Prairie Flower’s Forest for Forrest Page-
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Prairie Flower’s Forest for Forrest Page-
To find out HOW and WHY to submit your tree photo, click HERE:
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 –
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.
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.”
I searched today for the last time in Yellowstone. My beginning was Madison Junction, where warm waters halt. Canyon down was Firehole river canyon because it is down when looking on a map. Home of Brown was the Brown Spouter in the Black Sand Basin.
The location I thought it might be, you can see it from the road and I know Forrest didn’t hide it where people could see him from the road. You would also have to cross the Iron Spring Creek, which similar to the iron fire escape slide Forrest would slide down at school, that would make his pant seat brown. The end of the poem wouldn’t really fit in as well as I think Forrest says it should so I am now writing off Yellowstone. However, I still think it is very close to Yellowstone, either near Jackson Wyoming or in Montana. Those two locations are where I will now concentrate.
Also on this trip we went up to Hebgen Lake by the dam where we fished and saw the Mountain Goat families and the mysterious hanging box, up the Red Canyon and found a cave, and no it wasn’t in there.
We went up to Quake Lake and Grebe Lake. I found out that when you are at Grebe Lake there is an Observation Building at the top of the Mountain (Observation Peak) which overlooks the lake. We went down the road to 9 Quarter Circle Ranch, which I mistook as a different ranch which is where we saw the honey badger. The owner of Pine Shadows Motel, Chad, told us about an area close to West Yellowstone where you can see moose, where we saw a momma moose and her baby.
The last day there we were fortunate that the Mountain Man Rendezvous was taking place. Also, for those that like to visit the places where Forrest has been, the Bud Lilly fly shop is no more. Bud Lilly died this winter and the name has been changed. Sorry. There are still a couple of things in the shop that are for sale that say Bud Lilly on it so hurry if u want to buy some. I believe that this might have been posted about already, but just in case it hasn’t here it is.
Best of luck to all the searchers out there and stay safe and use the good sense that God gave you.
Please click HERE to go to Forrest’s secret birthday page.
I remember reading about the chase some years ago and looked at the poem like that could be any where, and forgot about it for a few years.
About 2 years ago I read it again and with some help started putting together my own take on the poem. I tried to stay away from the books as the poem was all you need, but have purchased my copy and enjoyed reading it multiple times. The first line of the poem seemed to include the experience of Forrest as he was flying and covered up his left eye over Philadelphia. Eye alone in the(air). The picture from my war for me always seemed strange that half of his face was light and the other half was dark.
I took a mirror and placed it both ways on his face and had found my guru!
Using this experience of Forrest with the “begin it where warm waters halt”; I found something very interesting in the air over his favorite bathing spot, in the Firehole.
There was face with half of it covered up looking to the east. Following the instruction to “HALT” I read the clues to see what was next. Take it in the canyon down; where it was the view from his eye; it went right to the canyon village falls. So I had my canyon down.
My first search of this area had something very interesting at the bottom of Tom’s trail carved into a tree that I happened to take a picture of.
A couple symbols that did not look like initials and were very out of place. It took me 2 days to figure out what they were.
Forrest and others had mentioned the owl of Minerva and sure enough the tetradrachm on both sides has a face looking to the right and the owl with the symbols on the back.
But I didn’t know why the symbols were upside down. I plotted the eye point and the canyon on a map and went back to the clues. The line of sight made an “f” between the upper and lower falls, which was my guru signing his work of art!
Not far, but too far to walk made sense form the start point to here and then put in below the home of Brown. “Put In”; to me sounded like “Put TIN” below Brown. Following the view points it went just under Lamar Ranger station to a place called mirror plateau. Is it possible the item to put in is a mirror? Lamar definition showed definition of the sea, so that seemed like a good home of Brown and the item to put in.
There was also instruction “down” from canyon, and I noted that point on the map as well.
Now from the reflection in the mirror, “no place for the meek” made sense as it was reversed and was a place for the meek. Uncle Tom’s trail; where I had been and the mark in the tree now made me feel better about this! The picture from “teachers with ropes”, with 2 boys in front of car, also pointed to the view from the brink of the lower falls looking at Tom’s Trail.
The end is ever drawing nigh line takes you back to the eye, as you’ve now seen the points of Forrest life. His bathing in Firehole, his “big empty” in the canyon, 328 combat missions also equals the number of steps in Tom’s Trail, artist point, being in the artwork on the canyon, and lastly his feeling of being redeemed by rainbow and beauty of the view in the lower falls.
Heavy loads were dented metal steps from rocks and water high also described the falls. “If you’ve been wise and found blaze” was next, and this really points to Forrest blazing his own trail in his own way. So back at the face, the next clue was to “look quickly down”. From the eye looking down at a glance there is another point that sticks out similar to the canyon down; Mary Mountain west.
