SUBMITTED August 2017
The California Gold Rush lured thousands west to “see the elephant,” a nineteenth-century metaphor for the hopeful but risky pursuit of happiness, adventure, and fortune.
This is long. Really long. My recommendation: Make yourself a bowl of coffee (shout out Cowlazars), find yourself a comfortable seat, and settle in.
How I came to the search
I first heard about the Forrest Fenn treasure from the VOX article that came out in early 2017. Within hours of reading it (and watching the video), I had added “Go on a real-life treasure hunt” to my lifetime bucket list. I tend to go full throttle whenever I discover a new interest so a lot of my initial time was spent gathering as much info about the Chase as possible and scouring Google Earth. I ordered the books and impatiently waited for them to arrive as I continued to research.
Looking back on my initial solve gives me a little bit of “what were you thinking?” relative to my final solve, but it was part of the process so here we go.
Upon reading the poem, like most people, “home of Brown” jumped out at me and my initial connection with that line was Encyclopedia Brown, children’s book detective. I read them as a kid, my kids read them, and this as a possibility was reinforced by the FF comment (paraphrasing) “show the poem to your kids.” Additionally, “Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Treasure Hunt” came out in 1988, right around the time FF was going through his bout with cancer and when he came up with the idea of hiding his own treasure in the Rocky Mountains and also right around the time (by my very rough estimate) that his grandchildren would have been in the age range for the Encyclopedia Brown book series.
A quick Google search told me that Encyclopedia Brown lived in the fictional town of Idaville. Further searches led me to some vague references to an Idaville in Montana and a more concrete town in Idaville in Colorado in the late 1800’s that subsequently changed its name to Guffey. (Full disclosure – this was prior to the toponymy/geography question from April of 2017). As it happens, at the time I was what I call a “Pinyon Pine truther” so a CO solve within the range map of the Pinyon Pine was reinforcement. Working from Guffey, CO as “home of Brown” I worked backwards to Hartsel, CO as WWWH due to a ranch/hotel/hot springs that was around in the late 1800’s with the “halting” done by the people that came to visit the hot springs.
“The cattleman established a trading post, blacksmith shop, and other businesses on the land he claimed. In the area were hot springs that were used by the Utes for bathing and for medicinal purposes. In the mid-1870s, Hartsel capitalized on the therapeutic nature of the springs by erecting a bathhouse that included three bath rooms and a waiting room. In 1875, he erected a hotel because his ranch could not accommodate all of the travelers seeking the healing properties of the spring. Hartsel’s accommodations at the hot springs were very popular with travelers and profits from the enterprise helped him enlarge his ranch holdings and buy cattle. The post office at Hartsel was established on 16 March 1875.”
To be fair, “canyon” is a bit of a stretch to describe the terrain/drive from Hartsel to Guffey, but not so much of one as to eliminate it.
From Guffey, I had two divergent solve paths –
- (Less likely solve) – “Put in” at the Parkdale Recreation Area which is almost straight south of Guffey on the Arkansas River, and which is used to launch white-water rafting trips through the Royal Gorge Canyon.
Side note from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Gorge_Bridge
In 1929 Cañon City authorized the building of the Royal Gorge Bridge, which at 955 feet (291 m) above the river held the record of highest bridge in the world from 1929 to 2001.
In 1931, the Incline Railway, or simply the Incline (also known as a funicular), was added beside the bridge to reach the bottom of the gorge.
In my opinion, that’s definitely something that could be a draw/side trip on the drive from Temple, TX to Yellowstone and something that might have stuck in the mind of a young FF.
In this solve, “No place for the meek” was a reference to going up the hill along a jeep path (there was a creek nearby as well, as I recall) and you ended up at a rocky outcropping (‘heavy loads) where you would first see my “blaze” – an area of red clay.
And when you zoom into the rocky outcropping, it’s easy to see where my initial confidence came from… The plan was to search in and around (and below, obviously) this pile of rocks.
- (More likely solve) – From Hartsel to Guffey on County Road 9, “Put in” (turn on) to CR 102 just south of Guffey. In this solve, “No place for the meek” is Paradise Cove, a swimming hole with various platforms for cliff jumping, approximately 14 miles east of Guffey along CR 102.
