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 2017: Cynthia’s Version…

SUBMITTED NOVEMBER 2017
by CYNTHIA

 

The sound of chirping crickets awakened me as my iPhone announced it was time to rise and shine. It was still dark but I knew I had to hustle to get ready to join Dal and the ABC Nightline crew at Dal’s place in West Yellowstone where we’d planned to meet to start the filming of what I hoped would be an outstanding piece of Fenn treasure hunting.

It was Monday, September 18th, 2017. I’d been thinking about visiting Yellowstone National Park ever since I moved to New Mexico 25 years ago. I’ve been searching for Forrest’s elusive treasure chest for almost 5 years, and now I felt like I’d run out of places where warm waters halt, at least in New Mexico. It was time to broaden my search area, and West Yellowstone and the National Park was my new destination. I was ecstatic!

Lucky for me, Dal had agreed to meet me and my friends in West Yellowstone when we were still in the planning stages of synchronizing our itinerary way back in August. Soon after, ABC Nightline asked if they could film us on one of our searches… we both said yes.

Since Dal has searched this region repeatedly over the last several years, I let him decide where we should take them. I prefered a place outside the National Park boundary so that Molly could tag along. He agreed and knew the perfect spot…. at the bend in the road where Hwy191 crosses Grayling Creek. He knew Forrest had fished from the bridge downstream along Grayling Creek to the canyon.

Dal had the solves for the first 4 clues… all I needed to do was find the BLAZE. It sounded simple at first but the previous night I laid in bed worrying about my ability or lack of knowledge in finding one that made sense for the film crew.

It was starting to get light outside when I grabbed my camera and backpack and lifted Molly into the pickup truck. The temperature was chilly and the sky overcast and gloomy… thank goodness I’d brought a raincoat. Thank goodness I’d brought warm clothing…

The film crew took some departing shots of Dal, Molly, and me as we packed our gear into Esmerelda and drove towards Hwy191 where we turned north and headed to the bridge ten miles up the road. There was a wide enough area along the highway on the south side of the bridge where we could get both vehicles off the road. On the map that follows, the red arrow at the bottom is the town of West Yellowstone, and the red arrow near the top is where the road bends and crosses Grayling Creek, our destination for the day.

In the picture below, the small bridge crossing the creek in the grassy area is for snow mobiles to use in the wintertime. This is where the crew staged their cameras for our intial interviews that morning.

While the crew transported their gear from their SUV to the bridge, Dal headed across to scout a place where we all could safely get down the bank to the creek and forest.

The ABC crew was comprised of Michelle Kessel producer, Clayton Sandell correspondent, and Connor Burton producer and drone operator.

After the interviews, Dal and Molly took the lead as we scurried down the embankment and bushwhacked our way through the trees into the grassy meadow.

Dal had explained that the trees and brush were too thick along the creek downstream from the bridge so we’d walk through the woods into a large meadow and from there we could make our way to Grayling Creek. We could see trees, we could see mountains, and we could tell there’d been animals. We could smell the sweet smells of pine needles and sage brush…

And holy moly, off in the distance at the far end of the meadow, I could see a BLAZE… a rock face looking towards us.

As the film crew and Molly and I made our way through the sage brush, Dal walked up the hillside a bit to get a better view of the area.

Dal took some pictures from his vantage point, then came back down to the meadow and joined us. I had dropped Molly’s leash for a minute to take some pictures as well, only to lose her momentarily. She had wandered off to the thicket of willows behind the folks in the picture below.

Her nose led her to this… a dead mule deer with its front legs dismembered, and brush covering her body to hide her… Dal said it looked like a recent bear kill. Hmmm, were we being watched?

Instead of continuing straight to the BLAZE, we moved to our left and walked down to Grayling Creek. The pictures make the water look brown but it wasn’t… it was clean and clear and did not look deep.

At this bend in the creek, we left the shoreline and walked back through the trees to the base of my Blaze…

There, surrounded by trees, was a perfect hiding spot… beneath the end of this large boulder. I got down on my hands and knees and peered in… I didn’t see anything glistening nor anything that looked like the bronze chest with the loot… so I crawled in even farther. Just rocks… no treasure chest. But it looked like a great place where Forrest could have pushed the chest in a hole in the rocks… but he didn’t.

The crew asked us to walk back to the large meadow. They went to the far end as we stayed put. Then they launched their drone.

Before we knew it, hours had flown by. The crew told us they had enough footage and we could head back to the bridge and our cars. In the picture above, Dal is trying to find the game trail we used to get from the meadow through the forest and back to the road.

Eventually, we all made the short climb up the embankment and back to the bridge. Clayton asked us a few more questions on camera, and asked both Dal and me to read the poem for the final footage of the morning.

Our mission was over… we provided ABC with a damn good search story and an awesome half-day adventure. They were happy… I was happy… I found a good BLAZE. Were Dal and I disappointed because we didn’t find Fenn’s loot? Not at all… despite it being after noon, our day was just beginning.

He cranked up Esmerelda and off we went… into Yellowstone National Park and Forrest Fenn’s childhood special places.

To be continued… 2018! Cynthia and Molly and Dal

Cynthia-

 

You can read Dal’s version of this search HERE

Full Thoughts on Halving the Blaze…

SUBMITTED NOVEMBER 2017
by FMC

 

 

Last night at about 3 am, I had a new thought for my current, in-process solve.  And in thinking it through, it’s sufficiently general enough to share – it doesn’t apply to just my solve, but to a number of different end of the poem possibilities.  So here we are.

If you’ve been wise and found the blaze

The two schools of thought related to this line and the blaze generally seem to be as follows:

1 – “If you’ve been wise” refers to an owl and viewing the blaze from above, most often via Google Earth, but also potentially from an elevated vantage point.  I’d also add GE/map “wise” based place names (Owl Creek or whatever) to this school.

2 – You need BOTG to find the blaze and “If you’ve been wise” refers to you having solved the clues leading up to this point where you are looking for the blaze.  You may be keeping an eye out for owl-shaped rocks, but you are reliant on BOTG prior to this line starting.

I’d generally put myself in School 1 as I think having an explanation for “if you’ve been wise” is an important part to being able to go with confidence to your search area.  I’ve also been of the opinion that the School 2 people are taking this part of the line for granted.  If you’re just going to find the blaze when you’re BOTG, why do you need to have been wise?

But it occurred to me that maybe there’s a third interpretation.  Most people tend to think of “if you’ve been wise and found the blaze” as one clue.  What if it’s two clues?

Under my new way of thinking, you still have to find the blaze with BOTG, but “if you’ve been wise” is a separate clue with an interpretation unrelated to the blaze itself.  Enter: King Solomon.

Whether a person is religious or not, I think the “Wisdom of Solomon” is a commonly known phrase/saying.

Per Wikipedia (which matched my own limited knowledge on the subject):

Perhaps the best known story of his wisdom is the Judgment of Solomon; two women each lay claim to being the mother of the same child. Solomon easily resolved the dispute by commanding the child to be cut in half and shared between the two. One woman promptly renounced her claim, proving that she would rather give up the child than see it killed. Solomon declared the woman who showed compassion to be the true mother, entitled to the whole child. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon#Wisdom)

Okay… but how does this relate to finding the treasure?

Picture the following scenario, one which I expect is fairly common among searchers (either armchair or BOTG).  You’ve solved the clues and you’re hiking up alongside your creek with heavy loads and water high up ahead (or maybe you’ve passed them already).  Maybe you’re on a trail or maybe you’re already off the trail.  You’re looking for a blaze, but at this point, you’re basically flying blind outside of that.  Simplified, maybe it looks something like this:

You think you’re looking for the blaze, but maybe you first need to be looking for something else; something that splits from your creek.  Maybe it’s another creek.  Maybe it’s a side-trail (if you’re on a trail).  But we aren’t taking that side-trail/creek because what would be “wise” about that?  We need to split the creeks in two:

And then we find the blaze, find the treasure, pop some champagne, revel in our brilliant solve, and go about arranging to give FF his bracelet and buying a new car.  Easy game.

Obviously, I have no idea if this interpretation is correct, but it’s something I haven’t seen before and it doesn’t materially impact my 2nd solve (because you have to figure out the rest of the poem first) so I figured it may be something that could benefit someone else.  Do with it as you will – I’m going to bed.

 

FMC-

My Total Eclipse Search in Thistle Creek…

SUBMITTED OCTOBER 2017
by Hoblin

 

 

As a 5th-grader in 1979, living in the midwestern US, we learned about that year’s total eclipse in school.  We made pinhole viewers in class and were allowed outside at the appropriate time to view the shadows that they made.  It was pretty cool, but I was envious of those in the Pacific Northwest that were in the path of totality, and I decided right then and there that I would definitely get myself to the right place for the 2017 eclipse.  I even saved the next day’s newspaper to remind myself!