From the canyon down there is a Mary Mountain east. Connecting the lines between these 2 points; a line is created that is parallel to the view thru canyon and reflected back to the face. While searching the west point the clues to tarry a scant distance with marvel gaze did not seem to yield any places to travel along the line of sight to find it to take the chest. I had also looked at possible place at Mary Mountain East, but came up short on the clues.
I believe there are multiple meanings to each line and words between words that need to be read and followed. Like the end is ever drawing nigh; the end is severed… and brave and in the wood I give you title to the gold, brave and dint hew wood dig ivey out it let to the gold. Otherwise I had a great time in Yellowstone with my family and for sure will be planning a return trip. Wish all searchers the best, with big thanks to DPT, Iron Will, Diggin, and to you Forrest! Thanks!
by John Edo-
Please click on the comment balloon below to contribute to the discussion of Forrest Fenn’s Treasure Hunt. Please note that many topics have their own pages. Please scroll through the blog to see all the discussion pages. There are also stories, scrapbooks, searcher’s reports general information, tips from Forrest, a rumors blog and even email responses from Forrest. So please look around and if you want to make a comment please use the most appropriate page.
I think Forrest Fenn might have hidden his treasure somewhere within a small stand of cottonwood trees located just to the east of “Seidel’s Suck Hole” (class IV rapid) and the railroad tracks located on the Arkansas River in Brown’s Canyon in Colorado. Below is my dissection of the poem, clues, hints and comments from Forrest.
As I have gone alone in there – Unsolved, possibly not a clue or hint. I am concerned that this is actually the first clue and that ‘alone’ is the most important word. If the treasure is buried in a special place that Forrest often went alone, I am not sure that my location is one of those places for Forrest…maybe it is, but the evidence is not as strong in this regard for my location as opposed to other theories that would have better hints from TTOTC. With that said, please continue reading because I think the other solutions below are fairly strong…especially the blaze.
And with my treasures bold, Unsolved, possibly not a clue or hint. ‘Bold’ could be a hint to a short trek that I took which required me to go through two unlocked gates.
I can keep my secret where, – Unsolved, possibly not a clue or hint
And hint of riches new and old. – Unsolved, possibly not a clue or hint. The new treasure could be his autobiography and everything else is old treasure. Or, the ‘new’ riches could be the rafting and good times had by families and friends at this location.
Begin it where warm waters halt and take it in the canyon down, Clue #1 – many hot / warm springs above Brown’s Canyon and some are tributaries to creeks that run into the Arkansas River above Brown’s canyon (e.g. Chalk Creek, etc.). Other hint – Forrest Fenn has stated that several people have gotten the first two clues…meaning it is a somewhat popular / obvious solution / place and not one of the more obscure theories. Brown’s Canyon is definitely not an obscure solution location and many people are searching for the treasure in Brown’s canyon. Extra affirmation – Forrest said that when he buried his treasure he could smell pinyon nuts in the air…pinyon nuts are common in the Brown’s canyon area but I do not think these are not located in Montana or Wyoming…during that interview, Forrest mentioned that he regretted one of the things he said…I believe the pinyon nut clue was that regret (basically shrunk the search area to New Mexico and Colorado). This area is at about 7300 feet (Forrest said it is above 5000 and below 10200 feet).
Not far, but too far to walk. Clue #2 – From Chalk Creek to the ‘put in’ at Stone Bridge is is approx. 10-11 miles which is not far but it would be a long walk to the starting point for a 79-80-year-old man.
Put in below the home of Brown. Clue #3 – ‘Brown’s Grotto Warm Spring’ is located a couple of miles north of Stone Bridge ‘put in’ (place to launch boats, rafts, kayaks, etc.). Stone Bridge is the first public ‘put in’ below Brown’s Grotto warm spring. The closer public ‘put in’ to this warm spring would be ‘Hecla’ but it is north of Brown’s Grotto (not south). Extra affirmation hint – Forrest has indicated that several people solved the first two clues and then essentially ignored, or flew right past, the rest of the clues…this could be a reference to the multiple people that indicated (on blog sites) that they started at the Hecla ‘put in’ which is ‘above’ (north) and not ‘below’ (south) of the potential home of Brown (i.e. Brown’s Grotto Warm Spring).
From there it’s no place for the meek, Clue #4 – Class III and Class IV rapids are not for the meek. Seidel’s Suck hole is the only class IV rapid in the canyon.
The end is ever drawing nigh; Hint – as you walk up the east side of the Arkansas River using the abandoned railroad tracks (because the west side is private) the river is ‘drawing’ (i.e. pulling towards you) on the left hand (nigh) side. The end is Seidel’s suck hole which will be on the left if you are on the east side of the Arkansas. Extra hint / affirmation – Forrest was asked if he used any other mode of transportation besides walking and his car…. Forrest replied (paraphrasing to follow…not a quote) that he did not know if he could answer that question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ properly (i.e. maybe this means some might consider the railroad tracks a ‘mode of transportation’ whereas others would not? – this was a big affirmation for me about the railroad tracks being used by Forrest).
