Grayling Creek 2017: Dal’s Version…

NOVEMBER 2017
by dal…

 

Earlier this year ABC Nightline contacted Forrest, Cynthia and me about a story the network news folks wanted to produce on Forrest’s treasure and the searchers who go after it.

Forrest agreed, Cynthia agreed and so did I. The logistical problem of a story like this for the producers includes the fact that the search covers four mountain states and searchers are widespread in their opinion about which of those states the chest actually resides in. So if you, as a producer are covering this chase with two searchers and an interview with Forrest you could end up sending camera crews and reporters to New Mexico for an interview with Forrest and two other states to cover the search by two searchers. If I decide to look in Montana in fall and Cynthia decides to look in Colorado in spring and Forrest wants to do the interview when his new book comes out…that’s a lot of trips for one 15 minute story. It takes time and money to cover at least three different locations at differing times of the year with a three or 4 person crew each time. The big networks have the resources to take that kind of story in stride. Independent filmmakers would rather film a single searcher and Forrest both in New Mexico and within a few days of one another. One trip, one crew…get ‘er done.

If a producer should be so unlucky as to plan on filming a searcher who thinks the chest is located inside Yellowstone National Park…a whole new level of problems presents itself. For instance, Yellowstone National Park doesn’t want to encourage searchers inside the park and they will send staff to oversee the film crew and searcher, much like a prison guard at Alcatraz. You have to search within a quarter mile of a road…and many more restrictions for searchers being filmed.

On the other hand an independent filmmaker and searcher might just slip into the park unnoticed and “get er done”. As illegal as that might be, the story gets shot and the park is unlikely to notice. BUT…if the producer does get caught it can lead to arrest and fines…even permanent banishment from entering a national park. So folks who know the rules usually choose not to break them. The cost is too severe if things go awry.

The plan was for us to meet the ABC crew on September 18th for filming in or around the park. Esmerelda, Kathy and I left for Yellowstone on September 14th. It was beautiful the day we packed up. I heard some hooting in the woods and knew one of the critters that inhabit our woods was wondering what was going on.

BARRED OWL IN OUR WOODS

Along the way we stopped near Arco, Idaho at Craters of the Moon National Monument for a walk and a look/see. This was a good time to visit. Dead of summer this place can be uncomfortably (miserably) hot and walking around on black lava rock when it’s 96 degrees is not my characterization of “a good time”. But it’s a unique micro environment and terribly interesting.

CRATERS OF THE MOON

I like getting down on my hands and knees to look for small things. I ran directly into this guy:

HORNED LIZARD

I’m not superstitious but I have to tell you…between the Barred Owl and the Horned Lizard I was beginning to feel like we were favored. If this was the way we were starting out, the rest of the trip could be fortunate indeed!

Since starting her search, Cynthia had been looking in New Mexico. She has written some great stories about her searches there and I highly recommend you read them on this very blog. She is a riveting writer and a fantastic searcher. Her stories will entertain and inform you. But, for a variety of reasons Cynthia wanted to search up near Yellowstone. She had never been there before, not even as a tourist and there were things she wanted to check out. So Cynthia, her partner Michelle and their dog Molly packed up and headed north. Tom and Coreda and their dog Ming, who were visiting Cynthia and Michelle also headed  toward the park. That was great. I had not seen Tom and Coreda since Fennboree.

We were a big contingent. Including the 3 crew from Nightline and my wife Kathy, we would be nine people and two bronze-sniffing dogs. That chest was not going to escape this time!

As it turned out, only Cynthia, Molly and myself would be searching on camera. The question was whether we should search together in one place to make it easier on the Nightline crew or should we each search in a different location? AND…should we search inside the park or outside the park? I had ideas for both…where to search???

Another concern was snow. Winter was moving in and nobody wanted to get caught in a snowstorm while searching. It would send the wrong message to other searchers and anyway nobody looks dignified on camera while slipping and sliding around. As Kathy and I drove the loop road in Yellowstone we saw snow in the hills:

SNOW IN THE PARK

ELK IN SNOW

By the next morning the snow was gone. On the 17th of September Cynthia and I met up for some looking around West Yellowstone, finding a few Forrest Fenn memorable locations and planning our search.

