are the victims themselves, and perhaps whatever lies out there with them.