From there, you’d go towards some water-filled quarries that are tucked back NE of Paradise Cove (heavy loads and water high) and start searching for the blaze.
So I had my initial search areas, but could I find any backup search areas in case these two solves didn’t pan out? Were there even better solves out there? My research continued.
And then I had what I call my Eureka moment.
My Eureka Moment
Up to this point, my focus had primarily been on my initial home of Brown theory, but I began anew trying to start from WWWH (it is, after all, what FF says to do.) As I was reading and re-reading the poem, I made a connection between two lines in stanzas/quatrains 1 and 6, parts of the poem typically thought to be outside of the main “clues” section of the poem.
And hint of riches new and old.
If you are brave and in the wood
“Brave and in the wood” made me think about why you would need to be “brave”. What if you were in a Petrified Forest? Petrified wood is old and could be considered “riches” to FF (with the chest as “riches new.”) So I googled Petrified Forest Colorado and looked through the results… alas, nothing that I could connect to a reasonable WWWH.
But working on the same geologic timeframe as petrified wood, what about fossil sites? So I googled a bit more, poked around in the results, and found the Kremmling Cretaceous Ammonite Locality outside of Kremmling, CO.
But could I make a reasonable connection between FF and Kremmling, CO? Google Maps shows the route from Temple, TX to Yellowstone going through Denver, CO. Could FF have passed through Kremmling (or detoured there) as a kid on his annual drives to Yellowstone? Looking at a CO Atlas from 1940, one of the main highways of the time (in red) goes right through Kremmling, CO.
Additionally, in looking over the town of Kremmling on Google Earth, there’s a prominent feature that is pretty easy to connect with FF and his stories. See if you can spot it in the picture below.
Could FF have passed through Kremmling as a kid? Could McElroy Airfield have been one of his many random stops as he flew and explored the Rocky Mountains? Who knows, but either of these scenarios is plausible. The more important question, however, is whether or not I could find a WWWH in or around the town.
Clue by Clue Solve
“As I have gone alone in there”
We’ll come back to this.
“Begin it where warm water halts”
Just south and a little bit west of Kremmling, the Blue River and Muddy Creek join the Colorado River.
Side note: I never put much stock in the double omega/colophon as being important, but for those that do, it doesn’t take too much squinting to see the double omega in the bends of the Colorado River here.
Following Muddy Creek north leads you to Wolford Reservoir. And yes, I know FF has explicitly said that WWWH is not related to a dam, but the confluence of Muddy Creek and the Colorado River (the actual WWWH) is 5 miles from Wolford Reservoir as the crow flies and probably at least twice that following the bends and twists of the creek.
It is at this point of exploration that I had my first bit of luck. In looking at the reservoir (and admittedly, not knowing much of anything about reservoirs), I only saw the water coming down the overflow spillway from the top of the dam (the arrow in the picture below) and not the other flow of water from deeper (by the x) and assumed that the surface of the water would be warmer continuing on through Muddy Creek and being halted by the colder Colorado River (fed by snowpack runoff or whatever).
In attempting to confirm this, I had it exactly backwards. Luckily there were two handy USGS stations to confirm the water temperatures.
The red line is Muddy Creek and the green line is the Colorado River, there’s a clear difference in temperatures between the two. Essentially, the “warm” waters of the Colorado halt the cooler waters of Muddy Creek.
Side note: For those more comfortable with Fahrenheit, 15 degrees Celsius is approximately 60 degrees F, and 10 degrees Celsius is approximately 50 degrees F.
“And take it in the canyon down,”
Following the Colorado River downstream from WWWH, you quickly come to Gore Canyon.
Side note (1): Many people have wondered why, in FF’s response about the Little Girl from India, FF references hiding another treasure in the Appalachian Mountains. Why not the Himalayas? (Full disclosure – this is admittedly a stretch and probably just a coincidence.) In the Google Earth Image above for Gore Canyon, there is a San Toy Mountain in the foreground.
San Toy is a ghost town in southeastern Bearfield Township, Perry County, Ohio, A flourishing community in the early 20th century, it was a coal town created by the Sunday Creek Coal Company. San Toy quickly outgrew its coal mining town size. At its peak, it had a baseball team, several saloons, a theater, a hospital, a post office, and many other various stores and schools. San Toy was practically a relic from the Wild West that grew out of the Appalachian foothills.