BISON IN THE PARK

We decided to search together but outside the park. I was particularly interested in an area around Grayling Creek I had not been able to examine. So we made plans to look there.

Grayling Creek has interested me for several years. The clues can take me to a number of places on that lovely creek and I know Forrest fished here.

I wrote earlier about searching on Grayling Creek in Grayling Creek Part One and Part Two on this blog. They can be found HERE

The creek starts in the park and winds its way west down to Hebgen Lake. It is one of many creeks I was investigating along the line of “There’ll be no paddle up your creek”

So here are the major points of the solution we were following:

WWWH = Madison Junction

Canyon Down = Madison Canyon

HOB = Baker’s Hole Campground

WAIT!!! Stop there…Why is Baker’s Hole the Home of Brown…?

That might be the worst fishing hole on the Madison. I’ve never seen anyone lift a fish from that spot. So it can’t be because of Brown trout.

Wellllll….We were using some old information that has been around this blog and others for many years. Namely that Baker’s Hole has not always been known by that name. You can see this for yourself on a 1912 Map of Gallatin County which is easily found on the internet.

Click HERE to go to the 1912 map.

You can see on that map where Baker’s Hole is today was once known as Brown’s Camp. Not too far below Baker’s Hole is Hebgen Lake…Hebgen Lake has a number of Creeks flowing into it and I have been checking them out as potential “No paddle up you creek” type places. By the way that map was also drawn by Fred Brown. I have not been able to find out if he was the Brown of Brown’s Camp…Maybe someone smarter than me can look into that…

In earlier years I had looked at the lower portion of Grayling downstream of the old Culligan Ranch to the lake. I have also looked upstream at the stretch between the Culligan Ranch and the waterfall. Much of this stretch is on private land and I had obtained permission before venturing in. Now, Cynthia and I were hoping to search the stretch between Hwy 191 downstream to somewhere above the waterfall. Our emphasis would be on the high elevation meadow along the north side of Grayling Creek. This stretch is completely on public land.

GRAYLING CREEK

In particular there is a large open meadow on level ground where animals (In my mind) would congregate for grazing and watering. It looked to be a pretty place…somewhere maybe Forrest might choose to be his final resting place.  Isolated, but not remote.

We met the ABC crew on the evening of the 17th around a campfire at Cynthia’s cabin, down the road from the park. The crew staged Cynthia and me at a picnic table looking over maps and discussing our search plans for the next day. It was here that they interviewed us prior to the search.

PLANNING THE NEXT DAY’S SEARCH

The next morning the crew and Cynthia met at my cabin in West Yellowstone. From there we headed up 191 about five miles to where Grayling Creek goes under the highway. The day was overcast but still and comfortable. Perfect hiking weather. Cynthia and I watched as the crew prepped their film gear and armed us with wireless microphones. Then we headed out, five humans and one ambitious dog.

Cynthia always searches with her dog Molly, who seems to really enjoy snuffling around in the sage and wildflowers. She also has no problem wading in hypothermic trout streams.

MOLLY

MOLLY & CYNTHIA WALKING THE CREEK

The weather was spectacular and the meadow was beautiful. A perfect place to come and enjoy animals, the smells of pine, peace, and a beautiful trout stream. I had high hopes…EXCEPT…what Blaze????

THE MEADOW

This is almost always my dilemma. I get to a spot but cannot identify the next clue…in this case, the mysterious blaze. If I had been by myself I would have explored the place and then left…blazeless.

But Cynthia saw it right away. She was not coy about it at all. “There is the blaze”, she shouted, and five humans and one dog marched quickly toward her large, bold blaze, high on a cliff at the end of the meadow.