There’ll be no paddle up your creek, Clue #5 – since you are walking up stream there is no need for a paddle. There is a creek between you and the Arkansas River as you walk along the railroad tracks on the east side. You are heading north (‘up’).
Just heavy loads and water high. Clue #6 – Heavy loads (note this is plural) has multiple meanings
· Railroad tracks used for heavy loads
· Forrest Fenn’s heavy loads carrying the 42 lbs. treasure (two trips)
Water high could also have multiple meanings
· The water at Seidel’s suck hole is deep and there is a drop off at its beginning.
· The creek that runs between the Arkansas river and railroad tracks is at a higher elevation than the Arkansas River
If you’ve been wise and found the blaze, Clue #7 – I believe the blaze is the diamond shaped yellow ‘Dip’ road sign that is located in the rocks between the river and railroad tracks on the east side of the river just north (upstream) from Seidel’s suck hole. Extra later affirmation hint from Forrest – he said he walked ‘less than a few’ miles to hide the treasure. The ‘Dip’ sign potential blaze is located approx. 2.5-2.75 miles north from the Stone Bridge ‘put in’ meaning it is less than a few (3) mile hike. Forrest said he made the two trips in one afternoon and two trips to this location including hiding the treasure would probably take about 4-5 hours which is a full afternoon. Extra affirmation – Forrest said some searchers have been within 200 feet of the treasure and that some people have walked right past the treasure and had no idea. Multiple searchers have written in blogs that they searched along the west side of the river at Seidel’s suck hole (those who started a Hecla). The distance across the Arkansas river from the west side to the blaze is approx. 200 feet. Also, people rafting on the Arkansas river sometimes get out of the raft on the east side before Seidel’s to inspect it and watch others go through before going through themselves…these people would walk right past the treasure without knowing it. Extra affirmation – Forrest has said the place is safe and a place you would want to take your kids. Many families with kids on vacation go to raft these rapids on the Arkansas river. For a ‘wise’ stretch hint, please see below for ‘in the wood’ clue.
Look quickly down, your quest to cease, Clue #8 – I believe this has double meaning. First, I believe it is a confirmation of the correct Blaze (i.e. if a sign is warning you of a ‘dip’ ahead, you should probably heed the warning and ‘look quickly down!’ (this is the clue that sunk its teeth into to me the most…I was ‘going in confidence’ after thinking I solved this clue). This clue was also telling me that I should look a short distance (i.e. ‘quickly’) south (i.e. ‘down’stream) for the chest.
But tarry scant with marvel gaze, – Unsolved, possibly not a clue – possibly telling the finder of the treasure to be quick with taking the treasure since this location is full of tourists. It might be a reference to all of the tar covered railroad materials located in the area (this tar would not be on the treasure and thus scant).
Just take the chest and go in peace. Unsolved, possibly not a clue– I could not find anything related to a peace symbol (except maybe the cottonwoods that had trunks that branched out from the base of the tree creating a peace symbol…but that is a major stretch). It could simply mean that the finder should just leave this public place quietly since he/she is now carrying 1-2 million dollars worth of treasure.
So why is it that I must go – Unsolved, possibly not a clue or hint
And leave my trove for all to seek? Unsolved, possibly not a clue or hint
The answers I already know, Unsolved, possibly not a clue or hint
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak. More of a hint than a clue, I think this should tell the solver that the distance travelled was significant and not short…. Even though Forrest was 79 or 80 he was a fit lifelong treasure hunter…the walk made him tired and weak and he was forced to make two trips to carry the heavy load. After Forrest hiked to Seidel’s suck hole and back to his car twice, he would certainly be tired and weak at age 79 or 80 (approx. 10-11 miles total for the two round trips). Some might have underestimated the distance he could have travelled. The elevation change on those railroad tracks between Stone Bridge and Seidel’s is slight and not significant, which makes this possible. I have done it…I am not very fit…I think he could have done this even at age 79-80.
So hear me all and listen good, Unsolved, possibly not a clue or hint
Your effort will be worth the cold. Unsolved, possibly not a clue. Hint – all of the potential locations have the potential to be warm and cold depending on the season since Forrest has indicated the location is between 5,000 and 10,200 feet in elevation. The mulch-like soil in the small wooded area to the east of Seidel’s suck hole would be cold and moist so if Forrest put the chest into the mulch then the finder would probably get cold moisture on his/her hands or gloves. Forrest also said to bring gloves hinting the hands might get cold when digging in the cold moist mulch.