Fast-forward to 2012, when I first heard about the Treasure Chest while living in Ohio.  Intrigued, I studied the clues for a few days and tried to solve them.  Living so far from the search area was daunting, though.  Unless I had a perfect solve, it just wasn’t practical for me to fly out to the Rockies on a hunch.  I bookmarked the poem, and put the search in the back of my mind, only looking into it once or twice per year.

Two years ago, I realized that I missed the mountains, and decided to move back to the Denver area, where I had lived in the late 1990s.  My request for reassignment at work was granted, but with planning the move, the treasure was the last thing on my mind.  A few weeks before my move, I was at the dentist’s office, and in the waiting room I came across an article in Outside Magazine about the treasure hunt.  Wow!  I would soon be living in Colorado, and almost any search area would be within a day’s drive of my new home!

After my arrival in Colorado, I had a few days before I had to start work, and I decided that I had to spend a day in the mountains, coupled with the treasure hunt.  I spent a day searching the Brown’s Canyon area, but found myself just hiking around without any direction.  Still, it was a day with spectacular views, affirming my decision to return to the Rockies.

I didn’t search at all in 2016, but that Spring I looked into where the path of totality for the eclipse would occur.  I was excited to see that it passed through the Grand Tetons.  I would be able to combine my eclipse trip with a search in Yellowstone!  I was dismayed that nearly every hotel in Wyoming was booked for those days 18 months in advance, but I was able to make a reservation in Gardiner, Montana.

As the trip got closer, I thought that I would be able to narrow down my search area.  Instead, the more I looked at maps and read clues, the more directions my mind went.  If you follow the Firehole River south, it heads toward Goose Lake, which is next to Feather Lake.  Goose feathers are “down”, as in a down pillow.  Was this the “Canyon down” in the poem?  I just kept coming up with more and more possibilities!

On August 20, the day before the eclipse, I arrived in the Grand Tetons.  Making my way toward Yellowstone and my hotel, I passed by a place with exceptional beauty on the Snake River named Oxbow Bend, and decided that it would be the perfect place to view the eclipse from.  There was a small parking lot there, enough to hold about 20 cars, so I didn’t know if I could actually get a spot there the next morning, but I was determined.

Looking at a map of Yellowstone that night, everything suddenly clicked in my mind.  Because it is “too far to walk” between the first two clues, you are driving.  Therefore, the first two clues refer to “towns” rather than geographical features.  You are driving the road from Madison Junction (where warm waters halt) to Canyon Village, and then taking it south (down).

From there, you “put in” below the Mud Volcano (Mr Fenn said to “show the poem to a child.”  If you ask a child to name some things that are brown, “mud” is a likely response).  This leads you to LeHardy Rapids (he also said that “you have to use your imagination” that hearty is the opposite of meek).  You definitely can’t paddle up a rapids!  My confidence was growing.

On Eclipse Morning, I got into my car at 1:30 AM to beat the traffic, and headed toward Oxbow Bend.  I was the only car on the road!  It was amazing to zip through the park, going the speed limit the entire way, which is unheard of if you’ve ever experienced Yellowstone traffic.  I saw deer and a fox, and the steam coming off of Sulphur Cauldron in the 32-degree weather was awesome.  Plus, my drive took my past Canyon, past the Mud Volcano, past LeHardy Rapids.  Would I actually see the eclipse and find the treasure on the same day?

I arrived at my desired parking spot at 4:45 AM, with three or four other vehicles getting there before me.  I got out of my car to view the night sky.  At high elevation, miles from any city lights, you can literally see every single star in the sky, and it is breathtaking.  Because of the cold, I retreated to my car, gazing out the window at Orion, waiting for sunup.  In the dark, I was hoping that my location was as spectacular as I had remembered from the day before.  Well, the sun did eventually come up and my memory had served me correctly.  This was where I would be viewing the eclipse from!

By 6:00, the parking lot was full.  There were about 40 people gathered there, and we all got to know each other a little bit as the hours passed.  During this time, I was able to take photos of the mountains to the west, chat with people, and watch the pelicans in the river.  A park ranger showed up because a mother grizzly with two cubs had been spotted in the area, and he was there to monitor the situation.

At 10:17, the moon made first contact with the sun.  We all donned our eclipse glasses and looked toward the sun in the east.  A few moments later, someone shouted “Look!  Bears!”  We all turned around to the west just in time to see the three bears emerge from the water on the far bank of the river.  I reached down for my camera, and in that brief instant they had all disappeared into the woods.  It was as if the wise mother bear knew that if she waited until exactly 10:17, she would be able to lead her cubs across the road and into the river unnoticed!

The eclipse itself was amazing, and well worth waiting 38 years for.  We were rewarded with almost two minutes of totality from our location, and words can’t explain what a truly incredible experience it was.  The ranger was familiar with the bears’ habits, and knew where they were most likely to emerge from the forest, although he couldn’t predict when.  I thought about waiting around after the eclipse with my binoculars to get a better look at them, but I had a treasure to find!

I hopped into the car and headed toward LeHardy Rapids.  I parked, walked down to the river, and began searching for the blaze.  Unfortunately, the road went right alongside the river.  I could hear a constant flow of traffic whizzing by, and it became apparent that the location was not remote enough for Mr Fenn to lie down for eternity with the chest.  Also, the only blaze I could see was a long, thin stretch of white rocks in the middle of the river, which was in plain sight of anybody nearby.  My map showed that there was a stream feeding into the opposite side of the river named Thistle Creek, but I couldn’t locate it visually, and couldn’t tell from my map exactly where it was.

I spent the next few days exploring the Firehole and Madison River areas as well as the rest of Yellowstone.  I saw elk, moose, deer, bison, and a coyote, and I enjoyed the nightlife in Gardiner.  All in all, it was a pretty great trip.  Plus, I got to see the total eclipse, and fulfilled a promise that I had made to myself when I was ten years old!

After returning home, I spent some time researching some of the places I had looked into in Yellowstone, including Thistle Creek.  I had always been intrigued by Mr Fenn’s comment that if you don’t know where to begin the search, you might as well stay home and play Canasta.  As others have pointed out, “canasta” is the Spanish word for “basket.”  Imagine my intrigue when I learned that American star-thistle is also known as basket-flower!  How ingenious, I thought, of him to give a clue to the end point of the search while making it sound like a clue to the beginning point!

I then looked into LeHardy Rapids, and found that while most maps label everything north of Fishing Bridge as the Yellowstone River, most geologists actually consider LeHardy to be the official boundary between the lake and the river.  So if you are traveling south toward the rapids and Thistle Creek, the end of the river is definitely drawing nigh.  Mr Fenn has said that a knowledge of geography would be helpful.

I then found a few other things that made Thistle Creek seem like a logical solve:

In “The Thrill of the Chase”, page 91, Mr Fenn states that “The sound of the rushing water was stronger than the noise of the idling engine.”  Well, if I was on the far side of the rapids, the sound would drown out the noise of the traffic from west side of the river.

TTOTC also mentions Miss Ford.  I’d have to ford the river to get to the creek.

in TTOTC, page 111, the words “DO NOT TOUCH” are capitalized and in bright red type.  Because of its sharp spines, thistle is a plant that you DO NOT want to TOUCH.

While Mr Fenn has stated that rappelling down cliffs, as well as other activities that an 80-year-old couldn’t do while carrying the chest, would not be necessary, he also said “It is always a good idea to wear a personal flotation device when you enter fast moving water.”  I found it curious that instead of telling searchers not to enter fast moving water, he instead offered safety advice for doing so.  Hmm . . .

I decided that I had to go back to Yellowstone and search Thistle Creek.  Late summer would be when the water flow was the slowest, so I returned in mid-September.  I would drive to Cody, Wyoming on Tuesday, retrieve the chest on Wednesday, and drive back to Denver on Thursday.  I captured a screenshot from Google Earth of the location of Thistle Creek and saved it to my phone.

I bought some wading pants online, and went to my local fishing outfitter to acquire wading boots.  The clerk offered advice about the three brands of boots they carried, and I avoided telling her that I wouldn’t be using them for fishing!  As it turned out, they only had my size in one of the brands, so those were the ones I bought.

I came home, ate lunch, and figured that I should try on the boots with my wading pants to make sure everything fit.  Well, what happened next blew my mind.  For the first time, I noticed that the photo on the box of wading shoes was taken from the exact same place where I had watched the eclipse!  Definitely, definitely a good omen.

