SUBMITTED August 2014
I’ve been searching in the field for several years now, and I felt it time to share a recent journey. Up until now I’ve kept my cards close to my chest, but I’ve had a change of heart recently. My hope is that this puzzle will be solved via collaboration, and I’m more interested in the treasure being found in my lifetime by someone who was able to glean something useful from the larger community. Of course, it would be wonderful if that “someone” is me, but my true interest lies in knowing the correct solution. Some may consider this solve to be far fetched, much like I’ve found some others to be. However, I only ask that you keep an open mind, for anything less will only hinder the quest.
Many of my “solutions” over the past years have only increased in complexity. I use quotations because, in my wife’s opinion, I’m sure many are nothing short of madness. She’s been my “solve barometer” over the years, and I’m sure she has saved me many fruitless journeys. She’s kept me in the realm of sanity, and for that I am grateful. When I mentioned this simple solution to her, she literally filled in the blanks, and it was at that time that I knew I had something of interest.
Just a disclaimer before we get started: When I mention what Forrest has said, I am paraphrasing and this is all strictly my opinion. It’s possible that I am misquoting or mis-remembering, so reader beware! Also, I apologize in advance as I’m not what many would consider to be a proficient writer.
While I do try keep an open mind, there are several criteria beyond the obvious (e.g. elevation range) that I apply to any potential solution in order to help limit the plethora of possibilities. Again, just my opinion, so read with a grain of salt:
1. “Warm waters” should not be interpreted strictly as a measure of temperature. Forrest has said that you only need the poem and a good map. Unless there is some descriptor on the map that indicates “warm” water, it’s probably not a good fit.
2. There must be one way in and one way out of the chosen destination. Forrest mentions that the clues must be followed in order. I think this means that you must pass by all clues in order to reach the chest. Either that or each and every clue points to a singular location.
3. The clues probably do not point to man-made objects of no historical significance, like a forest service road. I believe this is because man-made structures are liable to change over time; they are fleeting entities that are soon lost to the progression of time. Of course, geology will also change, but man-made objects that pollute the landscape just don’t seem to jive with Forrest’s intentions and what he stands for. You may traverse a road as a means to an end, but that’s the extent of it.
4. Forrest’s comment about it not being hidden in the vicinity of a man-made trail seems to indicate that the chest is hidden more remotely than many (including myself) previously thought. “Vicinity” is subjective, however, so keep that in mind. 🙂
5. The chest is hidden in a location that many must find to be surprising. That’s because he said so. Where would you be surprised to find it?
6. The HOB is either very obscure, exceedingly common, or not visible unless you are physically at the location. When asked about HOB, I recall Fenn saying something to the effect of, “You’ll never find it that way. You need to start at the beginning. You need to figure out WWWH.”
7. Remember, Forrest wrote the poem to fit the location, not the other way around. That’s harder than it sounds; he only has geography and history at his disposal. It’s only fair that we cut him some slack! For this solve, “Begin it where warm waters halt” is the first actionable clue. Yes, some believe the clues begin in the first stanza, and that may very well be the case. Again, just have an open mind. 🙂
For this solution, there are actually two different starting points, both of which lead you to the same ultimate destination. As I take you through the steps and corresponding reasoning, I’ll mention each of the starting points when applicable.
Contemplating WWWH, as I often do, I recalled Forrest telling searchers that they are over complicating the search, and that showing the poem to a child may be beneficial. I tried to think like a child. It’s not hard for my feeble mind. What warms the water? Well, solar emissions and/or geothermal activity. …yikes, let’s try that again. What would a child say? The sun warms the water. Well, not quite. More specifically, it’s the sunlight!
With symbolism in mind, I scoured the Rocky Mountain range, looking for potential starting locations by using sun and sunlight synonyms. I found a healthy handful. While I am most familiar with Montana, I have yet to limit myself to any particular state. I instead apply the criteria mentioned earlier to reduce my choices.
As I weeded through all the possibilities, one surfaced in particular: Sunlight Creek near Dead Indian Pass in the state of Wyoming. You cross right over Sunlight Gorge as you travel down the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. I found it intriguing that Sunlight Creek intersected with Dead Indian Creek as they both empty into the Clark’s Fork. Sunlight Creek is by no means warm water. Quite the contrary, actually. But the symbolic “Sunlight == warm” is what’s interesting, or at least it is to me. It’s a hallowed fishing destination, and I like to think that Forrest has fished it many times in the past. I thought of a Fenn quote and how it may hint at this area:
“…I wanted to strike out at the tradition that proclaims when a man dies all of his spiritual being halts.” I like the idea of halt referring to death, and therefore warm (sunlight) waters halt (die) at the point where they intersect. Oh, and Sunlight Creek does end at this point because it empties into the Clark’s Fork. Double entendres are fun!