If you are brave and in the wood – Clue #9 – There is a small stand of cottonwood trees (maybe a dozen or two dozen) just south of the blaze and directly east of Seidel’s suck hole and the railroad tracks. The ground around the stand of cottonwood trees is soft and covered with leaf litter. Under the leaf litter is a layer of rotting wood, roots, mulch, and rotting leaves…it was slightly moist when I was there in the summer and would be wet in the spring thaw or after a rain. Extra hint – Forrest has stated that he knows the chest is wet but not underwater. If it is covered with that mulch like leaf litter it would be moist and wet after a thaw/rain (also, the cottonwood was known to Native Americans and pioneers as a ‘water’ tree (often pointing them to the location of water)). I am not sure why the word ‘Brave’ was used…the area is not scary. Digging through the mulch was not fun, but I was not really scared. I did not see any rattlesnakes. I did not see any native American rock drawings (i.e Brave as in Native American reference). Possibly you need to be brave to just be searching for treasure on public ground (or maybe more specifically doing some ‘digging’ (i.e. with your hands) on public grounds). Digging with a shovel might be frowned upon?. Forrest has not confirmed nor denied the treasure is buried. If the treasure is under the leaf litter / mulch / rotting ground, would that be considered buried? Forrest has indicated that a metal detector would only help if ‘you are on exactly the right spot’ (yes, that is how metal detectors generally work…I think a metal detector would help if you are in the wood). Stretch hint, the scientific name for this Rio Grande Cottonwood tree is Populus deltoides wislezenii (maybe the ‘Wise’ reference above is an abbreviation of the scientific name?). Extra affirmation – again, Forrest suggested taking gloves…gloves would definitely help protect your hands and keep them warm when moving around the cold, wet, heavy leaf litter/mulch surface in this area…you might not need a shovel, just some gloves.
I give you title to the gold. Unsolved, possibly not a clue
Other hints that help ‘rule in’ this location/solution. It is safe and not dangerous (Forrest has said this about the location). There are no human trails (not many access that side of the river along the tracks…and Forrest might not consider the railroad tracks a human trail). Although he would likely not admit it, Forrest Fenn seems to want to leave a legacy that would immortalize him in some ways (i.e. writing memoirs, books, autobiography, etc.) and choosing a famous location that gets thousands of tourists every year would be a great choice for someone wishing to have a long lasting effect…just think of how people that rafted through Seidel’s suck hole would react when they found out they were within 100 feet of this treasure…and think of how many people would see, and talk about, a possible future monument to Forrest Fenn erected at the location of the Dip sign blaze? This would be discussed with tourists on all future rafting trips through Brown’s canyon…Forrest Fenn knows a thing or two about making this type of big splash and seems to like the notoriety. I think he would choose a high impact location like this as opposed to something more obscure (just my opinion and Forrest Fenn might not agree with me). One thing that cannot be argued is that Forrest is a brilliant marketer and promoter. Nothing in the poem, and none of Forrest Fenn’s subsequent public hints / clues / statements have ruled out this location. My primary concern with my solution is that I could not find any evidence as to why this location might be so special to Forrest that he would like to be buried there…and that is potentially a big problem.
The only other problem with this solution is that I do not believe the treasure is there. On July 1st 2017 I searched all dead logs, in the hollows of the cottonwoods, all through the leaf litter, in the rock crevices, etc…and no treasure. I even purchased a metal detector and made a second trip July 3rdto the location to see if it was located in the mulch somewhere that I did not originally search and all I found was some old wire, pieces of metal, iron railroad track parts, old beer cans, etc. I did not find the treasure. Confirmation bias is a factor, and it is quite possible I think this solution is better than it actually was…unless Forrest brought a shovel and buried it in an area of hard packed soil (as opposed to the loose mulch) that I did not really search…I did get one intriguing hit on the metal detector in one spot of hard packed dirt that I did not dig because I did not have a shovel and could not do it with my hands. It might be worthwhile for someone to explore the area with a good metal detector and a shovel.
Dave from KC, MO
The Ultimate Solution
After returning home from my second trip it wasn’t days before the experiences and thought fragments resolved into the most undeniable solution to the poem yet! This solution extends the track that I had been following tying together the complete arrowhead image on the map, the “f” Fort, and the previously unresolved lines of the sixth stanza. I guarded my excitement because I estimated that I had run out of credit with Ruthie… at least for the season! Feeling no need to research further I allowed my attention to drift away from the chase for a few months. The last quarter of 2016 provided plenty of distraction. Nothing gets past Ruthie for long! She soon learned of my intention to make yet another final attempt in 2017. I was surprised how quickly she adapted to the idea, but it was not accepted without a stern request that I would see resolution to this obsession with a third trip. I felt completely justified and guiltless because I knew in my heart that I had earned a private viewing of Forrest’s magnum opus. Here it is…..
As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.