THE BLAZE IN THE DISTANCE HIGH ON A CLIFF FACE

As we were parading toward the blaze Cynthia stopped to investigate a willow thicket mid-meadow. To our surprise, inside was a partly camouflaged and very recently killed deer. Frighteningly fresh. That morning perhaps. It made what’s left of the hair on my head bristle. I knew exactly what we were looking at. I had seen a hidden type of cache like this  about forty years ago while filming a documentary with the Craighead brothers.

The Craigheads were considered the crowned princes of Grizzly bear research and in the process of filming with them over several days they had taken me to a number of bear “locations” during the fall and winter. In addition to a bear den we had also visited a bear food cache. It looked uncomfortably like what we were now staring at. What I didn’t know and what concerned me most was where the owner was. The bear could be very close by. If the griz saw us messing with his food there would be hell to pay. I stepped back from the cache. I quickly glanced around 360 degrees. My nervous system was on high alert. I thought that if I were a bear I would have headed to high ground to keep an eye out for anything approaching my food.

The best we could hope for was a napping bear. I did not want to alarm anyone. We were having too much fun. I moved away from the cache and quietly mentioned tp Cynthia what I figured we were looking at. No bear revealed itself. I held tightly onto my thoughts and moved toward the blaze while keeping my eyes peeled for anything large and furry.

CYNTHIA’S WILLOW THICKET IN THE BACKGROUND

As we crossed the meadow to the blaze and ventured into Lodgepole Pine thickets near the creek I yelled out “HEY BEAR!”, just so we wouldn’t surprise any napping or foraging grizzly.

Finally, we stood underneath the blaze and looked quickly down. Cynthia saw the perfect hiding spot for Indulgence. A boulder that had peeled off the rock cliff hundreds, or perhaps thousands of years ago. It was trenched under at one end. Possibly as a shelter for some previous dweller…a badger or weasel or coyote. Molly was interested in the hiding place too. It was an exciting moment. Cynthia encouraged Molly to get into that den…Molly sniffing and getting excited…Cynthia and the crew adrenalized with the possibilities in front of us…me swiveling my head watching for bears…

A GOOD HIDEY PLACE

After both Molly and Cynthia had explored the den and found nothing of significance we gave the area a thorough walk through, looking for any other possible hidey spots or smaller blazes while the crew filmed our every consideration. We noticed that there were no trails in the area and we saw no others in our luscious meadow the whole day. Not even a fisher on Grayling Creek. It seemed like such a perfect place. I thought about spreading my tarp here and spending the night anyway.

CREW FILMING

CREW FOLLOWING

After spending a further hour scouring the edges and creekside…nothing was discovered and we reluctantly headed back to the highway and our vehicles.

I have to say that I really enjoyed searching with Cynthia. She is very respectful of the landscape and very appreciative of a beautiful meadow and trout stream. We had a great time. Cynthia is enthusiastic, agile and walks fast…so be warned if you have the opportunity to keep up with her…and Molly is a hoot…Always quiet and always observing as much as possible whatever is around her. Great hiking buddies.

dal-

You can read Cynthia’s version of this search HERE

 

Grayling Creek – Part Two…

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This is part two of a two part story. If you’d like to read part one first, CLICK HERE.

 

 

Note From Forrest-July 2013 To Amber, Chip, Porochista and Dal

Thanks Amber….
….This will be Porochista’s first time into God’s country. Please don’t let those guys find the treasure up Grayling Canyon. f

 

Note From Chip-July 2013 To Dal, Forrest and Amber
Hi Dal…
…My plan is to walk straight to the treasure with you sometime Sunday…
Chip

 

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The sweet Gallatin River as it winds it’s way along the highway

Ezzey, Porochista Khakpour and I are moving fast down the highway from Bozeman toward West Yellowstone. The light is fading quickly. We are supposed to have met with Forrest’s nephew, Chip, a few minutes ago. I can’t use the time warp machine right now so instead I am late for our meeting. I hate that. I check my cell for signal strength. I’d like to tell Chip we’ll be late, by a good hour, but no bars on the phone.