I arrived back at LeHardy Rapids, consulted my Google Earth map, and with my binoculars was able to find where Thistle Creek emptied into the river.  I put on my wading gear and started across the river.  Well, I made it about 12 feet.  The river bottom was rocky and slick, and I didn’t have a flotation device.  I simply didn’t feel safe.  Instead of the 50-yard trek across the river, I would have to take the back way in, hiking 3-plus miles across land through bear country.

I drove to Fishing Bridge and started north along the Howard Eaton Trail.

The trail started along the northernmost part of Yellowstone Lake, then veered into the remnants of a forest fire.  The next generation of trees was about three feet high.  In 20 years, hikers here will be traveling through a dense pine forest at this point.

It took about an hour to reach LeHardy Rapids.  From the overlook, I could see a dozen people on the boardwalk across the river to the west, but I had the entire east side of the river to myself.  I continued the hike to Thistle Creek, and then departed the trail to follow the creek down to the Yellowstone River, searching for treasure as I went.  Because of downed trees and steep banks, I had to cross the creek a few times on the way down.  I felt like I was brave and in the wood!  Of the four million visitors to Yellowstone this year, there was a chance that I was the only one to hike down the banks of this creek.

I made my way down to the river, and at the point where the two met I was looking high and low for either a blaze or a treasure chest.  I wondered if the people on the other side of the river were looking at me, wondering why this crazy person was poking around the waters.  I slowly returned up the creek, searching under rocks and logs along the way, making sure to stop and survey my surroundings every few feet to see if I could discern a blaze.  In all, I spent an hour exploring the stream.  This is the view of Thistle Creek emptying into the Yellowstone River.  As you can see, there is no paddling up this creek!

At one point, a bright orange marker on a tree appeared in view, marking the Howard Eaton Trail.  Was that the Blaze?  I looked quickly down, and then above, below, around, and across at this point.  No such luck.  Eventually, I reached the trail again.  I followed the creek east for a while past the trail, but it was difficult.  The creek was surrounded by hip-high tall grass, and there were football-sized “boulders” hidden underneath.  I began worrying that this would be a terrible place to suffer a twisted ankle.  And then I thought about bears.  And then I thought about the weather forecast of a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon.  Again, I just didn’t feel like I was being responsible at this point.  From my location, Thistle Creek would soon split into two forks, and each would go another mile.  There was no way for me explore them both in their entirety and return to the trailhead safely before dark.

I took the trail back to my vehicle at Fishing Bridge, happy.  I had just spent three hours in the park and seen only three other hikers during that stretch.  I experienced amazing scenery and overcame my fear of bears.  I took the path down the creek that very few have taken, and I gave the search my best shot.  I spent two nights enjoying the nightlife of Cody, Wyoming, chatting with both locals and tourists.  On the drive home I had a great time, and great meal, at The Forks tavern in Livermore, Colorado.  In summary, I didn’t locate The Treasure, but found my own treasures along the way.

My three takeaways from this adventure:

1)  If you are in Gardiner, Montana and want a cheeseburger and a beer, there is no better place to go than the Two-Bit Saloon.

2) If you are driving through Yellowstone in the middle of the night, there is no better CD to listen to than Neil Young‘s “Harvest Moon”.

3)  I still kinda feel like the treasure may be on the banks of Thistle Creek, but that I somehow overlooked it.  For safety reasons, only explore this area if you have a companion.

Hoblin-

Searching Reese Canyon…

SUBMITTED September 2017
by BobZ

 

First things first, I got the book TTOTC.  Read the entire book including poem.  There are three places in the poem that puzzle me (more than others).  The first was “I can keep my secret where, and hint of riches new and old.”  So what does that mean?  He’s not keeping his secret where, he’s telling us where with the poem.  The second, “If you were wise and found the blaze.”  Why in the past tense?  All other lines in stanzas two through four are present tense, and why did you need to be wise to find the blaze?  Finally, “If you are brave and in the wood” Why brave? Was this a further clue to the location of maybe just a hint.

From there I tackled the poem from the many Fenn writings, interviews, scrapbooks (thanks for that). As Fenn said you need to know where warm waters halt, without that you have nothing.  So I looked up the definition of warm water which was defined as either sea or ocean not in the artic.  I googled sea or ocean in the Rocky Mountains and came up with the Western Interior Seaway.  I googled that and came up with Bryce Canyon:

The exposed geology of the Bryce Canyon area in Utah shows a record of deposition that covers the last part of the Cretaceous Period and the first half of the Cenozoic era in that part of North America. The ancient depositional environment of the region around what is now Bryce Canyon National Park varied from the warm shallow sea (called the Cretaceous Seaway) in which the Dakota Sandstone and the Tropic Shale were deposited to the cool streams and lakes that contributed sediment to the colorful Claron Formation that dominates the park’s amphitheaters.

Other formations were also formed but were mostly eroded following uplift from the Laramide orogeny which started around 70 million years ago(mya). This event created the Rocky Mountains far to the east and helped to close the sea that covered the area

Only problem, Bryce Canyon was in Utah outside of the search zone.  That took me back to my first bother…I can keep my secret where.  So maybe he means the letter I and not the pronoun I is keeping the secret, and replacing Y with I it becomes Brice Canyon which is right below Durango, CO (even later in the poem the line is “so why is it that I must go”).  I put Brice Canyon on the Google map and pulled back.  Admittedly I began to work a bit backwards from there.  As I pulled back I saw the Navajo Dam, per Wikipedia: Navajo is a rolled earthfill embankment dam, composed of three “zones” of alternating cobbles, gravel, sand and clay. The dam is 402 feet (123 m) high…heavy loads and water high.  I now have two points.

At first I went off the Navajo Dam looking for a blaze.  After spending time looking around past the Dam, I decided to search the map back up towards Brice Canyon and the CO/NM border.  Following the waterway, three things immediately jumped out, Cemetery Canyon at the border (no place for the meek?), Los Pinos River was the waterway (the wood?), and where is the blaze?

So here’s the solve IMO:

As I have gone alone in there and with my treasures bold. (Informational)

Clue #1 – I can keep my secret where and hint of riches new and old. (“I” keep secret “where”)

Clue #2 – Begin it where warm waters halt (Begin the search in Bryce…no Brice Canyon) And take it in the canyon down (Take the search in the canyon down)

Clue #3 – Not far, but too far to walk (the canyon down is not far away, NM border sixteen miles from Brice Canyon)

Clue #4 – Put in (body of water in the canyon) below the home of Brown (Ute Reservation at border, or CO home of Molly Brown)

Clue #5 – From there it’s no place for the meek (Cemetery Canyon, TTOTC – you have to have guts to go in a cemetery) The end is ever drawing nigh (The river is drawing you to TC which is close)

Clue #6 – There’ll be no paddle up your creek, Just heavy loads and water high (you don’t have to go far down the waterway but if you did you’d come to the Navajo Dam)

Clue #7 – If you were wise and found the blaze (The Pinos River looks like this about a mile downstream from the NM/CO border:

Aerial view from Google Maps as seen from northern view,

but If turned to western view – If U were Ys and found the blaze.  The name Reese is defined as ardent or fiery – a blaze, but looking back at the aerial view from the north:

An “F” blaze can be found in the pine river.)

Clue #8 – Look quickly down your quest to cease. (boots on the ground to check the Reese Canyon wall at the bottom of the U)

The bank of the Pine River at the bottom of the U.

Made it to the spot.  Hidden behind tall grasses, a nook about two feet wide by two feet deep by 8 inches tall…could this be it?

Alas, empty.

Spent some time searching around the little island in the Pines River where the Y’s become a U in Reese Canyon, then went up top to look around there.  Did not take a metal detector, maybe it is there but I missed it? Maybe was there but already found?  Maybe I’m missing something in the clues. Maybe it’s hidden hundreds of miles away!

But tarry scant with marvel gaze (on BLM land so take it and go)

Just take the chest and go in peace (straightforward)

Hint – So why is it that I must go (“Y” is it that “I” must go)

And leave my trove for all to seek?

The answer I already know,

I’ve done it tired and now I’m weak.

So hear me all and listen good,

Your effort will be worth the cold. (TTOTC in Teachers with Ropes bronze is cold to the touch)

Clue 9 – If you are brave and in the wood.  (To get to the ledge of Reese Canyon you have to step into the Pine River)

My daughter being brave and in the wood (Pine River).

I give you title to the gold. (His legal release of the property?)

I sent the solution to Forrest Fenn to see if he would respond with anything like…”Good try, but never there” or “Sorry, not even close”, but instead nothing, only an announcement three days later that the third book is almost complete and going in to print hopefully the following week.

Speaking of scrapbook entries, go back and take a look at Scrapbook 4, wonder if this scrapbook entry will make the cut in the new book?