So now we need to “take it in the canyon down,” with “it” referencing both the journey and the chest. “Down” may be a decrease in elevation or a southerly direction. We have three canyons to choose from: the canyon which has been carved by Dead Indian Creek, Clark’s Fork Canyon, and Sunlight Gorge. I think Forrest has already told us which canyon: “the canyon” being a reference to the sunlight we’ve established above. Oh, and it’s a southerly direction and only has one way in and one way out. The geography is working in our favor. Yay!
“Not far but too far to walk.” We’re getting close to the treasure, but we still have a journey. Perhaps the double entendre at play here is another reference to the sun itself. The sun, especially to a child, doesn’t appear to be that far away. We, of course, cannot walk to it, though! In the car we go, headed south alongside Sunlight Creek.
As you drive along, the canyon beyond the gorge remains visible as you pass through Sunlight Basin. Here’s where the alternate starting point I mentioned earlier comes into play. Many years in the past, Sunlight Basin was actually Sunlight Lake, formed by the massive Yellowstone Glacier on one side, and Sunlight Glacier (which has now all but disappeared) on the other. This could be a historic riff on WWWH. The Sunlight Glacier halts Sunlight Lake. At this point, we’re driving down a funnel of sorts. The steep canyon walls forming around us allow little latitude in which to stray, so our decision points are becoming easier.
Anyhow, now comes the HOB. As mentioned earlier, HOB is likely obscure or rather common. What might make sense along this path? Salinger Ranch. We’re all familiar with Fenn’s J.D. Salinger fondness, and you can’t help but pass by the historical ranch as you continue down the canyon. It caught my eye, but I failed to recognize how it fit with the poem. Many of you may be scratching your head, much like I was.
My wife to the rescue! As I explained my quandary, she said, “Oh, that could certainly be the HOB.” Uhhhh, please enlighten me! She continued on to explain that Salinger’s publisher, for his infamous “Catcher in the Rye,” was Little, Brown and Company. This is a prominent publisher responsible for bringing to light much of the classic literature for the past two centuries. This could be more symbolism at play here, something to the effect of ranch ==> home and Salinger ==> Brown. This is undoubtedly obscure in my mind. I felt better when a large eagle took flight alongside our vehicle as we drove by the ranch. Those eagle nests just don’t show up very well on a map!
This section of the U.S. Forest Service-owned land is only open a few months each year: July 16th through September 30th. That’s comforting to me, as I personally believe the treasure is hidden in a place only accessible a few months each year. Who wants to worry about their treasure being found all year round? Just a hunch.
So now we need to “put in.” For this solution, I’ve interpreted that to mean “cross a body of water past the HOB.” You end up crossing several very small, insignificant feeder creeks along the way, but you come to a point where the canyon splits; you must go left or right. In order to go left (nigh) you must cross Sunlight Creek. And cross we do. Timing is critical here. If you attempt to cross too early in the season, you’ll be battling quite the water tour de force. If you don’t believe me, check YouTube. If you wait too late, you’ll be facing too much snow. If you find the right time, a mid-clearance vehicle may safely cross. You could also choose to go on foot, but it’s a strenuous climb, given the altitude, elevation gain, and distance of approximately 4 miles one way.
At this point we are headed up Sulphur Creek, which flows into Sunlight Creek at this juncture. This is truly no place for the meek. You’re really getting out into the backcountry. The road turns into a 4WD trail geared toward ATVs, but still passable in a vehicle. We did get some inquisitive and surprised looks from the two groups of ATVs we encountered at lower elevations along the way. It was rough enough that we instead opted to rent ATVs for our second day of searching the area. Bonus points if you can find the only guy in the Cody, WY area that rents them! I highly suggest caution if you choose to drive this path! Oh, and if you see the bear we encountered, please tell him hello. We saw him just after our ATV died at about 9,000 feet.
We inevitably end up at Sunlight Glacier, located just south of Lamar Valley and Yellowstone National Park’s boundary. It truly represents heavy loads and water high. There is an enormous amount of rocks that has flowed down from the end of the canyon (heavy loads), just below the picturesque glacier (water high). The final walk is actually up a very shallow, gently flowing creek, the very start of Sulphur Creek. You wouldn’t dream of paddling up it. A small waterfall cascades down the mountainside next to the glacier. We’re at the upper bound of the given elevation band, just under 10,200 feet. This sight is nothing short of breathtaking! When it’s time for me to die, this is the place to do it.
At some point Forrest mentioned that a searcher ought to “bring a flashlight,” a statement that was later retracted. In the context of this solve, it is quite humorous. He’s hidden the chest in the sunlight, so to speak, so bringing a flashlight would be ironic. Very funny, or maybe it’s my strange sense of humor at work!
Now here’s where the fun starts. You skirt the tree line in this area, and there are several targeted landmarks at this site:
1. “I’m not going to put an ‘X’ on the map for you.” That’s good, because it’s already there! The blaze is clearly visible on Google Earth. It’s an enormous, naturally occurring ‘X’ on the mountainside, about 100 feet by 100 feet in diameter. It is just above the 10,200 foot elevation mark, but the chest should be just below it. It’s neat because you can’t even see it unless you make a conscious effort to get to it. Not only that, it’s covered by snow all year except for a few precious months in the late summer (hint: Google Earth time lapse view is your friend). With boots on the ground, though, we felt this blaze to simply be too far for a 79-80 year old man to get to. Can you spot it in Google Earth?