This first stanza introduces Forrest’s intent in masterminding the chase. There are no clues here that directly aid in the search, and interpretation is not necessary to finding the treasure. Foremost he states that he acted alone in hiding the treasure, and that he alone knows of its secret location. The last line of this stanza is intriguing: I think “riches” refers to memories and experiences real and/or possibly imagined. It may also refer to the adventures that Forrest has experienced in his pursuit and discovery of artifacts; similar to the adventures that he now inspires others to experience in the search for his treasure. The sentiment of this stanza contributed to my initial impression that Yellowstone National Park, Forrest’s childhood utopia and wonderland, is the location of his treasure.
Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.
If Forrest had defined the search area as the entire continent rather than merely the US Rocky Mountains I would probably have arrived at the same starting point. In the big picture Yellowstone National Park is where warm waters halt. If you are not convinced then try driving past the Boiling River, Mammoth Springs, or Grand Prismatic Spring without halting!! Looking back I wonder that I might have developed this solve more efficiently if I had foregone the hours of research and map study and instead headed straight for Yellowstone with an open mind. All you need is the poem. The ranger at the entrance gate will hand you a simple park map that is probably the easiest map on which to initially spot the blaze.
If Yellowstone is the first clue then the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the clear second. One might notice that the first trail that leads into the “canyon down” to the river is the Seven Mile Hole Trail. This trail is too far for Forrest to have completed for his treasure hide, but some part of it will be traveled in the end. First we must get there. Our attention has been drawn to the spectacular canyon carved by the Yellowstone River. The length of river from the mouth of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and through the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone to Gardiner, MT, forms a bold arcing cut on the land that some might immediately recognize as resembling one half of an arrowhead outline. The tip of the arrowhead is formed by the confluence of the Gardiner and Yellowstone Rivers which viewed from above is a striking point of land in itself. Immediately down river from, or “below”, the juncture is the North Entrance to the park, the logical starting point or “put in” for the search journey. If you are halted, as you likely will be during the season, by traffic at the pull-off and parking areas for the Boiling River you might decide to stop in and check it out. One of the interpretive signs on the path to the Boiling River describes the phenomenon that warms the waters of the Gardiner River resulting in favorable conditions for the winter spawning of Brown Trout. The tail end of the Gardiner River is the home of Brown.
From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.
The roadway from the North Entrance, past Mammoth, continuing toward Norris, and on to Canyon almost mirrors the complimentary section of the Yellowstone to roughly complete the classic shape of an arrowhead on the map. This third stanza helps to hone this route into a more convincing symmetry making the image unmistakable, revealing the obvious intent of the author of the poem, and providing some important landmarks to be used to help identify the end location of the treasure using a precisely drawn arrowhead overlay on a typical park map. First stop along this road is the featured area “Sheepeater Cliffs”. This feature is marked on the simple park map and is a straight forward interpretation of “no place for the meek”. Drawing a straight line “from there” (the park entrance or “put-in”) to this featured stop on the road improves the arrowhead tip. One navigating the arcing edge of an arrowhead being drawn in a counter-clockwise direction should expect it to trend leftward: “The end is ever drawing nigh.” This is generally true of our arcing section of the Yellowstone River and its complimentary section of roadway, but a few miles south of Sheepeater the road bends sharply to the right creating a large bump in the drawing that significantly disturbs the symmetry of the arrowhead. This can be conveniently corrected by deviating from the road at Solfatara North trailhead to continue the tracing along Solfatara Creek Trail. There is no creek (“no paddle”) for the first three miles, and much of this fairly linear trail runs in a cut beneath power lines (“heavy loads”). The trail itself does not look very appealing for this reason. Why would anyone go to Yellowstone to hike a transmission cut? The only reason I could come up with was the near access it provides to the scenic Lake of the Wood (“water high”; sits at about 7800 feet).
If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.
If you have correctly interpreted the clues of the second and third stanzas you have over three quarters of an arrowhead drawn on the map which can easily be completed by symmetry coming around to its starting point at the “canyon down”. The end is the beginning. The lines that follow seem to halt the momentum of the second and third stanzas. The mouth of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is defined by the impressive Upper and Lower Falls. The course of water between these falls when viewed on a map or aerial photograph forms the spine of the letter “f” oriented perfectly upright when viewed in cardinal alignment. The crossbar comes in from the west as Cascade Creek drops down Crystal Falls to meet up with the Yellowstone River. “Quickly down” could be interpreted as ‘cascade’, and “marvel gaze” might refer to ‘Crystal Falls’. This stanza is designed to cause the seeker to pause here and ponder the whole of this “f” shaped feature that connects the ends of our blaze like the clasp of a necklace. One feels the deep power and mystery of this place when looking down into the small gorge from the Crystal Falls overlook. Is the chest here for the taking? The broken stone wall out of which Crystal Falls pours, the steep sloping sides flanking east and west, the impassible raging falls barring north and south, the overlooks like turrets, and the walkways running the high perimeter of the whole requires just a little imagination to perceive the area as the “f” Fort.