Good luck in your searches.

BobZ-

Nez Perce Creek…

September 2017
by dal…

 

Everyone who knows my name probably knows my search area. It has not changed a great deal in the past few years. I looked elsewhere when I first went out in 2011 and 2012. But since about 2013 I’ve concentrated on the greater Yellowstone area. That is not to say inside Yellowstone National Park precisely. But in the general area of Gallatin County, Park County, Yellowstone and a bit further north.

How come my area is so vast you ask…?

Well…I say…because I go where the clues lead me and there are many, many choices as I move along my path. It takes me time to explore all the possible routes.

I pointed out a couple weeks ago that I felt the poem is not unlike a mideveal labyrinth or maze. They are different from one another. Which one of these puzzle types has become more clear to me over time. I originally thought Forrest had designed a labyrinth. A long route that twisted and turned. The single path was simple to navigate…but long and twisty. Here is a two dimensional representation of a labyrinth:

Since then, I have decided that what Forrest has really constructed is a maze. A maze differs from a labyrinth in that a maze has many false doors. The route is not direct. Many choices have to be made along the path about which doorway to go thru.The problem with a maze is that you don’t know you have chosen an incorrect path until you’ve followed it to it’s dead end. Then you have to retrace your steps back to your last choice and try a different door. Of course it can be more complicated because the maze could be constructed with doors behind doors so the choices are exponential with hundreds of more chances to be wrong than right. And, of course, all the paths, all the doors look the same so it is sometimes not so simple to see that you’ve been in this same place before.

We’ve all seen mazes drawn out on paper as a child’s puzzle in a magazine or puzzle book. They look like this:

In the mideveal world mazes were often actual devices…physically constructed out of hedges or fences or walls. Garden mazes are sometimes used as plot devices in dramatic films and recently corn mazes have become fashionable around halloween.

Fortunately, with Forrest’s maze I can, at least see where I have been before. Each choice may look different but there are many to choose from. No path is a known winner in advance. You will not know if you have made the correct choice until you come to the end. If there is no chest at the end then somewhere along the path you went thru an incorrect doorway. But which one?

Forrest says there are nine clues. I think this means nine correct doorways. If I get to the end and there is no chest, how far back do I have to go to try again? In my case I go back to the last choice I had to make and try again from there. Once I have tried all those doorways without success I go back to a further choice and try again….and on…and on…

I think you can see why it takes so long to move through the possibilities…

Apparently I am bad at making choices.

Of course all this is based on the premise that I’ve selected the correct place to begin. If I have not done so then all I will ever have are some wonderful hiking experiences…which is okay with me. I would love to find the chest but not to the point of distress when I don’t . Locating Indugence is not the driving force behind getting out and looking for it.

Okay…so what is the driving force…

I’ll take you through my last attempt so you can see how this works for me.

My startiong point for many years has been Madison Junction inside Yellowstone Park.

Madison Junction, Yellowstone National Park – Where the waters of the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers meet and where the Madison River begins. WWWH?

This starting place is based on a lot of thinking about “where warm waters halt” that I did over a couple years. I, like everyone, was bumping around in the dark about WWWH. I tried a few different things but none of them really clicked in my mind until Madison Junction. I feel good about Madison Junction and for the time being I am using it. But I also constantly consider what might be better…what Forrest really could have meant.. That is to say, I am keeping my options open even though I presently work from Madison Junction.

Since “where warm waters halt” is the place to begin it is certainly the most critical clue to identify. If I am wrong about where to start none of the other clues will lead me to Indulgence…but they do lead me on interesting adventures.

I had always felt that WWWH had to be a place of significance. It couldn’t just be another geyser or hot spring because there are thousands of those things in the RMs and as hard as I tried I could not make any single hot spring stand out above any other in the poem. There did not appear to be any identifying words or lines in the poem that would point to one hot spring over another.

I originally thought the Rio Grande River where the cold water springs start enriching it and making it viable for trout was a good place for WWWH. Those cold springs are common knowledge among fishers in that area. My first twenty or so searches began at that location around the place where the Rio Grande crosses into NM and they ended at various locations in New Mexico.

Frustrated with the places that I saw in NM, most beat to death by tourists and fishers, I felt that none met my criteria for a place Forrest would choose to be his last view on earth.

After reading the book again and again looking for hints I decided to look for a more prominent place as WWWH. I first saw Madison Junction while visiting the park to capture footage of grizzlys for a film project I was working on. Years later after being convinced that my place on the Rio Grande was not working out I was reminded about Madison Junction.  It struck me as a likely spot for Forrest to choose and to know about as WWWH.

I was also drawn to the Yellowstone area because of Forrest’s remark about Yellowstone being a “special” place to him according to a document that Tony Dokoupil read and wrote about in one of the very first stories written about the treasure hunt, back in 2012. And I was also interested in a location that met the criteria Forrest mentions while answering a question framed by mdavis19 about specialized knowledge required:

Q- Is any specialized knowledge required to find the treasure? For instance, something learned during your time in the military, or from a lifetime of fly fishing? Or do you really expect any ordinary average person without your background to be able to correctly interpret the clues in the poem? -mdavis19
A- No specialized knowledge is required mdavis19, and I have no expectations. My Thrill of the Chase book is enough to lead an average person to the treasure. f

To begin, there was signage at Madison Junction describing it as the place where the Gibbon and Firehole rivers both end and as the start of the Madison. This is an atypical geographic situation. Not unique, but not terribly common either. Often a lake might have two or more streams feeding it and one leaving it that takes a new name. But Madison Junction is not considered a lake. It is simply a basin where two rivers pour in and one leaves. The single caution that I have about the place being Forrest’s WWWH is that it is simply a human decision that the Firehole and the Gibbon end and the river that leaves this place is a new river called the Madison. Why didn’t those same men decide that the Gibbon joins the Firehole in this location and the Firehole continues? It’s a subjective opinion…made by early geographers in the area. Forrest did point out that a comprehensive knowledge of geography might help.

Q- Mr. Fenn, Is there any level of knowledge of US history that is required to properly interpret the clues in your poem. 

A-No Steve R, The only requirement is that you figure out what the clues mean. But a comprehensive knowledge of geography might help.

Even more unusual in this scenario is the fact that both the Gibbon and the Firehole are “warm” rivers. Not at all cold as you might expect from a couple of mountain streams descending from higher elevations. They are both physically warm to the touch, comfortable to sit in. In the heat of summer they are often too warm for trout who have to escape up cooler side streams. These rivers are warm because they pass through geyser basins full of hot springs and other thermal events that drain into the rivers and heat them up.

The plural of “waters” might refer to the two rivers that halt in this spot.

Signage and descriptions of the curious geographic confluence at Madison Junction appear on visitor maps and brochures. It is a widely understood location for  the place where two rivers end and a third begins. All these rivers were mentioned in TTOTC. This was better than any hint I had for any possible WWWH location in NM. So I adopted it as my WWWH. I can assure no one that it is correct…and I may change when/if something better catches my eye. But for now Madison Junction is my place to begin.

Shortly after, I began my understanding of the poem as a puzzle…possibly a maze or a labyrinth, but certainly one or the other. I would have choices to make about words in the poem like “down” and “below” and “nigh”. The choices I made would lead me in specific directions. What I needed to do was try to decide how Forrest would think about these words. The book helped me some there too. I found other useful hints about Forrest and language in the video interviews and many stories he has given us. I paid attention but tried not to let the research take me deeper than I needed to be for my particular solution…

As stated, my WWWH is at Madison Junction.

Madison Junction- Gibbon enters from the right. Firehole enters from the south. Madison leaves to the left.

From that location I immediately have a decision between three routes…or three doors that I can use.

First, take it (the Madison River) downstream into the Madison Canyon and beyond toward Hebgen Lake.

or

Second, I can take it (the Firehole River) down (south) into the Firehole Canyon.

or

There is a third sketchier route but I can’t rationalize that one so I won’t discuss it so that you cannot accuse me of taking too big a bite of peyote.

So right off the bat my maze begins. I have two choices and must select one to try out. I tried the Madison first. I spent two years looking at that path for a hoB. The obvious choice is Hebgen Lake. A spawning area for Brown trout. Many hundreds (maybe thousands) of folks have considered this route. I have been uncomfortable with it from the start…Folks have examined the lake and all its tributaries and gone below the dam as far as Ennis trying to make this path work. It may be the second most popular search area, right after the Enchanted Circle in NM. Diggin Gypsy seems to have patented the search in this area. She’s been looking around there for  5? years now. What could she miss that I could find?

