Hi fellow Fennatics, I’ve been lurking off/on for a few years, the search for me has not involved botg and this is NOT a complete solve, rather I wanted to see the community’s thoughts on a few things (especially in light of all the recent SBs/posts from FF – writing this as of 4/20/2017). The following is a theory, not confirmed and will definitely NOT sway any of the Blog-erati (looking at you Seeker!). The following is just my opinion, guaranteed or your money back:
My backstory: First heard the Fenn story in 2013 from a co-worker who was very enthusiastic, we discussed for several weeks and then it fell the wayside, I would occasionally hear of an article or interview and then I found Dal’s site last year and have been reading a lot and coming up with some ideas. I’m a longtime CO/WY kid (I’m 40), between the ages of 6-16 I spent summers in Wyoming, often spending several weeks with family (Grandpa and cousins in Worland, other grandparents in Sheridan WY). Those visits included the 6+ hour drive from Laramie to get there, anyone who has driven in/around the state of WY can attest, the joy is NOT in the journey, most assuredly it is that you finally got there after so many grueling hours in the car. In my younger years these trips were fun only because of the ways my dad would entertain me, often involving ‘breaking records’ like total trip time, how long he could keep the speedo over triple digits, how far could we go without stopping for food or pee breaks, etc. The route we would take would sometimes change slightly, but was basically I-80 over to Rawlins, up 287 to Sweetwater or Lander, up to Riverton and Shoshoni and up the Wind River Canyon through Thermopolis and onto Worland. The scenery of this drive was…let’s just agree to describe it as ‘98% brown’. The stretch between Rawlins to Shoshoni is my own living hell, any scientists out there working on teleportation owe it to themselves to drive that route and re-invigorate their mission. However, once you got to Shoshoni there was hope, a light at the end of the tunnel and finally something to hold your attention besides antelope and tumbleweeds.
The Wind River Canyon has always held a special place in my heart…a lighthouse along the way signifying the drive was almost over and a beautiful canyon drive with lots of twists, tunnels, pre-cambrian rock, a train and of course the river. In my pre-teen years I marvel gazed at the tall cliffs and the uplifted and tilted layers and wondered what it would have been like to live 10000 years earlier. As my engineering mind was forming I wondered how long it took to construct that road, dealing with the river and weather, building the tunnels, etc.
Thermopolis – similar to the canyon this was another milestone on the journey, it signified we were less than an hour from our destination and to a 7 year old kid the hot springs park pool had the coolest damn water slide I had ever seen. My last drive up north was in 2008 heading to Cody for a cousins wedding, and we turned nigh at Thermop heading to Meeteetse so I didn’t get to see the true landmark of the town (IMO)…there is a small ‘geyser’ (air quotes here because it was probably a pipe carrying the water nearly 100 yards from the real source) near the chamber of commerce. In my youth it spouted water and steam 5-10’ in the air, halting, then returning to the earth, another curious site and a milestone telling me we were that much closer.
I thoroughly enjoyed SB 145 about the Bullet (I’m a car guy) and to me the Fenn summer trips from Texas to YNP sparked my first real theory: with such a long drive through much of the prairie west, surely the family made stops at various places along the way over those 17 years, and surely after Forrest was on his own he made additional road trips to his Valhalla. I looked up some historical Wyoming state highway maps from the late 30s…all the way until 1939, the various highways between Cheyenne/Laramie to Cody or Jackson involved many stretches of non-asphalt roads. I wondered how slow they would have driven and what the jalopies they drove, where they stopped for food, if they camped at night or stayed in motels, etc. I find it an easy reach that the family probably chose different, less strenuous/dusty/awful roads, at least after a few years of making the trip they probably figured out a ‘preferred’ route. Looking at the historical maps it is pretty clear that going up I-25 through Casper, over to Shoshone and up the Wind River to Cody was likely the preferred path. I have deduced this because hwy 287 by way of Rawlins and Dubois is 1) awful scenery (at least until South Pass) and 2) weather (wind anyone?) and 3) Togwotee pass north of Dubois was not paved until the early 40s, so at least in the first 5-10 years the Fenns made that trip, Cody was likely the best/least terrible way to YNP. EDIT: after a little more research, my route was indeed called the ‘Road to Yellowstone’ and Thermopolis was marketed as ‘The Gateway to Yellowstone’.