So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.
This stanza, like the first, addresses the author’s own actions and intentions and contains no directions or clues for the searcher to follow. The first and fifth stanzas, along with the final line of the poem, might be intended to aid in the process of legally transferring ownership of the treasure to the finder. This stanza also hints at his overall mission in creating the hunt. He has told us that the “thrill of the chase” began for him when he was nine years old and discovered his first arrowhead. He continued to pursue this thrill as a youth in Yellowstone, as a fighter pilot in Vietnam, as a successful art dealer, and as an accomplished amateur archeologist. The desire to pass his experience of the “thrill of the chase” on to future generations is why he created the hunt.
So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.
This sixth and final stanza is the most complex of the poem. In the first line Forrest asks us to listen to his words twice. This instructs us in how to interpret the following word “effort” as both “f” Fort and F (as in Forrest) ort (as in his leavings). “Will be worth” is translated as “will be even with” and/or “will be equal to”. “The cold” is Glacial Boulder which lies at the head of the trail to Silver Cord Falls Overlook and Seven Mile Hole. By tracing a straight line from the “f” Fort to Glacial Boulder, and then continuing that line an equal distance beyond it, the end location of the “F” ort (or treasure) lands on the axis of the arrowhead where the wooden shaft of an arrow would be fixed: “brave and in the wood”. How fitting that the treasure lie where the arrowhead (which symbolizes the “thrill of the chase”) would be fitted anew with a wooden shaft so it could once again take flight!
On the dawn of the New Year I began reviewing the available materials for content that would support or conflict with my solution. I came up with a handful of doubts or concerns: Was my spot too far to walk? Was the location of the hide too random (not intrinsically “special”)? Was I overreaching to fit my needs when interpreting Solfatara Creek Trail as “heavy loads and water high”? Was my interpretation of the 4th stanza weak or unresolved? Was I overextending my imagination to conceive of the “f” Fort? Most concerns I dismissed after a comprehensive review of Fenn’s comments. If he had been vague about something (he is usually vague) I let the uncertainty favor my solution. I discovered some comments (new to me) that further supported my solution. A few stubborn concerns laid themselves low in my consciousness and later proved to damage my confidence in the final days before my trip.
The more time passed the more I believed that others must have identified the arrowhead. How could they not see it?! The blog forums were buzzing with anticipation for this search season, and several commented that they believed that this would be the year that the treasure is found. By early March I could wait no longer and purchased a plane ticket for May 19th. This would be about a week before typical melt off, but I took stock in rumors of an early spring. Snow depth telemetry data from the Canyon area available online indicated that the snow mass had been sitting at about 150% of normal. I worried about this, but still favored a competitive start, and began routine monitoring of the data every morning. The snow level sat at about 50 inches from the first of February… and sat… and sat. When it was still 50 inches on the last day of April I acknowledged my folly and moved my ticket to my next available weekend. I was glad that I did when May 19th arrived with 20+ inches still covering my search area.
In the last days before the trip my anxiety heightened. One specific doubt that I had previously shrugged off now resurfaced and caused me to question the plausibility of my golden solve. I had just watched the video recording of the Moby Dickens Book Store Q & A in which Forrest clearly indicates that there is a difference between the many searchers who have traveled unwittingly within 500 feet of the treasure and the few who had come within 200 feet. Previously I had chosen to assume that these near-misses were made by the same people, and that Forrest had only improved the accuracy of the estimated distance over time. The comment as I now understood it did not seem to fit with my solution. All those hiking the Seven Mile Hole Trail would pass the treasure at the same distance (approximately 330 feet by my calculation). If searchers on this trail weren’t looking for the treasure, then they would have no interest in deviating from the trail to accidentally come closer to the treasure. A familiar feeling began to set in. I could best describe it as low grade nausea or anxiety and might relate it to the feeling of being lost or uncertain of one’s surroundings, or the guilt after having done something wrong. Doubt had caused me to hasten and half-heartedly search nearly every other location that I had been to on this journey. In the case of Otter Creek I had to make a return trip before I was content with my search of the area. Would this happen again?
Another concern was the randomness of my determined treasure location. Most believe that the “very special place” that Forrest refers to is a favorite fishing hole, a secret scenic splendor, an unknown site of archeological significance, or an intriguing geologic feature. It seems that most also believe that the blaze is a physical marker of some kind that will be found on site to reveal the hiding spot of the treasure. The end location in my solution lands in a random section of undisturbed and untraveled pine forest with minimal elevation change. There would likely be no scenic vista or geologic prominence. The arrowhead blaze on the map is huge and I estimated that slight variations in its construction could account for upwards of 1000 feet of error in calculating the axis location near the base of the arrowhead. The precision of the measure to the treasure location seemed to improve with the equidistant line drawn from the “f” Fort balanced through Glacial Boulder, but I expected at least 100 feet or more of error. Any subtle variations to my interpretation of “your effort will be worth the cold” could change the mark significantly. Forrest seems to have indicated that the one with the correct solution will smugly stroll from the car directly to the treasure. For this to be true in my case I believed that there must be some marker or markings to guide me in once I arrive. This was the only part that remained a mystery. I adopted a hunch that Forrest had left an arrowhead blaze on one or more trees to lead to and/or mark his cache.