I managed to find an actual hoB above the lake. But it is an historic place and according to Forrest a knowledge of history is not required. None-the-less I looked for a year there. I could find things that encouraged me about meek and water high and heavy loads. I could even find a creek I could not paddle. But in the end, I could only find one convincing blaze and beyond that I could locate no chest..

So after two years in that area I retreated back to Madison Junction to explore another path. Heading south (down on a map) on the Firehole river and into the Firehole Canyon. Again, the hints and clues seem to work. I have two possible hoBs down this path. So the maze expands when I go in this direction. One choice is at Nez Perce Creek where the first Brown trout in the Park were stocked by the Army. More Brown trout…eeek.

Another is at Lower Geyser Basin where two fellows, one named Brown tried to stake out some land for themselves in 1870 so they could lay claim to the wonderful sights in that area and charge admission to see them. These fellows even started cutting fence poles in Firehole Basin. They were dissuaded from their entrepreneurial scheme by Nathanial Langford, a member of the Washburn Expedition who pointed out to them that the area would soon be a National Park and commercial holdings would not be tolerated.

Lower Geyser Basin – Yellowstone National Park

I liked this hoB…but in the back of my mind it seemed too esoteric and dependent on reading one small book written by Langford in 1870 titled “The Discovery of Yellowstone Park” . The account was nowhere else that I could find. Forrest clearly ruled out a knowledge of history would be required when he answered the question from Steve R. mentioned earlier.

So I began looking at other possibilities. But giving up on historical connections, in spite of the fact that Forrest had stated that US History was not needed….is difficult because I love to investiogate the history of the land where I stand at any particular moment…

I can sit down on a battlefield and imagine the battle. I can see individuals fighting for their lives. I can hear the sounds and feel the heat. I can smell the powder and hear the gun shots. It all plays out like a movie in front of me. It is an adrenaline rush. I can stand in a coulee in Washington and imagine the unimaginable mountain of water that poured out of the east to carve this thing I’m standing in thousands of years ago. When I pick up an arrowhead I can hold it tightly and imagine it being crafted . I can feel the breath of the individual carving it as I peer closer at his hands. History is intoxicating to me.

So, in June of 2017 when I visited the Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park I was armed with the knowledge of what I believed to be three clues, and I was hunting for a fourth. I wanted to explore Nez Perce Creek as a possible “no paddle up your creek” but I also wanted to walk along it and see if I could conjur up the events that took place here. The history of the creek not neccessarily related to its potential as a clue…but interesting to me…Finding those connections alone would make the search delicious.

Confluence of Nez Perce Creek and Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park

There are many tales of fantastic human feats accomplished in Yellowstone. The tale that has conjured up the most interest from me has been the story of the Cowan group.

In 1877 nine tourists were camping in Yellowstone when 800 or so Nez Perce came through trying to outrun the Army and get to Canada. Mr and Mrs Cowan were two of the visitors in that group. The Nez Perce discovered their campfire one evening and raided them. The Indians decided they wanted the party’s supplies and horses. Mr. Cowan unwisely but heroicly objected. So they shot him in the head and left him for dead. They took the remaining eight tourists as captives, Mrs. Cowan, beside herself in grief, all their supplies and horses and headed northeast.

Miraculously Cowan didn’t die. The lead barely penetrated and flattened on his skull. He was knocked out cold. When he awoke he was all alone, no food, no horse and I imagine he must have had one helluva headache. But bad luck always comes in waves and later another element of the Nez Perce came by and shot him in the hip…and left him for dead again.

Tough guys, these Cowans. He survived and was eventually found by Army troops and treated by surgeons. He was later reunited with his wife and others in the camping group after the Indians let them go. He wore the lead slug that the Army surgeon dug out of his head, as a watch fob for the remainder of his long life.

In 1905 George and Emma Cowan pointed out the spot where George was shot and Emma was captured by the Nez Perce in 1877.

In 1905 the Cowans returned to the park to show historians where they were camping when they were raided by the Nez Perce. George Cowan lived into his nineties and Emma Cowan wrote an account of the story which is still available today.

Many, many years later descendents of the Cowans and the Nez Perce that were part of that event met together in Yellowstone to reconcile and to tell family stories. It must have been a fascinating meeting.

I was interested in following Nez Perce Creek as part of my pursuit of Forrest’s treasure but I was also interested in seeing if I could find the Cowan Group’s campsite from when they were raided. I had a copy of the 1905 photo of the Cowans that was taken in the spot they remembered as their campsite. So even if this path did not lead to the blaze and Forrest’s chest I was prepared to have some fun, explore and learn.

Nez Perce Creek

I have to tell you that if you are looking for a sweet hike in Yellowstone you couldn’t do much better than Nez Perce Creek. I parked in a pulloff on the loop road. Grabbed my camera and my photo and headed out. It was a magnificent day. Warm, but not too warm. I was in good spirit made even better by the day and the landscape and the purpose.

I spent most of the day walking that creek on its north side. I passed no other humans. Saw lots of birds and listened to more. The world was beautiful and I was exceedingly content.

Shooting Star along Nez Perce Creek

I get down on my hands and knees a lot when I am hiking with a camera because I love taking pics of wildflowers and ant hills and peculiar rocks.

In one wide spot along the creek I stopped to canvas the area. It felt warm and occupied. I could see no one else but I could sense that something had happened here. I could just make out a very old campfire ring near the creek and possibly…just possibly…old wagon tracks.

Was this the site where the Cowans had been raided? I took out the photo to compare. It was ambiguous. Possible match but not guaranteed. I went over near the ghostly mark of a campfire ring, got down on my hands and knees and started scouring the grass and dirt looking for something but I didn’t know what.

Under a small tree, perhaps uplifted by that tree over the years I saw a glimmer of white, no larger than a postage stamp. I reached for it. Picked it up and held in my hand a quite old piece of china. Possibly a piece from a broken dish or platter. Who brings china to camp? Civilized tourists in the 1800’s would have brought china. Emma Cowan could have brought china.

China sherd that I like to imagine is from one of Emma Cowan’s plates

A glass bead. Perhaps worn by a Nez Perce Indian during the raid

I did not dig. I only searched the surface. I looked for another twenty or so minutes and was just about to quit when I saw a second tiny flash of white about ten feet from where I found the china sherd. As I moved toward it, I lost sight of it. I spent another five minutes trying to recapture the location of it. I finally did. I picked up a tiny, oval shaped, pure white glass bead.

I sat right in that spot, facing the creek and looking in the direction that I imagined would have given the campers back in 1877 the most delight. Bead in my left hand and sherd in my right I imagined the Cowans, the camp, the Nez Perce, the gunshot, the fear, the anger. Like a John Ford film it all played out in my mind. Panoramic scenes on the stage in front of me. It was exciting. It was exhausting. It was fulfilling.

Lupine along Nez Perce Creek

I replaced the sherd and the bead and continued my movie.

I did not find a chest nor a blaze leading to one. At the end of the day I didn’t have any sense that I was even in the right spot for Forrest’s treasure but good god I enjoyed that hike…

dal-

My Last Search in YNP…

SUBMITTED August 2017
by CAROLYN Powers

 

 

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.

Biscuit Basin Fishing

Mountain Goat Family

Mysterious Hanging Box

Cave at Red Canyon

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.

Nothing in the Cave

Creek in Red Canyon

Grebe Lake

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.

 

Moose Mom and Baby

Mountain Man Rendezvous in West Yellowstone

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.

Momma and Baby Deer

Old Tree Cut Down in Red Canyon

Big Dandelions at Red Canyon

Best of luck to all the searchers out there and stay safe and use the good sense that God gave you.

Carolyn Powers-

Reading the Blaze – Part Four

SUBMITTED JULY 2017
by DWRock

 

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?

DWRock-

Reading the Blaze – Part Three

SUBMITTED JULY 2017
by DWRock

 

The End is the Beginning 

I returned home 100% confident that I had identified the treasure location as Otter Creek.  I even told a few friends who inquired about my trip: “I didn’t find the treasure, but I know where it is… or where it was.”  Of course, the response was: “So when are you going back to get it?”  Whenever I speak with authority my partner, Ruthie, makes it her job to question my statements.  She claims that I must have gotten my degree at MSU, but she doesn’t mean Montana State University.  I think I have pretty good intuition and logic, and often the truth is no more than a believable hypothesis that hasn’t been proven false yet.  Isn’t this the scientific method?  Ruthie was understandably steamed that I left her with the baby for ten days only to return distracted and anxious to head back out.  When she finally sat through my full explanation of the Otter Creek solve she promptly denied its plausibility: “There is no way that any searchers got within 200 feet of that spot on accident!”  This sounded familiar.  This exact thought had driven me from the search area just when I had gotten so close!  My epiphany at the airport had finally allowed me to connect Otter Creek to the final lines of the poem like I had hoped to.  I admired the fit so well that I was ready to forget about this doubt until Ruthie slammed it back on the table.  Now I could not ignore it.  My confidence in Otter Creek began to fade.

