Walking on the dry lake bed. (c) 2014 J.S. Reinitz

Walking on the dry lake bed. (c) 2014 J.S. Reinitz

I always knew there was a car sunken in the depths of the old sand pits. I just took a late-season drought to drain the murky lake enough to reveal it.

The pits were dug decades ago to quarry rock and sand for local construction. When the digging stopped, it became a litter-strewn, out-of-the-way drinking spot for teens. For law enforcement, the lake was also a regular go-to place for dragging when someone went missing.

More recently, the pits have been transformed into a “recreational area.” At least that’s what the sign says. The city named it after a long-serving council member, put in a picnic shelter and a sandy beach (although swimming is verboten) and paved some bike/walking trails. It’s a stopping place for migrating geese and a winter home for eagles.

Even so, people still call it “the pits,” and cops still visit when they are looking for bodies or ditched guns. I figured there should be a stolen car down there somewhere.

This fall has been dry, and the lake has receded, exposing much of the sandy bed. So, on Christmas afternoon, we headed out to explore.

What water remained was covered with patchy ice, and the kids took turns hurling rocks that crashed through or skipped cross the frozen surface with cartoonish twangs.

My son, age 12, dug a piece of quartz the size of his fist from the lake bed, and my daughter, 8, drew pictures in the mud with a stick. There was a collection of rocks and charred logs where other explorers had built a campfire.

And sitting upright, partially encrusted in sand was Matchbox’s rendition of a 1971 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon. Its wood panel decals were still intact.