Side note (2): This is probably also a coincidence, and it requires perhaps a bit more squinting than the double omegas from before, but if you look at the general direction of the Colorado River and the general direction of Muddy Creek and the Blue River, you get the following.
“Not far but too far to walk,”
In my solve, this relates to the bends in the Colorado River and the difference between the straight-line distance and the path distance – the path being what you would take on a boating trip down the River. We did after all, “begin it” at the confluence of these waters and we are “taking” the waters down into the canyon.
“Put in below the home of Brown”
This one’s pretty straight-forward. As you go down the Colorado River and before you get into Gore Canyon proper (and its class V whitewater), you pass Beaver Dam Gulch.
Beyond the obvious – get out your dictionaries and look up “beaver”.
“From there it’s no place for the meek”
“There’ll be no paddle up your creek”
I’m taking these slightly out of order as, in my solve, they go together to tell you which side of the river to “put in” at.
I think anyone that’s been around the Chase for a while has heard the name Joseph Meek, but for those that haven’t, the shortened version is that he was a fur trapper (a major portion of which was beaver) in the Rocky Mountains that later moved to Oregon and has ties to (is featured prominently in?) the book “Journal of a Trapper” by Osborne Russell which FF references in various places. If it’s not obvious, I’m not 100% clear on how strong the connection between FF and the book and then the book and Meek is, but it’s enough to work with. If “place for the meek” would be where he would trap beaver (i.e. Beaver Dam Gulch), “no place for the meek” would indicate we want to be on the other shore.
In a similar vein, Beaver’s tails are called “paddles” so “no paddle up your creek” also points to being on the shore opposite Beaver Dam Gulch.
Alternatively, the below TOPO Map shows there is a creek on the opposite shore…
Though it’s certainly not one you can “paddle up”.
“The end is ever drawing nigh;”
I interpret “drawing nigh” as an indicator of direction, both with “nigh” (left) and reinforced with “drawing” (as in a golf shot). From the shore, it’s easy to see that from the path we’ve taken thus far, we’re being forced left. As we are closing in on our final search area, I’ve included on the map below a measurement of the distance from the nearest road. A little over a mile and back twice in an afternoon is certainly feasible.
“Just heavy loads and water high.”
Obviously, we have our creek of rocks as “heavy loads” and there’s the whitewater through the canyon as “water high”, but in the close-up below, you can also see train tracks as a possible interpretation of “heavy loads”. We’ll also be coming back to “water high”.
“If you’ve been wise and found the blaze”
Again, anyone that’s been around the Chase for a while is familiar with the concept of a horse-related blaze (basically the white-streak on a horse’s face.)
And if you’ve been paying attention, we’ve actually already seen my blaze, just not with an up and down orientation.
And probably the two most important after-the-fact checks on a “blaze” both fit here. 1) This blaze is not facing north, east, south, or west; it’s facing up towards the sky. And 2) While not impossible to remove this blaze, it would not be feasible to try.
“Look quickly down your quest to cease”
So with the blaze identified, we have our primary search area.
But is it possible to dial it in further? Maybe. And I say maybe because, while we can potentially narrow the search area a bit further, I’m looking everywhere in my primary search area just to be safe.
Anyways, remember how we were coming back to “water high”?
What’s this in the search area?
It appears to be a small pond. And we know from the description that FF gave, that “the treasure is wet” (Full disclosure – prior to the Safety First ATF statement about the treasure not being submerged, I entertained the notion that the chest was in this pond and there’s even a bit of a shadow that you can see in the image below. I now think it is unlikely to be in this pond.)
“But tarry scant with marvel gaze”
And if you use your imagination in looking at this pond, you get this:
When I first made this connection, I think my mind was blown for at least a day. If we use the “gaze” from this eye, you get (roughly) this:
“If you are brave and in the wood”
One more thing to take into consideration… what’s the status of this land/search area? I personally believe that the TC is on public/BLM land though, as I mentioned earlier, to the extent that it’s possible, I’m searching everywhere between the blaze and the river and also in the wooded areas above the blaze. But, as it turns out, a good chunk of my search area is BLM land.
With this solve and search area in hand (and my initial solves as backups), I booked my trip and started packing for BOTG.