So to re-cap: I have driven a lot in WY on a similar path that the Fenn’s could have travelled each year on their family trips to YNP. Much of that drive is awful (IMO) and has some significant landmarks along the way that could be ‘special’. There are warm waters halting in Thermopolis (for me it’s that cheesy chamber of commerce fountain). You can take a canyon south that is too far to walk, that is home to many a large brown trout (I know, I know). The Boysen Reservoir and dam were completed in 1952, so the Fenn’s would have seen a semi-natural river in their early trips, but the road through the canyon was there prior. I find it unlikely that the fishing Fenn’s would not have stopped at some point to fish that river. So, given Forrest’s love of fishing and fondness of his family and trips, I think it is at least plausible that this area may be special. I recall that Forrest (or was it his dad?) said that catching huge fish, while fun, the smaller ones could be more rewarding…I’m calling BS on that, because anyone who has ever landed a huge trout that takes 2 hands and all your strength to handle will tell you so…the Wind/Big Horn have always been prime habitat for large trout, catching a big ‘un is a likely scenario for an experienced fisherman especially if you learned the river over several years. My theory on the ‘special’ aspect is that Forrest and his dad may have caught some of the biggest brown trout they had ever seen on a specific section of the wind river canyon.
OK, the following is my official ‘arm chair’ solve, enjoy!
WWWH – check. We all agree YNP is a special place, to me the signature feature is Old Faithful, the water literally shoots up and halts, if but for a moment, before falling to earth. In Forrest’s writings it is clear to me that he chooses Form over Function, a pretty thing is so much more than just a thing. By the nature of the poem, interpreting WWWH is fraught with pitfalls and rabbit holes, so much so that it seems probable that was the intent…many want to say that ‘warm’ means this that or the other, but looking at the poem from just the poetry perspective, ‘Where Hot Water Halts’ is just not as pretty sounding as WWWH…also alliteration…3 is clearly better than 2. Now I’m not saying it is DEFINITIVELY a geyser, I like the idea of a hot springs pool on a river, where rocks are piled up to create a mixing area that you can adjust because usually the water is too hot to just have a singular pool, you need the colder river water. I also like a water fall, but more for water high than warm. Anyway, in my mind a geyser is both a simple way to view it because of the poem and very difficult because there are so many of them north of Santa Fe. The town of Thermopolis is a significant landmark on the long dusty trip from Texas, it offers food/lodging and a public hot springs park. Additionally the area has petroglyphs, notable dinosaur archeology, the Shoshone/Arapahoe reservation to the south and a colorful outlaw cowboy history; arrowhead and other treasure searches could easily kickoff in the area around Thermopolis.
Canyon down – check. Wind River Canyon contains exposed pre-cambrian layers and is many a rockhound’s outdoor classroom. One issue with the canyon itself: it is on the reservation and a rock climbing related search suggests the tribes view the canyon as sacred, (possibly burial grounds), route climbing is off limits and many have asked. Interestingly, game and fish have overseen the reservoir/rec areas (also on the reservation) since inception, a bit of paradox in my mind, publically accessible areas and roads, but on reservation land such that many activities are off limits. I stated earlier that I think it was likely the Fenn’s fished this river there are two areas just north of the dam that are managed by the state that include camping and river access, unclear when that access may have been established, likely after the dam was finished, I’m guessing back in the ‘40s/’50s things were likely less regulated.
TFTW – check. From Thermop to the canyon mouth is about 3 miles, the canyon is about 13 miles total length from the northern mouth to the dam, certainly too far to walk with 42 lbs. This clue/hint has always bothered me, if the poem is a map and the directions lead you there, why start from a point where you move on? I know many will claim they understand, yet no chest, so hard to buy into those claims. There must be a purpose to start in a place that you will eventually leave. Is it to help confirm you’re on the right first clue? Is it to make sure you see the entire path that FF took at one time? This just seems to be an oddity, include the fact that it is the one line that doesn’t rhyme and it seems to raise more questions than it answers.
Put in below home of Brown – flimsy, thin, questionable, let’s agree ‘plausible’ check. I have been catching trout since I was 4, fishing is most certainly important to FF. I grew up with the outdoors playing a large role; camping, fishing, hunting etc. I think older generations likely did similar activities, because, yeah, no internet back then. I would also argue that Wyoming is a pretty boring place, if you didn’t do outdoorsy stuff you likely didn’t stay long, as they say, ‘there are 2 things to do in Wyoming: shoot guns and drink beer’, I would add go fishing, which should technically include beer, IMO. Anyway, the point is fishing is indeed a popular hobby in Wyoming, for me it is one of only a handful of reasons I even go back nowadays. So what of the capital ‘B’? As seen throughout the history of the west someone named Brown can be found just about everywhere. Maybe that was FF’s intention, but I’m taking the easy way out and saying it is the Brown trout due to FFs fondness for fishing (boom alliteration x5!). The entrance to the canyon from the reservoir side (but before it was built, note the river flows north, so ‘down’ here is downstream, but my canyon down is south) is another possibility for HoB given that the fishing would have likely been best just inside the canyon not on the plains, any fisherman can tell you the big fish live in the canyons with the big rocks.