Truth told I had no reason to be so confident.  I had a tight solve of the second and third stanzas that provided enough guidance to create the blaze mentioned at the start of the fourth stanza. After that my interpretation of the poem was spotty… and the idea that the treasure was hidden somewhere along the path of the blaze seemed to fall short of its potential… an almost unpoetic end.  The moment Otter Creek dissolved I shifted my eyes across the map to the end and beginning of the blaze at the Upper/Lower Falls. At one glance the fourth stanza was unlocked.  After mentioning “the blaze” the poem reads: “Look quickly down, your quest to cease”.  Cascade Creek is the final tribute to the Yellowstone River before it plunges into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  An aerial or map view of the section of waters between Upper and Lower Falls reveals the spine of a lower case letter “f”, perfect in both proportion and orientation when viewed in alignment with the cardinal directions.  Cascade Creek comes in from the west at just the right point to suggest the ideal horizontal cross bar to complete the “f”!  The word cascade could replace “quickly down” suggesting that the searcher look at Cascade Creek.  The next line, “tarry scant with marvel gaze”, may refer to Crystal Falls.  This waterfall drops Cascade Creek into the pre-canyon “f” area where it joins with the Yellowstone.  The sixth stanza of the poem begins: “Hear me all and listen good” suggesting that the searcher listen to the next words.  The next line begins with: “your effort…” which can be heard as “f” Fort.  Crystal Falls is much smaller than its neighbors but has character and mystique.  It is captivating to watch it pour out of a broken notch in a sheer wall of rock that looks like the wall of a castle or a fort. The pre-canyon gorge shaped by and containing the watery “f” is like a fortress with access limited by steep banks to the east and west and impassable waterfalls to the north and south.  What’s more, the walls of this “f” Fort are complete with perimeter walkways and observation decks, like turrets, at the brink of each of the larger falls.

I was lost on the interpretation of the remainder of the sixth stanza including “…will be worth the cold” and “brave and in the wood”… but with the “f” Fort I had something more convincing than Otter Creek that kept me feeling hot on the chase.  I recalled that Forrest signs his last name with a little dot in what would be the northwest quadrant of the “f”.  I wondered if this dot might indicate the exact spot within the “fort” that the treasure is hidden. I speculated that a searcher might have to get wet to access this quadrant giving meaning to “worth the cold”. Once there the chest might be found “in the wood”.

Five weeks after returning home from my first trip I awoke pre-dawn back at Eagles Creek campsite… I drove in the dark arriving at the Canyon by sun-up.  My first objective was to survey the “f” Fort from all of the surrounding observation points and paths.  I wanted to identify any potential hide locations in the pre-canyon gorge.  I expected the hide spot would be a wooded area that Forrest could have traveled to without being spotted by onlookers.  I began at the brink of Lower Falls.  I noted that the entire length of the “f” spine created by the Yellowstone was open to view from one point or another along the walkway ruling out the unlikely river crossing.  From those same vantages I scanned the east bank which runs steeply down about 200+ feet from Uncle Tom’s Trail to the river.  It is generally wooded but with bands of open grassy gaps between the groupings of trees.  Continuous cover might be an issue in accessing that side, and the grade of the slope was more than I thought 80 year old Forrest would have been up to.  Next I drove to the brink of Upper Falls parking area and walked out to the Crystal Falls overlook. This is where I thought the poem suggested that I “tarry scant”.  I tarried and could see trail workers starting work on the bridge that crosses Cascade Creek just above the falls.  From there I followed an old worn trail that begins to descend the end of the ridge toward the river and then switches back to a rocky drainage gully that leads down to lower Cascade Creek.  I stepped into the gully but the rocks were wet and slippery with the morning dew.  I decided to retreat and continue my perimeter surveillance which included a visit to the brink of Upper Falls and a walk along the Uncle Tom’s Trail. A sick feeling of lost inspiration set in as my doubts about this area were renewed and solidified.  It seemed unlikely that Forrest would have attempted the moderately challenging descent into the “f” Fort; unlikely that he would have chosen this highly public area as a final resting place; and unlikely that he would have been able to pull off the hide with confidence that had been unwitnessed.

With the wind out of my “f” Fort sails, I paddled quickly for Otter Creek.  The grass had died back significantly in the past month allowing for an easy walk alongside the creek all the way to the wood.  I had a 10×10 inch cardboard box folded up in my pack that I intended to assemble and photograph in the suspicious depression I had found on my first trip. I looked all around the area and was unable to relocate it.  I did see several other sunken spots in the earth near the creek and decided that the one that had caught my eye previously was common and due to the settling of earth from undercutting erosion.  I walked up and down both sides of the creek much farther into the wood than on my previous visit, but ultimately I concluded that the secret spot would be a more specific location pointed to by the poem.  Surprised by how quick the return to the car was, I almost regretted not traveling further in, but I rested on the decision that the treasure was not, nor ever had been, up Otter Creek.

My next move was to examine Cascade Creek on either side of the road upstream from Crystal Falls.  The “f” Fort seemed ever unlikely but I still considered the possible interpretation of the line: “look quickly down” as “look Cascade Creek”.  As I descended to where the creek passes under the road I could smell and then see a large culvert tunnel constructed of creosote infused timbers…”in the wood”?  I donned a cheap pair of hip waders and a headlamp and walked a short way into the tunnel before reason caught up and let me know how ridiculous this was.  By the time I made it out one of the plastic waders was filling up and I removed it just before the water reached the top of my boot.  I then followed the creek down to within sight of the bridge and work crew upon it.  Uninspired I returned to the car.  I briefly dropped down the other side of the road to gaze further up Cascade Creek, but I had already lost interest in the direction.

It was only mid-day so I made a return trip to the rock wall on Wolf Lake Trail. Walking in along the meandering meadow-banked Gibbon River I was reminded of how ideal this setting seemed for Forrest’s purposes.  The obvious issue was its close proximity to the trail.  The rock wall appears like the wall of a fortress, and I noted that it bends approximately into the shape of an “f”!  If “the cold” in the poem was a reference to nearby Ice Lake, then this could be the “f” Fort.  I walked along the bank of the river viewing the full length of the rock wall. My assessment was that this place was too close to an established trail, and I saw nothing in the wall that drew my interest enough to warrant closer inspection.

The next loose end I checked was Silver Cord Cascade Overlook. The trailhead is marked by the large and solitary Glacial Boulder that sits along the road leading from North Rim Drive out to Inspiration Point.  The word “cascade” in Silver Cord Cascade had caught my attention for the same reason that Cascade Creek interested me: “look quickly down”.  It seemed like a long shot, but I was in long shot mode.  As I walked the trail toward the best viewing area for Silver Cord Cascade I spotted an arrowhead shape that had been intentionally cut in the bark of pine tree on the west side of the trail. It looked like it could be about the age of the treasure hunt so I quickly broke off trail in the direction it pointed.  I looked for another similar marking but finding nothing I returned to the trail and continued to the overlook. I stood gazing at the thin line of falling water.  I didn’t know where to go next.  I had done most of what I had planned to do and it was still the first day!

I returned to the Crystal Falls overlook about 5 pm and watched the work crew walk off the job.  It was time to penetrate into the Fort!  I descended the rocky gully that was now dry and safely navigable.  I followed the last thirty or so feet of Cascade Creek to its terminus into the Yellowstone River. I found a human boot print, bear paw print, and deer hoof print all heading in different directions in a solitary small patch of wet sand!  I peered into some rock alcoves and gazed across the Yellowstone to at a flat grassy area on a large boulder at the base of the steep wooded bank below Uncle Tom’s Trail.  I darted my way back up creek toward the base of Crystal Falls.  It was easy to rock-hop over Cascade Creek without getting wet or “cold”.  I was now in the northwest quadrant of the “f”.  I continued toward the base of the falls creeping into a small grouping of mature trees.  There within I found a pyramidal stone cairn that stood about knee high. Was this it!  “Brave and in the wood”!!  I promptly dismantled the cairn and scraped at the surface of the earth underneath.  Due to my firm assumption that the treasure is not buried I felt no need to dig.  It was difficult to be sure from down there at a time when no one was on the surrounding trails, but it felt like I was almost constantly exposed to view.  I stalked around the northwest quadrant a bit more taking a close look at the base of Crystal Falls and then climbed up a forty foot rise to an overlook of the Cascade Creek – Yellowstone River juncture.  I returned up the rocky gully to the trail and headed back toward the parking area but could not leave without a quick walk out to the bridge over Crystal Falls.  I stared into the dark cavernous recess in which the water pools before the brink.  If it were warmer I would have been tempted to dip in there to explore, but not for search reasons.  The whole of the “f” Fort now felt verified as irrelevant to the search due to exposure from the surrounding popular walking paths and overlooks.  My long day was done, and it seemed my chase was done, too.