FF After the Fact Statements and this Solve
Before we put Boots on the Ground, let’s just go over a few of the ATF statements that FF has made and “fact-check” the solve.
Notice that the foundation of the solve is only the Poem and a map (GE) and there is no reliance on “interpreting” TTOTC. Additionally, there is no specialized knowledge used in the solve. In this solve, if I’m labeling something as “the word that is key”, I’d go with “old” from “riches new and old” as this is what essentially unlocked the rest of my solution. From the NM tourism video, FF describes being in the TC area and being able to see trees, see mountains, and smell pine trees. This area matches that description (in that it’s essentially “open” land and not enclosed forest with no sightlines to see mountains). As you can see from the images, there are no manmade trails in close proximity.
Much has been made about the “several” searchers that have been within 200 or 500 feet of the TC. The “200 foot club” searchers could have been on the train as it went past this area. For the “500 foot club”, the other shoreline across from our search area is a popular staging point for kayakers/rafters going through Gore Canyon.
With regards to the FF comment (paraphrasing) “people have solved the first two clues and went right past the treasure”, I’m not going to speculate as to what FF considers the first two clues, but I will say that I can see how people might possible have identified Beaver Dam Gulch as the HOB, and still missed the treasure. If you continue past HOB, the next opportunity to access the river is at Pumphouse Campground, where many kayakers/rafters leave the river after doing Gore Canyon and where less experienced kayakers/rafters put-in to the river to run the intermediate rapids below the canyon.
And if you “put-in” at Pumphouse Campground, there’s a trail (Gore Canyon Trail) that goes back up into the canyon (“no place for the meek”) with “no paddle up your creek” and “water high” referencing the rapids and “heavy loads” referring to the train tracks across the river.
While I didn’t think this would lead to the TC, I did plan to search this area as well as I’d be close by and it’s not an unreasonable solve in and of itself.
I recruited my Father-In-Law to join me on the trip and we flew into Denver. We drove the next morning to Kremmling, grabbed some sandwiches and water, and proceeded to drive to our pre-planned parking spot. The plan was simple – park, hike down towards the blaze and conduct an informal search grid through the primary search area, being sure to check out the pond. If we didn’t find it by later in the afternoon, we’d call it a day and come back the next day to check the top of the ridge.
Unfortunately, as happens in many solves, the simple plan that we had based on Google Earth views of the area, became complicated. Google Earth didn’t tell the whole story. While the roads in the picture above look to be public roads with driveways off of them (you can actually see houses in the picture above near the sharp bend on the left side and also in the lower left corner and there’s also a house just below where the picture cuts off), and while there don’t appear to be any houses nearby/along the ridge that comprises the primary search area, the land (other than the BLM parcels reference previously) are actually part of individual ranch parcels that together, make up the Grand River Ranch community, a play area of the super-rich (parcels go for multiple millions of dollars) that includes private fishing holes, a private shooting range, etc.
Basically, all access from the North was cut off by fences with No Trespassing signs.
And this was as close as I was able to get (near the fence line in the image above).
Okay. I had a backup plan. There was another road to the East coming in along the river.
But as soon as we turned onto CR12, I knew it wasn’t going to work.
We drove down the road awhile anyways, just to see how far we could get. There was a gate (marked below) with no trespassing signs on it, but as I understand it, so long as you’re on the public road (CR12), you’re okay. It didn’t end up mattering though as, even though we made it to the parking site, we would still have had to cross private property to get to the search area and assumed there would be fences to prevent us from doing so anyways. We briefly considered going anyways, but a quick Google of Colorado trespassing laws quickly put an end to that idea.
“As I have gone alone in there”
I realized at this point that the only way to access my search area was by water and, without the necessary time to devise a safe way to do so (remember, there are serious and deadly rapids downriver from the search area), we reluctantly ended our attempts to get there.
The rest of the trip was crossing t’s and dotting i’s, mixed with some non-treasure activities. We drove down the scenic Trough Road to this overlook.
And we did go to Pumphouse Campground and hike the Gore Canyon Trail. Though we did not see any blazes, it was a nice hike with some good scenery. Full disclosure: we did not go all the way to the end of the trail or really search in a diligent manner so it’s possible the treasure is in this area somewhere.