I had a tight weekend trip planned arriving in Bozeman by noon on Saturday. I knew the routine and my pre-planned movements successfully landed me at the trail head about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. I could tell I was tired, though… I hadn’t been sleeping well for the past couple of nights, and I wasn’t thinking quickly on my feet. Luckily I was only a couple of hundred feet from the car when I remembered that my maps were left in the trunk! The sky was gray with diffuse cloud cover, but no rain, and the wind was whistling through and bending the trees causing the creak and chirp of tall and skinny pines rubbing together. With no direct sun it felt later than it was. Despite the initial ominous tone I quickly found comfort on the trail. The ground was firm, free of mud, and the tracks were by a large majority human… I only identified one set of bear and cub prints. After thirty minutes on the trail I came to a sign indicating I had walked one and a half miles from the Glacial Boulder trailhead and had one mile to go before the next junction. I stopped and turned on my old Garmin GPS. It struggled for a few minutes only finding one satellite… finally I grew impatient and stowed it. Map and compass were more important to me anyway, but it would have been nice to use GPS for distance measuring and documentation. The mileage sign is about a quarter of a mile down a section of the trail that moves due north and away from the canyon rim. In another eighth of a mile the trail changes direction about forty five degrees to the east. A quarter mile past this bend is the near point on the trail to my determined treasure location. I did my best to estimate the distance by counting my paces from the bend and placed a rock on a log to mark the spot. I didn’t send off into the woods yet, though… I walked a bit further to be sure I didn’t miss any marking potentially left by Forrest to direct the wise searcher to the cache. The trail continued to rise gradually until it reached its high point several hundred feet beyond where I had placed the rock. There on the left side of the trail I found large triangular or arrowhead shaped blaze carefully hewn into the side of a pine tree. This blaze has a slight right tilt which if laid or projected horizontally would align nicely with the direction of my arrowhead on the map. Just what I was looking for! Orienting the map I noted that if I walked back into the woods following the counterpoint direction of the tree blaze (or shaft direction if it were a completed arrow) I would arrive at approximately the same spot that I had already planned to walk to from my previously marked near point. This is how I started my off trail searching. By my estimate the treasure would lie between 300 and 400 feet from the trail. Due to Forrest’s use of 500 feet as the common near miss I made sure to walk over 500 feet along a fairly straight path and then doubled back with slight variation until I was back on the trail. Just for curiosity sake I did the same on the other side of the trail following a line in the direction that the tree blaze seemed to point. I repeated this process two or three times on either direction with variations including starting from my rock on a log spot to search through my pre-determined end, as well as, some exploration of various rises on the tree blaze side. I moved slowly and scanned 360 degrees around my position at any given time looking for some marker or sign of human presence. I found nothing. I walked the wood for over two hours before I decided to pack it in for the night. I planned to return the next day for a more thorough search, but my heart was barely in it. I had arrived with some significant feeling of doubt and the failure of my initial attempt left me all but deflated. I managed to nab a canceled campsite reservation at the Canyon Campground and settled in for much needed sleep.
I awoke at 5:30 am with daylight burning. Pondering the maps a little I made a plan for the return to my main search area, but first I would make a couple shorter excursions. I returned to the brink of the Upper Falls lot and walked out to Cascade Falls Overlook. I carried a tent stake in my pocket thinking that if I found myself back down in the “f” Fort I would probe the earth where I had dismantled the rock cairn back in September. It seemed improbable that the treasure be buried down there, but I found it hard to completely dismiss the curious find I had made in this mysterious and potent location. Conditions proved unfavorable. The rocky gulch that I had easily descended in September now ran water. If I could find a safe way down I would have certainly gotten wet trying to cross the swollen Cascade Creek. I peered down toward the small group of trees and renewed my affirmation that this was just too exposed a place for Forrest’s purpose. I could not see the remains of the rock cairn. It would be left a mystery to me.