My body was tired and my mind in gridlock.  I decided to start the next day on a road trip away from Yellowstone to allow my thoughts to unravel.  My original arrowhead trajectory distantly crossed over MacDonald Pass on the Continental Divide Trail (quest two seas) near Helena, MT.  The extended axis of my current version would miss by ten miles to the east, but I had heard good things about the pass so I decided: “why not?”  Three hours on the road and I pulled into a small parking area on a grassy bald with a couple of communication towers nearby.  The cold wind was blowing so hard I had to hold strongly to the door as I stepped out to prevent damage to the rental car.  I had no other plan but to look around the pass and walk at least a couple hundred feet down the CDT.  The trail quickly entered the woods where the air was still and I was able to relax and enjoy my surroundings.  I spotted wildlife, found old trees covered in green moss, walked past impressive boulder fields alongside the trail, and admired groves of aspens with yellow leaves.  The tall pines rubbed together, creaking and chirping as the wind blew their tops.  It felt like the first day of fall, everything was crisp and clear. I walked about four or five miles, much further than I had anticipated, until I came to a large bald that rose slightly higher than the parking area on the pass.  I admired the long range views.  The wind had lightened up and the sun warmed the air.  It was a beautiful hike and a good break.

On the drive home my thoughts returned to the search.  I reviewed my interpretation of the poem: the first clue “begin it where warm waters halt” provides the general direction to go to Yellowstone; the second clue indicates more specifically to go to “the canyon”… The following lines drive the creation of the arrowhead blaze overlaying the park map to be used as a treasure map.  The “blaze” begins and ends at “the canyon down”.  Immediately after mentioning the blaze the poem indicates “look quickly down your quest to cease, but tarry scant with marvel gaze, just take the chest and go in peace”.  At the Canyon area, the North Rim Trail offers a series of overlooks which in order are named: Lookout Point, Grand View, and Inspiration Point.  I realized that these might correlate to the poem’s lines: Lookout = “look quickly down”; Grand View = “marvel gaze”; and Inspiration = to breathe in or “take the chest”.  This interpretation seemed to direct the searcher down the North Rim Trail past Grand View to Inspiration Point. I knew that Inspiration Point was closed for construction, and that the North Rim Trail was barricaded after Grand View, but I could access the surrounding woods from the available road to Glacial Boulder.  I had a plan for the next morning!

I was almost back to Gardiner with some daylight left, so I decided to check out an old loose end: a third “home of Brown” I had once considered for the arrowhead’s tip.  The process of subduction and upheaval that created the Rocky Mountains resulted in the interesting feature that is Devil’s Slide. This steep swooping vertical swath of exposed red iron oxide looks like a giant slide. It is easy to perceive a connection to Forrest’s “old iron fire escape” story in the TTOTC book.  Adding to the intrigue of this feature are a couple of fortress-like walls to the left of the slide which are hard bands of rock that were once horizontal and now are turned vertical. To get a closer look I drove off the main road and over the bridge at Corwin Springs. The boundary of the old Royal Teton Ranch barred access to the slide with NO TRESSPASSING signs posted on the intermittent fence posts. The RTR seemed long out of business… Much of the barbed wire was missing or lying on the ground beside the posts. Vacated buildings nearby bearing the RTR name include a large hacienda by the main road that has the appearance of a ghost town or an old forgotten movie set.  I could have easily walked past the old fence, but I decided to stay on my side as I did not know who or what entity was current custodian of the property.  I spent the hour before dusk walking close to the road below Cinnabar Mountain and watching the setting sun illuminate Dome Mountain and the other mountains and cliffs enclosing this beautiful Yellowstone River valley.

I was up again before dawn and quickly broke camp tossing the tent in a loose heap in the back of the car.  I figured that after an hour drive to the Canyon area I had two or three hours search time before I needed to pack it in for the airport.  I parked on North Rim Drive as near to Inspiration Point as possible and walked along the access road making intermittent forays into the woods toward the North Rim Trail. I mainly sought high points hoping to find an attractive vista or some compelling connection to the final lines of the poem.  I thought more about the sixth stanza of the poem and realized that I may have underestimated its complexity.  From “Your effort will be worth the cold” I had extracted the identity of the “f” Fort which served to validate my recent interpretation of the fourth stanza, but had no idea what to do with the rest of the line.  Now it struck me that “worth” could mean “equal to” or “even with” or “level with”, and “the cold” could refer to the Glacial Boulder near Inspiration Point!  I walked around the large solitary boulder and expanded my circling to the nearby woods with focused interest in the tops of the small rises that were more or less level with the top of the boulder. I had had a good idea, but it was underdeveloped and the searching felt loosely directed.  I soon tired and returned to the car.  I was running low on inspiration but still had over an hour left to play with.

It was hard for me to feel convinced that the “f” Fort was not part of the solution. When I was down in the “f” Fort I had looked across the river to a flat grassy area on top of a large boulder. This inviting platform and the steep slope above it were loosely wooded and I believed it could be descended under fairly continuous cover.  I drove to the Uncle Tom’s parking area, walked along the path, and dropped carefully down some two or three hundred feet of slope to the river.  I enjoyed a needed break on the flat topped boulder, and did briefly contemplate a square patch of de-vegetated brown earth right there in the middle of the grass, about 10 x 10 inches square, but I had learned my lesson in that kind of silly fantasy!  By the time I returned to the car I had less than an hour to burn. I began to feel the loss of my part in the chase.  I had a nagging thought and drove to the Wapiti Lake Trailhead.  I wanted to look at the kiosk map.  By coincidence I would end both my search trips at the same exact place!  My greatest fear going into this second trip was that I would end it in the same way as the first: with some sense of epiphany bringing a new variation to my solution that would lure me back again to this place and compel my family and friends to believe that I had become obsessed or insane or both.  This fear was realized as I studied the map at the kiosk.  The loose ends I that I had spent the morning toying with seemed to tie together into a final compelling “what-if?”, and I didn’t have time to investigate it!

DWRock-

Reading the Blaze – Part Two

SUBMITTED JULY 2017
by DWRock

 

A thought struck me as I lay awake in the tent before dawn on the seventh of my nine day search.  Maybe in my excitement in discovering the arrowhead I had been too quick to read it as a pointer.  The poem had defined over three quarters of the arrowhead through Solfatara Creek Trail.  “If you’ve been wise”…you can infer the remainder by symmetry bringing the drawing back the Canyon area where it began.  I had previously discarded the Canyon area as a treasure locale because I saw it as having too much tourist pressure for Forrest’s purpose… but what if the Canyon was where boots hit ground, and the blaze and the remaining lines of the poem served to direct the journey from there to a more appropriate area peripheral to the sightseeing main?  The thought that flashed into my mind was that “the wood” of the poem might refer to the part of an arrowhead that is wedged into a wooden arrow shaft!  This interpretation would figuratively and literally “tie-in” the arrowhead blaze to the final treasure location.

Once the sun was up I made a quick study of my National Geographic Trails Illustrated map on which my arrowhead and axis were delineated.  I continued to consider two different “home of Brown” locations which indicated very different tip locations but had little influence on the location of the center of the base of the arrowhead.  What caught my eye was a labeled peak (8,052 feet) near the south rim of the canyon that fell exactly on my axis line.  I was so glad for new direction that I packed up and headed out without a further thought.  I parked at Artist Point and walked the easy trail to Ribbon Lake and continued off into the woods beyond the lake.  I wandered the obtusely rounded terrain stepping over and traversing downed pine logs in what seemed an unending pursuit of the illusive peak.  Each subtle rise would taper down and then build into another subtle rise. Finally, I was standing on the intended peak but found no treasure and no survey marker.  Just to be thorough I walked an additional mile to bag the next nearest labeled peak (8,343 feet) before giving up and following the canyon rim back.  I stopped to ponder Silver Cord Falls as a potential representation of the string of a bow that might be drawn back to fire an arrow.  As I sighted the draw line into the tall grass and muck that leads toward Ribbon Lake I realized that I was grasping… I sat down on a log to think.  My lumbering thought train moved with slow but unstoppable inertia to the next logical station… Maybe the line “in the wood” still indicated the wood of an arrow’s shaft but at a point distant to the arrowhead.  Maybe I should project the axis line backwards on the map to determine where “in the wood” is referring to.  On the map I discovered that the shaft of the arrow conveniently skirts by the Fishing Bridge area where Forrest had his first Yellowstone experiences!