WARNING: ENTERING CONFIRMATION BIAS WORK ZONE
So let’s say a 10 year old Forrest is with the family fishing the canyon on their way to YNP, but lo the fish are not biting. Well, we know Forrest began searching for arrowheads and other historical/cultural areas at a young age. The canyon walls command your gaze, anyone familiar with archeology would be intrigued by the area. At the entrance to the canyon (moving north from the reservoir, with the flow) you quickly encounter the tunnels, bored through the rock at the narrowest spot in the canyon and another significant landmark on the way north. Nearby is a popular picnic/camping area and fishing spot: Upper Wind River CG. Between the first 2 tunnels, and a short walk from that popular camping/fishing spot is a small creek/gully… Gold Creek drains into the Wind here. It is extremely steep, indeed NO PLACE FOR THE MEEK – check. Also it is only intermittent flow (NO PADDLE), there are back roads that go above from the east, on BLM land, so it COULD be accessed by an old man, not likely from below (but also too visible to a fairly busy highway, IMO). Also, the top of the mesa here is over 5000’, part of the gulch is as well, so 2 more possible checks.
The end is ever drawing nigh – In my solve you go ‘down’ the canyon heading south, Gold Creek is to the east (or left) of the roadway. I spent a little time on GE to see if something else to the ‘left’ fit in here and nothing definitive. There is very interesting geology all around Gold Creek, there is an interesting white band in a couple areas near the top, but they appear to be both on the reservation land and just below 5000’. To the east of the top of the gulch is Birdeye peak (the bird in the moon sketch?) and on the leeward sides is a wood, a small area with real pine trees (most of the canyon and surrounding hills are dotted with small bushes, but very few trees), also near this wood is a fairly large rock outcropping and would be my number 1 spot if I wanted to hide something valuable there.
The remaining clues: heavy loads and water high and the blaze: I will take the easy way out, the train and the reservoir will be my heavy loads and water high, as they would be visible/audible from my spot. As for the blaze, again, I will take the easy way out and say it is the sun, this is where botg may be necessary, the point on the end of birdeye peak looks W-SW and sunset could easily play a role, but time of year would change the location on the horizon so not really.
Some other shortcomings: last stanza I can’t find anything about my spot that might fit ‘worth the cold’. Also, FF’s comment that when we learn the real solve, we will exclaim ‘why didn’t I think of that!’, nothing with my spot seems to jump out other than it is a ‘simple’ solution that uses only the Poem clues, good maps and my knowledge of the geography.
So, as I go alone on this quest (my family, friends and random strangers all think I’m insane), I’m left to answer some questions (besides the poem clues):
Is the area special to Forrest? I think it is plausible, the fishing would have been amazing back when, the canyon and town of Thermopolis break up a long, boring journey, and the area would have been ripe for exploring; world’s largest mineral hot springs, petroglyphs, dinosaur digs, indian reservation nearby, and rich cowboy history.
Access? The top of Gold Creek is just outside the reservation boundary (note: there are no fences or obvious markings for this boundary – on satellite views at least) and is indeed private land, however, there is a patchwork of BLM land (see game and fish interactive map) that can be reached by low clearance dirt roads with a near zero likelihood that someone would see you. The area is hilly, but more mesa like, once on top the walk to the rock outcrop or gulch would not be very difficult, even for FF and his 42lbs. Also, there are few manmade trails (but definitely cattle and big horn sheep frequent the area), but the roads nearby would allow a walk of about 2 miles with only a few hundred vertical. At this point I take no responsibility if someone goes and checks it out and it is private or otherwise inaccessible, as you can see below the route and parking can be done from BLM land only, assuming you can get up Birdseye road. So for me this area is plausible and maybe worth a look for a brave soul.
So you’re probably wondering about the other clues/hints: heavy loads and water high, worth the cold, etc. For me I think throwing out any of the poem is a bad idea and the number one reason I haven’t gone to make this search. I do believe that FF’s statements about how simple it is and you just need the poem, a good map and knowledge of geography lend themselves to this as at least plausible, do I really believe this is FFs special spot, no, but then only one way to be sure! If anyone has been in the area please let us know and of course let the flaming arrows fly about what I missed, but please don’t give me some cryptic, arbitrary statement about stars or numerology or how I haven’t solved all the layers yet, you all are crazy.
Here is a 3D pic. My spot would be a few inches to the right of the Boysen Fault line, but the access road is just out of frame. Also, currently public fishing is allowed from the dam up to just below the fault line shown.