2. An old mine shaft. We weren’t brave enough to enter it, but if someone wants to go in there and pull out the treasure, be my guest! Just mind the fresh blood trail in the nearby snow leading in the direction of the shaft. Oh, and you can feel free to send me a gold nugget or two as a consolation prize. 😉
3. My personal favorite: a small, partially wooded area that holds small copses and the most breathtakingly beautiful meadow I’ve seen to date, complete with a quaint babbling brook in the middle surrounded by colorful wildflowers.
But how, you may inquire, are we going with confidence, as Forrest has stated would be the case? Numbers 2 and 3 hold a secret. My friend advised me against divulging this, but I seldom listen to advice. I’m young enough where I still have an excuse. This is either an uncanny coincidence or the true location of the chest. All of this is public information:
As I researched the destination, I discovered that this area is on a mining claim. Nothing all that surprising, really. However, the deeper I dug, the more hints I found. As of August 14, Wyoming state records indicate that the parcel is owned by Jope Brothers, LLC. This company has virtually no online presence, and I was unable to gather any details beyond when the company was formed (within the last decade), and the registered agent for the property. I won’t spoil all the fun by divulging the agent’s name, but he is an attorney in Cody, WY. More specifically, he sits on the McCracken Research Library Advisory Board alongside none other than Forrest Fenn himself. Now what do we have? A potential solve whereby the destination is a remote wilderness location with a distinct link to the man who hid the chest!
I won’t comment on whether or not I spoke with the registered agent. But, if I were to hide a multi-million dollar treasure, I’d want to ensure clear transfer of ownership, title so to speak. What better way to do so than to own the land where I hide it? Consulting a trusted attorney is a must and creating a straw-owner company would shield me from inquiring minds. Genius!
Yes, I can hear you all now. “Hold on just a minute there, sir! Forrest hid that chest alone and no one else knows where it is!” Indeed that’s true and perhaps this is a contradiction. I am not a lawyer, but maybe there’s a way to anonymously form an LLC in Wyoming such that even the attorney doesn’t know the owner. Even if the attorney does know the owner, the claim is 175 acres, so he may be a trusted friend who technically does not know the exact location of the chest. Or, maybe the attorney is the true owner, and Forrest has worked out a deal of some sort that would allow him to hide it somewhere in the vicinity.
Forrest has told us not to “mess with his poem.” Okay, fine, but he never said not to mess with things that relate to the poem. If Forrest does indeed own this property (or he trusts the attorney absolutely), why would Forrest choose to name it “Jope Brothers?” It would have to be obscure so as not to draw unnecessary attention, but not completely random. It must mean something! I refuse to believe that he would have created a company name that has zero meaning to him.
Now let’s have a bit of fun with word play. My first stab at decoding was a simple anagram. It turns out there is only one anagram (that I could find) that uses all the letters in Jope Brothers. Robert Joseph. Ring a bell for anyone? Who saved Fenn’s life in Vietnam? Robert Joseph Sully. Bingo! It seems reasonable to me to give tribute to a man that saved your life, and later died at war as I understand it. I could continue for hours down a conspiracy rabbit hole, but I digress.
Even if the Jope Brothers <==> Fenn link is a false positive, there is plenty of search area outside of the bounds of the mining claim. Please respect private property by first obtaining permission before entering. In the backcountry it’s oftentimes difficult to discern property boundaries. You shouldn’t have much trouble in this case, though. The boundaries are clearly marked with red stakes. Keep your eyes open and you’ll spot them. There is a sign posted as well, something to the effect of “Private Property. Use at your own risk.” Is that an invitation?
The only other option in the area is Copper Lakes in the neighboring canyon. Double entendres once again at play here. Copper, a heavy lode; a heavy load of water on high. Our group decided that this location wasn’t feasible. A very fit person who is acclimated to the high elevation may be able to make the hike up to the lakes in 1.5 hours, but we don’t believe Forrest could have done it in less than 2.5 hours. No offense, Mr. Fenn! Two roundtrips would equate to 10 hours, and that’s just too long for an afternoon. The two upper lakes house golden trout. If you haven’t seen golden trout in the wild, please add that to your bucket list. Go ahead; I’ll wait.
We searched two days in the general area and came up empty handed. Can you find something we didn’t? Would you be surprised to find the treasure in the Sunlight?
I have other solves, some yet to be searched, that I’ll submit to Dal over the coming months if people express interest.
And last, but certainly not least, a wholehearted thank you to Mr. Forrest Fenn for giving us the impetus to seek out the beauty and serenity of a truly magical place seemingly frozen in time. Thank you, sir!