We also drove over to Paradise Cove (from initial solve #2) and hiked into the swimming hole/cliff jumping spot.
We did not attempt to get up by the quarries I mentioned previously as, from the main road, we could see the road up towards the quarries went through a gate that was pretty much right in front of a house. While I suppose it’s possible that we would have been able to get up there without trespassing, we figured it would be unlikely and didn’t really explore it much so again, it’s possible the treasure is here.
After Paradise Cove, we drove down to the Parkdale Recreation Area (initial solve #1), but could not get to the trail and rocky outcrop as the BLM land has been leased out or to a quarrying company. Instead we drove down into Canyon City on the last full day of the trip, briefly visited the tourist trap that is the Royal Gorge Bridge itself and then did the highlight of the trip – a ride on the Royal Gorge Railroad that went through the Royal Gorge and under the Royal Gorge Bridge. Coincidentally, the end of the train ride was back at the Parkdale Recreation Area.
We flew back the next day and I started trying to figure out if access to my search area via boating down the Colorado River was a) feasible and b) worth the expense and time of another BOTG trip.
River Trip Planning
I’m very fond of not dying so that was certainly a primary consideration in this phase of research and I was also very cognizant of FF’s “don’t go where a 79 or 80 year old man couldn’t go” ATF statement. My initial read on the task was that launching (from the public boat ramp near WWWH) and floating down the river to the landing point would not be a problem (provided the landing area wasn’t a sheer cliff, which it didn’t appear to be), but that getting back to the launch site against the current was going to be the major challenge.
So how fast was the river running? I used USGS data for the Colorado River to get a sense of the discharge (in cubic feet/second) and the gage height and married that to measurements from Google Maps of the river width at my landing point. I won’t go through the math, but at a discharge of ~1,400 cfs and a gage height of 6.25 feet, the river speed at my landing point was less than 1mph. After some Googling of kayak speed and getting estimates of anywhere from 2-5 mph for a novice, depending on weather conditions, I abandoned my initial thought that I would need a motor and instead looked into paddle-based options. (This obviously assumes river conditions are stable at these levels, which they should be late in the summer after the snowpack has fully melted.) Full disclosure: If this is how FF hid the treasure, I do believe he would have used a raft with a small motor to help get back to the launch area against the current. From my research, these are fairly common in the fishing world.
I had no intention of using a cheap Wal-Mart inflatable (remember, dying = bad) and was not willing to spend a significant amount of money on a raft for a one-off use. Luckily, I was able to find someone on Craigslist that had a kayak (and life jacket) he was willing to rent. Problem solved.
I searched out pictures of the landing area and found the following.
While it looked reasonably possible, notice the trees to the left of the landing area – they’re either dead or (more likely) this picture was taken in winter. What would it look like during the summer? To be safe, the landing area would need to be verified with BOTG prior to any potential river trip.
I confirmed the law, which states that I could legally float this section of the river to the BLM land, provided I didn’t touch the shore or river bottom or anchor anywhere, which I had no intention of doing. I could essentially paddle down the river 3 feet from shore so as to minimize any risk if something went wrong. I also learned during my research that the train tracks and/or CR12 are emergency exit points from the Canyon for kayakers/rafters that get into trouble so I had an emergency backup if I was unable to paddle back to the launch point. It would be at least a 4 mile walk back to town, but it was a welcome backup plan nonetheless when the alternative would be calling for rescue or being especially dumb and trying to continue on down-river (disclaimer: no chance I would ever be this dumb).
All told, I was reasonably confident that I could float the river, land at my spot and search, and then either paddle back or hike out and that I could do so safely. I would, however, need to verify some things with BOTG to know for sure.
But would FF have hidden the treasure this way (assuming he wouldn’t have just parked at one of my options and trespassed, which I can’t 100% rule out)? To be honest, I waffled on this one, particularly as it relates to the ATF statement about making two trips from his vehicle/car. I initially thought I had a loophole if he only used “vehicle” as a boat could be a vehicle, but he does say “car” in at least one quote that I’ve seen. Still, I can make a reasonable argument that he could have floated down to confirm the river was clear, motored back to the launch point, loaded the treasure, and then floated a second time back to the hiding area, before motoring back a final time, laughing to himself. Why not use a motor myself? Mainly because doing so would be a PITA, but also because I consider that “special equipment” which FF stated is not necessary.