I then returned to the Glacial Boulder, but instead of trotting down the trail toward my search area I paced off into the woods toward Canyon Campground. My plan was to search a line drawn from Inspiration Point through, and balanced by, Glacial Boulder. This was based on an alternate interpretation of the fourth stanza in which the lines reference the successive overlooks: Lookout Point, Grand View, and Inspiration Point. I toyed with the word “inspiration” and its various meanings as being a central theme or motif in the poem: the key word to unlock “begin it”, “take it”, and “take the chest”. In this less polished solve the “effort” was Inspiration, or to inspire, which was the Point, or purpose, of the chase. I plodded through this section of wood in similar fashion to how I approached my search area the previous evening. The contrast here was that the route was crossed by several well-worn paths of which some included old trail markers nailed to trees. I made just one pass covering a greater distance than required before exiting directly to the road.
I then returned to my primary search area down the trail toward Seven Mile Hole. Instead of walking all the way to the near point on the trail I chose to depart into the woods just a few steps beyond the trail distance sign I had encountered on the previous day. I was attempting to follow the final length of the linear projection from the “f” Fort through Glacial Boulder. This meant a quarter mile of off trail walking to get to the calculated end point. I had changed the axis of my approach to more comprehensively address the potential error. I continued beyond my “X” up onto a broad elevated area toward a labeled high point which happened to lie on my path. I then expanded my wanderings to include any and all high points in the relative area. After about two hours of rambling through this wooded plateau I started recognizing every rock and tree and decided to return to the trail. I was disappointed but not surprised by the outcome.
I needed to get out of the woods and breathe the open air for a while. I headed to Wapiti Lake trailhead to exercise the fleeting hunch that I had conjured up at the end of my second trip. Again pursuing the alignment of Glacial Boulder and Inspiration Point, but this time in the opposite direction, across the canyon, I aimed for Forest Springs, a thermal feature near the Wapiti Lake Trail. A steady drizzle set in forcing me to don a poncho to avoid becoming drenched. The rain couldn’t dampen the beauty of this easy two mile walk… Long range views of snow topped mountains, the company of grazing bison and elk, the smell of sage, and the added adornment of wild flowers had me in good spirits. Before long I was amongst the trees again, but they seemed better nourished – generally larger and healthier than those of the previous wood I had explored. The sulfur smell was not overpowering but rather comforting, as was the warmth and bubbling sound emanating from several white steaming thermal pots on either side of the trail. A few breaks in the trees offered views into the meadow valley to the south. I passed a small body of water, and then arrived at the finger of woods containing Forest Springs. I walked along the small emerald green heated spring waters that followed the edge of the wood where it met with the meadow and led to a strip of calcite-rich sand. I had come to the opinion that this was the most pleasant and scenic little walk I had taken in Yellowstone and speculated that Forrest would have done well to plan this as his final stroll before laying down on the box. I didn’t stop to rest, though, and circled back straight through the wood toward the trail and then returned directly to the car. My treasure hunt was over but there were a couple more short hikes I wanted to take by the north entrance before the end of the day.
One was to walk the first mile or so of Rescue Creek Trail. This cut across the flat plane of land that was my grand arrowhead’s tip. I wanted to get another perspective of this wedge of land and possibly view the terminus of Bear Creek from the south bank of the Yellowstone River. I enjoyed the short walk but decided not to follow through with the off trail hiking that was required to access the river view.
Then I exited the park, selected a site at Eagle Creek Campground, and set off to walk the Yellowstone River Trail down Bear Creek to the river. This ended up being one of the most interesting and featured short hikes that I had taken in the park. An old stone and plank miner’s cabin (Joe Brown’s?) remains in pretty good condition, but not accessible from the trail (at least in June) due to the impassible raging waters of Bear Creek. The trail side was littered with rusty but intact old mining equipment. From the foot bridge at the base of the creek I could see the mysterious doorway into the rock that was recently noted on the blog by another searcher. I’m certain it has no relevance to the treasure hunt, but it is intriguing none the less.
Thankfully I returned home with no new twists of interpretation or leaps of insight to lead me onward into ever uncertain depth in the chase. I was ready to welcome the resolution that would come with knowing that my solution was all together off the mark. Unfortunately, I could not reckon with this belief. The arrowhead solution was just too good. Reflecting on the past days I considered that my doubts about my solution may have limited my focus in the field, and that my expectation that some marker or marking would easily lead me to the treasure may have been unfounded. Could I have walked right past it? I wished I had been more thorough in my search of the area, and I imagined how I my approach would differ if I had another chance… I would locate to as near to my exact calculated treasure spot as possible and then slowly spiral outward from there within a range of reasonable error. I would carry no expectation of a marker or marking… I would assume that the small chest lay somewhere in the area on top of the ground, but possibly covered by grass and tree fall… I would consider variations and side searches such as more exploration in the woods beyond the arrowhead tree blaze that I had found, but only after my primary search area was thoroughly combed.
Fortunately, a friend had recently moved to Bozeman who required very little convincing to jump in the car and go check my work. He carried an operable GPS and arrived at the same general search area as I. He then carried out the search I wished I had. He had the same outcome. I think I’ve found the bottom of this hole. Do you?