It’s really a shame we’re nearly in the dark because the highway along the Gallatin River and down into the park via Bighorn Pass is one of the most beautiful stretches of highway this country has to offer. I’d like Porochista to see it.

The road was built piece-meal fashion about the time that folks started demanding automobile access to Yellowstone. Originally considered by the citizens of Bozeman in 1904, It was not fully completed for many years later as the park and the county road commissioners haggled over loss of wildlife habitat and uncontrolled park access. Today, urban sprawl is the new enemy along the 75 or so miles of highway outside the park. Cul-de-sacs with three to a half dozen houses each pop-up like blisters on a tenderfoot’s heel as the prosperous ranching towns spread south and west into the beautiful valley of the Gallatin.

Fireweed in bloom along the Gallatin Highway

Fireweed in bloom along the Gallatin Highway

It is along this highway that Forrest and Donnie made a 91 mile trek to Bozeman one summer in the 1940s. I have to respect that adventure. I am sorry I never had the foresight to walk 91 miles down such a beautiful river as the Gallatin. I can imagine them each pulling a trout or two every day from the Gallatin for dinner as they camped along this rip-roaring river every night for the five or so days it must have taken to walk to Bozeman. In spite of the encroaching developments and growing traffic since Forrest spent his summers in this neighborhood, the roadway is still picturesque…but get here before it’s gone.

It’s about 9pm by the time we roll into Chip and Amber’s property above Hebgen Lake.  Chip’s daughter Emily is there to meet with us as well. After “hellos” and “introductions” all around, the conversation turns pretty quickly to the location of Forrest’s chest and his intoxicating note that snidely suggests he hid it in Grayling Canyon. We are all confident that the chest is NOT along Grayling Creek. We chuckle as we recall the playful note Forrest sent us. Yet, we also know that we MUST look along Grayling Creek because if we don’t and that turns out to be the spot…won’t we be the fools…

Forrest’s sense of humor and command of the English language is family lore. Everyone in the room knows that Forrest wrote a sentence that says nothing about where the chest is, or isn’t located, and at the same time planted a seed we cannot ignore. We also predict he is sitting at home in Santa Fe warmed by his little piñon fire smiling because he knows exactly what his note is going to drive us to do. He’s as clever as the day is long…

We laugh and trade stories about Forrest. Chip says that as a kid he remembers occasions when an Air Force jet would buzz the town of West Yellowstone from south to north. The plane would come in from a long distance off, low and level. The growing sound of a big jet engine screaming right toward town. The whole town would stop and watch. Shopkeepers out on the street. Kids holding fingers in their ears. That plane would head right up Canyon Road, waggle it’s wings and then nose up straight for the high sky, spinning like a top. Everyone knew it was Forrest. Forrest, of course, denies that he would have done anything like that. “That sounds dangerous and probably illegal”, he says with a perfect poker face.

Everyone in Chips front room that evening knows with certainty that there is no treasure on Grayling Creek. We also know that Forrest does not hand out clues to individuals…only to the public at large. We know that the last place on earth we should bother to look is Grayling Creek and we also know that the first place we will all look tomorrow will be Grayling Creek. We are doomed.

I am a little surprised by Chip’s immersion into the poem. He shares a three ring binder with Porochista and me that holds his notes about the poem and his ideas about the location of the treasure. He is a serious searcher with an unshakeable belief that Forrest’s chest is somewhere around Yellowstone.

We make plans to meet with Emily and her brother Aubrey for breakfast in the morning and the four of us will head on over to Grayling Creek for a look/see. Like addicts…we are about to embark on something we know we shouldn’t because we cannot avoid doing exactly what we’ve been told NOT to do…Forrest is a fun loving puppet master…

Before midnight, Porochista and I head off toward West Yellowstone and accommodations provided by Chip and Amber at one of their rental properties. Although we have simple and explicit directions to the building where we will have rooms, we go back and forth and up and down the streets of West Yellowstone hunting for the address. How on earth can I ever expect to find the treasure chest when I can’t even find a two story apartment building in West Yellowstone. I really am doomed.

