The Emma-area rancher that discovered the body of Claudia Ruiz on Friday said he is confident she wasn’t at the site on May 19, when he drove his cattle into high country known as the Crown.
Rory Cerise said he was using an all-terrain vehicle to deliver salt blocks to his cattle on Friday at about 3 p.m. when he saw what he thought was a person laying in the mud next to a stock pond. He got about 50 yards closer when he could tell the person was a naked woman. When he got closer, he told himself, “Oh, this isn’t right,” he said.
Cerise has a grazing allotment on the Crown. The federal lands between the Roaring Fork Valley floor and Mount Sopris are managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Ruiz, 44, of Silt, disappeared May 17, when her daughter saw her get on a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus in Glenwood Springs at about 9 a.m. Her daughter said video from surveillance cameras show that she exited the bus a short time later on May 17 at El Jebel. Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo clarified with the Aspen Daily News that Ruiz exited the bus at Willits, a quarter mile from the El Jebel stop.
It is unclear how Ruiz ended up roughly 4 miles away and several hundred feet above the valley floor from Willits.
Cerise, who grew up in the Emma area and probably knows the vast federal lands of the Crown as well as anyone, said he found Ruiz in a remote area roughly one-quarter mile from where the Nancy’s Path trail tops out. The Parker family dedicated Nancy’s Path to the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program. The trailhead is extremely hard to find. The route climbs roughly 1,500 feet in approximately 2 miles. It isn’t an easy hike.
Ruiz was described as 5 feet 2 inches and 180 pounds by her family in fliers that were posted around the midvalley during the search. She was reportedly wearing sandals at the time she got on the bus.
Cerise said a secondary four-wheel-drive route that is accessed from the West Sopris Creek Road-Prince Creek Road area also comes close to the stock pond where he found Ruiz. He said he saw relatively fresh tire tracks on the four-wheel-drive road and close to the body. There was a light shower in the midvalley on Thursday and it appeared the tracks came after the shower, he said.
Cerise said he couldn’t speculate on how Ruiz reached the stock pond. He said he returned to his home on the valley floor after he discovered the body and called authorities. He took a deputy to the site on an all-terrain vehicle. He went up on a route that goes through the Classier-Red Ridge Ranch property owned by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. He has a license to use the route to attend to his cows. His wife, Lucy, took other deputies to the site via the road network on the south side of the Crown.
While the site has been described by the Sheriff’s Office as south of Emma, it is due west of the Emma schoolhouse, above distinctive red rock ridge, Cerise said.
Once the Cerises led authorities to the site, they returned to their home.
The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office released a statement on Saturday that said, “Although the cause and manner of death are still being determined, the Sheriff’s Office has no information to suggest that our citizens and visitors are in any danger relative to this incident.”
No cause of death has been released yet.
Cerise said he saw no sign of trauma on Ruiz’s body. He said he has seen dead bodies before when it was evident there was dehydration. That wasn’t apparent in this case, so he said he would guess Ruiz had died within 24 hours or so when he discovered her.
Cerise said he wasn’t initially surprised when he came upon Ruiz. There has been a substantial increase in the recreational use of the Crown in the past decade. He said he first thought he came across someone enjoying the outdoors. The woman, he said, was lying on her back with her eyes closed and palms up.
“It’s like she just laid back and closed her eyes,” he said.
DiSalvo told the Aspen Daily News that Ruiz’s clothes were found about 250 yards from her body.