Additionally, there are a few FF ATF quotes that lend some credence to this as a possibility… “The clues should be followed in order. There is no other way to my knowledge.” This assumes I have the clues interpreted correctly, however. The quote “The clues are there, they’re not easy to follow, but certainly not impossible” is probably interpreted most frequently as related to solving the clues, but if you follow it literally, he’s potentially talking about the actual trip itself being “not easy to follow”. Finally, most rafters/kayakers doing this section of Gore Canyon leave in the morning. By the afternoon (when FF says he hid the chest), this section of the river would have been mostly empty. And finally (and this is circumstantial at best), I think that the fact that FF did not specifically say something to the effect of “you don’t need to go in a raft” in his comments about being safe is telling. That would have been the perfect opportunity to do so and would not have eliminated any significant portion of the search area. That he didn’t say this increases the possibility that you do, in fact, need to go in a raft to get to the chest.
Whether I interpreted everything correctly or just managed to convince myself, when some family circumstances opened up a short window to go back, I jumped on it.
My Father-In-Law couldn’t make it so I recruited some other family members and met up with them in Kremmling. We went to the boat launch site and I waded (only to my knees) into the river and found that the water that looked flat did have some current to it. We could probably have paddled up it for a little ways, but 3-4 miles against it would have been a definite challenge, if not impossible.
We could still potentially hike out, however, so what did the landing spot look like? Hiking in on BLM land south of the river, I passed this BLM survey marker which was cool to find.
And I was able to get this picture of the search area:
With the landing area on the far side of the river covered in pretty thick bushes, we eliminated kayaking down the river and hiking out as we couldn’t be sure that landing could be safely and easily done. As you can see from the picture above, a new wrinkle also emerged – the steepness of the search area. Is it too steep for FF to have climbed? It’s hard to tell for sure from this distance, but I suspect it probably is. Plus, even with a motor to get back upriver, would FF have been able to land a raft, climb up the embankment, and navigate the steep terrain on the other side of the train tracks? After BOTG #2, I’m convinced the answer is no.
In short, without a motorized boat/kayak (something I’m not willing to attempt) and some luck with being able to land it or without some pretty blatant trespassing from the north (something I’m also not willing to do), I don’t think it’s possible to get to this search area and I have doubts about the overall viability of the search area given the apparent steepness of the terrain.
Abandoning my main search area again, I had a day to kill so I hiked the Gore Canyon Trail again, this time to the end. No blaze that I could find, but still a nice hike and I got some good views of some of the rapids.
I also drove further south on Trough Road as, if you interpret Pumphouse Campground as the “Put-in below the home of Brown”, you could interpret meek, heavy loads, etc. as the rapids downriver, the train that runs alongside the river, etc. I did find an interpretation for “no paddle up your creek” with a bend of the river that had been closed off and a potential blaze nearby (an area of red clay that you could see from the river). I poked around a bit and I did even find a “marvel gaze” that was both easily accessible, yet remote enough for FF purposes…
But alas, still no treasure.
Given the quality (IMO) of my solve and the fact that I didn’t get to search my search area, I have no doubt that there are people that will read this and look further into this area. If you want to trespass, while I don’t recommend it, that risk is on you. I will say that if my solve is correct and getting the chest does require trespassing, I’m going to be pretty disappointed with FF, especially given his run-ins with people at his own home. With regards to rafting down, I would strongly advise against it as I have tried every way possible to see if it could be done safely (short of using a motor, I guess) and couldn’t do so. In an ideal world (for everyone’s safety and my peace of mind), FF would comment and say it’s not here, but I don’t expect that to happen. So be smart and don’t die.
I, personally, am calling it quits on treasure hunting, unless I happen to be in the area for work or on a family trip and then I might see if I can find any decent solves close by. I went to see the elephant and, while I didn’t find her, that I went is good enough for me.
In 1854, when forty-niner Richard Lunt Hale returned empty handed to his hometown of Newburyport, Massachusetts, he “realized that my experiences had been as valuable to me as the bag of gold I had come home without. The gold might easily vanish, but that which I had gained in pursuing the ‘pot of gold at the end of the rainbow’ could never be taken away.”