The gate at Parade Rest Guest Ranch

The gate at Parade Rest Guest Ranch

The next morning Emily and her brother Aubrey meet us at Parade Rest Guest Ranch where we will have breakfast. I really didn’t know about this place before this morning. I may have seen a sign for it along Lake Hebgen but I had no idea the lodge was open to the public for meals. It was a perfect place to enjoy a hearty Montana style breakfast in a western, ranch house setting. Emily has brought along her infant daughter Aliyah. She is curious and perfectly mannered and just about the cutest kid in Montana. She draws a lot of waving and ohhs and ahhs from the other customers at the ranch.

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The conversation today is much more relaxed. I suppose because we have the big issue settled. We know where we are headed to search. So around the breakfast table we just talk like normal people rather than treasure addicted searchers. We talk about the vicious otter that has showed up on the Madison River near the 191 bridge. It has attacked and bitten more than one swimmer. I learn that Emily is a trail runner, biker, marathoner and outdoors woman of the most Montana kind. Aubrey is recovering from some broken limbs but looks absolutely fit to me. He busts broncs and rides on the backs of angry bulls on the rodeo circuit but is spending his healing time as a rodeo clown this summer. Have you ever seen what a rodeo clown does? That’s tougher than being a bull rider as far as I am concerned. The whole purpose of a clown in the rodeo ring is to get those behemoth, outraged bulls to chase and try to kill him. His goal of course, is to survive. It quickly adds up to me that Chip has raised a couple of kids not afraid to take on serious challenges.

Aubrey, Porochista, Emily and Aliyah as we start into the Grayling Creek Canyon

Aubrey, Porochista, Emily and Aliyah as we start into the Grayling Creek Canyon

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Crossing Grayling Creek

Right after breakfast we head over to nearby Grayling Creek and begin our search. There really is no trail along the creek. The water is clear and cold as it comes out of the Park onto Forrest Service land. The canyon is sometimes narrow and sometimes broad. The water is in a hurry and the walk is enchanting through wooded riverine and past cliffs of local yellow, scrabbly rock. We are on the watch for bears. They have been in the area recently. Aubrey brings his dog Tater, who will spot a bear long before we do. Once the canyon narrows down to no wider than the stream itself we have to clamber from rock to rock and ledge to ledge to follow along the creek.

Where I come from creeks are a few feet across. The Grayling is much more like a river than a creek at this point. Thirty feet across with lots of charming bends and hiding places for dinner sized trout. Emily is carrying Aliyah on her back as she easily traverses the slippery rocks and narrow ledges. She looks like a dancer moving on her stage. Her feet cling to slimy river rocks like snails. Every step is honest and unchallenged. And Aubrey…If there is anything at all about Aubry that is broken I fail to recognize it. He moves among these rocks like they are library shelves. Meanwhile Porochista and I are slipping and sliding and plunging off rocks and narrow ledges with regularity. Clearly, we are the novices in this country. Porochista’s magenta sneakers light the way in front of me in the darkened canyon. She is a trooper. She never stops. Determined to follow the treasure hunters no matter what ridiculous place Forrest has told them not to find the treasure.

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Little Aliyah falls fast asleep on her mother’s back in record time. I am amazed. The creek is noisy. The air is cool. The walk is bumpy. Just another trek in the woods with mom for Aliyah.

Aliyah at rest. Don't you wish you could sleep like that?

Aliyah at rest. Don’t you wish you could sleep like that?

At a place in the canyon where we really can’t go much further without walking in chest deep water there is a fall. A beautiful multi-teared fall about thirty feet across and with about a 15 foot total drop. A blaze? Surely Forrest has seen this fall in his exploration for good fishing holes. We cannot avoid the inevitable. Aubrey tells me that the water in the creek is at it’s lowest this time of year. Snow and Ice will keep everyone out in winter. If we are going to examine that fall…now would be the best time.

Approaching the fall on Grayling Creek

Approaching the fall on Grayling Creek

We wade out and examine every crevice and hole. We look under, around, in and through the fall. Aubrey has the certain feet that allow him to walk across the lip of the fall to look at the other side. Tater gingerly follows. Clearly the dog has concerns. She looks one way, then another. Gets halfway across then begins to turn back . Tater knows this is the wrong place to be walking. I start on this side of the fall and work toward the center at its foot. Emily stays on the side with Aliyah safely on her back. She will wade in if anyone gets in trouble. Porochista stays out of the fall as well. I am convinced she thinks we are all lunatics. Perhaps we all are. The water wants to push me downstream. The current is so fierce in spots that I dare not lift a foot off the bottom without a handhold for fear I will be pushed over. I pry and poke with my ice ax. The water is sternum deep in spots. It’s uncomfortably cold. Staying upright is a constant chore. If I fall I’ll end up about thirty feet downstream after banging into some boulders on the way. Finding a place between boulders to cram my feet is challenging. The rocks move threateningly under pressure from the current. I wonder why I am here. Would Forrest be here? I think not. He’s smarter than I am. We spend most of an hour at the fall. Sadly, there is no treasure chest in our immediate future.

Checking out one more spot on the way back

Checking out one more spot on the way back

As we are walking out Chip approaches on an ATV to help us carry the heavy chest. Unfortunately, there is no chest to be carried. And of course, I am reminded that it is highly unlikely that Forrest would have hefted the chest through that difficult canyon. Not a likely spot. But certainly a lovely place to waste valuable exploring time with good company.

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Porochista, Emily, Aliyah, Chip, Aubrey and Tater…treasureless again!

When we get back to their house, Amber has laid out a fantastic lunch spread. We all make sandwiches and talk about the adventure. The conclusion is unanimous. That fall is  not the location of the chest for more than one reason.

1. Too difficult to get at while carrying 21lbs…twice..

2. It’s too remote. We all believe the chest is hidden near an area that the public visits.

3. Why would that place be special to Forrest?

4. I try and try but I cannot make the clues in the poem lead me into that canyon.

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A splendid lunch with Amber

The next day Porochista and I head into the park to visit Forrest’s favorite bathing spot on the Firehole river at Ojo Caliente. It’s a murky day. Overcast and threatening storms. The dark clouds add to the ominous sensation as we walk around in the caldera of a super volcano. We explore the lower geyser basin and fountain flats on foot just for the sheer pleasure of looking at the gems of spouting hot geysers, thumping mudpots, multicolored springs and alkaline water holes. We admire long legged birds and the remains of winter and wolves on the open savannah in the center of the Yellowstone crater. The scene is vast and wild and prehistoric. Great steam plumes rise in every direction. Grasses dotted with wildflowers at our feet. Sun-bleached bones scattered around the water holes. The air smells of sulphur and something else…like rye.

The Firehole River near Ojo Caliente, looking at Forrest's favorite bathing spot

The Firehole River near Ojo Caliente, looking at Forrest’s favorite bathing spot

Porochistas sneakers remind me of survey tape

Porochistas sneakers remind me of survey tape

Porochista finds a buffalo skull

Porochista finds a buffalo skull

The flats seem like a vast windswept grassy plain with small copses of pine here and there to break the monotony. We can conjure up remarkable dinosaurs plodding through the scene just in front of us. Porochista finds a buffalo skull. She is not squeamish. She picks it up to admire it’s earthly story and I snap a picture. We talk about life and death on this plain. We try to understand Forrest’s remarkable childhood experiences. We find a comfortable log and summon up Forrest and Donnie and Skippy and the rest…We imagine the place in 1940…In our fantasizing it is windswept, grassy and steaming, beautifully the same as it is today. We cherish the idea that this protected place is a landscape in only a handful of such landscapes in the world of modern man that have not changed in 70 years…perhaps not even in a thousand years…

The lower geyser basin

The lower geyser basin

 

dal…