The line I extended on the map is reasonably accessible by only three routes within the park before it is lost into remote portions of southeast Yellowstone and northern Grand Teton National Park.  The intersections occur on Pelican Valley Trail, Turbid Lake Trail, and on the East Entrance road.  I found the latter compelling due to the fact that Forrest’s first impressions of Yellowstone would have come while driving in the East Entrance Road to camp at Fishing Bridge.  I checked the south side of the road finding a lot of mud and some thermal features that I didn’t want to step in, and the north side of the road offered nothing to catch my eye.  I concluded that there was little chance that the Fenn family, or Forrest on his own, would have stopped to explore this bleak peripheral area when they were so close to their camping destination and the many splendors just around the bend.  I’m not sure now why I decided not to walk up Turbid Lake Trail, but the Pelican Valley Trail had my attention because it crosses perpendicular to the axis line and is the closest intersect to Fishing Bridge.  The trail enters a “Bear Management Area” so I was happy that a tour group was following behind me… but I didn’t want them to see me wandering off trail… so I overshot the axis line and pretended to take interest in a distant buffalo.  They took such a long time that I watched a thermal pot boil… and then watched a cowboy with a pack mule trainee slowly clump by… Finally they passed and I doubled back to investigate some narrow bands of woods that paralleled (conveniently) about 200 feet to the north and south of the trail at my mark.  I found no human leavings or markings.

I had some daylight left so I drove up to the Canyon area to scratch a mental itch. It bothered me a little that I hadn’t spent more time in the exact area where the drawing of the arrowhead begins and ends. The Yellowstone River drops 100 feet at Upper Falls, travels a short distance, and then plummets 300 more feet at Lower Falls.  The smaller Crystal Falls pours through a breach in the west flank of the pre-canyon gorge delivering Cascade Creek into the Yellowstone River between Upper and Lower Falls.  Something had perked my interest in Crystal Falls long before my trip to Yellowstone in my early stages of developing a solution that would begin in the Canyon area.  I’m not sure what originally triggered my sense of its mystique, but when someone hinted at a potential connection to the poems words “marvel gaze” my attraction to it strengthened. The reference on the blog hinted at a connection to the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz, in which Professor Marvel gazes into a crystal ball.  I parked in the Upper Falls lot and walked in the rain to the Crystal Falls observation point. The waters of Cascade Creek travel through a mini slot canyon, then pool in a dark cavernous recess before pouring out of a face of rock that resembles a broken castle wall.  I longed to take a closer look into the dark recess but the trail leading to the top of the falls was closed for construction.

I had a limited budget of time for my last day of the trip, and what started as a simple plan became a bit of a frenzy.  I had previously scouted the Wolf Lake Trail up to its juncture with the Gibbon River.  The Gibbon is a small but wise and charismatic river that snakes beautifully through scenic meadows along the road between Norris and Madison Junction.  The Gibbon had a draw on me and I had already made one side excursion parking at Iron Springs Picnic Area to walk along one of the few sections of the river that deviates briefly away from the rumble of the road.  I had slated the remainder of my final morning to making a few slow passes of the small section of the Gibbon that cuts between Ice Lake and Wolf Lake Trails.  I had been toying with the idea that after the mention of the blaze in the poem the remaining clues continued to define its path back to the Canyon.  This idea ruled the day.  After Solfatara Creek Trail the arrowhead seemed to want to follow the Howard Eaton Trail to Ice Lake which I considered could be indicated by “worth the cold”.  Ice Lake leads to the little semi-remote section of the Gibbon that I would explore and hopefully find “brave and in the wood”.

I began to complicate things by adding one quick search stop before driving into the park.  To explain this stop I need to mention a few more events from day eight…  The previous day I was forced to upgrade my week park pass to a year park pass.  The ranger at the gate handed me my new pass and asked if I needed a map.  Finally I understood!  Forrest has stated over and again that “all you need is the poem”.  The first clue indicates: Go to Yellowstone.  Once you get there a map is provided to you at the entrance gate.  This simple map is one of the easiest to initially identify the outline of an arrowhead as it is formed by the Yellowstone River from the Canyon to its juncture with the Gardiner River, and from there roughly following the Grand Loop Road past Norris back to the Canyon.  My old favorite “put in below the home of Brown” was off this map… Joe Brown Creek was the wrong home of Brown!  My second choice turned out to be the best choice.  This was further confirmed when I proceeded to drive into the park and noticed a rare phenomenon: empty spaces in the Boiling River parking area.  I stopped in and read some of the interpretive signs.  One described the Gardiner River as a winter spawning ground for Brown Trout.  Again, all you need is the poem!  The Gardiner River is home of Brown.  In the last light of day eight I poked around above a quarry near Eagle’s Creek Campground that lay in the path directed by the revised arrowhead blaze. I didn’t find anything compelling, but I enjoyed a view of the Yellowstone -Gardiner junction from above.  The remarkable land feature defined by the two rivers is unquestionably the tip of the arrowhead.

Before entering the park on my ninth and final search day I made a stop at the “new” proper arrowhead tip where the Yellowstone and Gardiner rivers meet.  The tip of land pointed directly toward a smooth boulder in the river that was naturally sculpted out hollow giving it the appearance of a giant heart shaped goblet.  I couldn’t help but climb inside and dig around the stagnant water and silt until I was sure that no chest was buried within.  I then waded across the Gardiner and climbed about 50 feet up the sloped bank to survey the area.  The surroundings seemed unlikely for Forrest’s trove. Downtown Gardiner was just a few hundred feet away, immediately across the Yellowstone were homes and private properties, and all around the banks I saw the litter of human recreants.

I moved on to Wolf Lake Trail… The trail offers views of the Gibbon bending into omega shapes in the grassy meadows to the right.  An interesting rock wall of at least 100 feet long and 20 to 40 feet high emerges below the trail near to the river crossing.  The wall has a curvy ribbed profile with folds and vacant slots creating many potential secret spots.  I had planned to spend some up close time in the rock, but gnawing doubts about my current search area caused me to hurry past.  Leaving the trail I stepped into the Gibbon and steadily waded through the water and trotted along the downed pines that crisscrossed it.  In about 45 minutes I crossed Ice Lake Trail and continued up the river for about 300 feet before retreating.  This is a wonderful area, but I could appreciate it little because I was watching the minutes tick away and was sure that the treasure lay elsewhere.

The arrowhead drawing on the map is guided by the clues and corresponding waterways, roads, and trails.  After passing along the Solfatara – Howard Eaton – Ice Lake link up the drawing must jump a brief featureless gap before it is confidently received and surely channeled back to its source. Otter Creek perfectly provides the compliment to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone needed to complete the base of the arrowhead.  Over the past evenings I had spent some time browsing the internet at Tumbleweeds Café trying to make a connection between Otter Creek and what I believed was the final clue(s) of the poem: “brave and in the wood”.  I considered animal stereotyping, like “hungry as a wolf” and “proud as a lion”, and hoped to find some reference to “brave as an otter”.  I could only find the stereotype “playful as an otter”, but I did read that the otter will fiercely defend its home and young against any adversary.  As I walked the Gibbon on the morning of my last day I kept feeling like I needed to be searching closer to the “end” of the arrowhead drawing.  I decided that the Otter might be brave, and with my remaining time I would do my best to find out.

I parked at the nearest pull-off, walked down the bank into the shallows of the Yellowstone River, and waded under the road into Otter Creek.  I moved slowly at first, examining the juncture area and walking the first hundred feet or so in the water, then weaving back through the wooded area near the south bank of the creek. A park service road runs adjacent to the creek along its north bank for a few hundred feet before crossing over and diverging to the south.  The terminal section of the creek was shallow, gravelly, and exposed.  The water was slow and tinged in a way that suggests backwashing from the bigger river. I decided that the creek area within 200 feet of the main road didn’t feel like a treasure hiding area so I continued upstream.  Without any other agenda I decided to budget the balance of time for walking as far as possible up Otter Creek.  I stepped out of the water, knocked the gravel out of my sandals, and hastened up the service road. Above the second bridge the creek narrowed to less than two feet wide and all but disappeared in tall grass as a little valley opened up.  I was surprised that such a bold blue line on the map turned out to be such a meager trickle!  It became difficult to walk in the grass next to the creek so I moved to higher ground along the edge of a wooded area to the south. I was able to keep an eye on the Otter from a distance by watching the crease it formed in the floor of the grassy valley.  Before long I could see ahead where upper Otter Creek exits the woods and enters the valley.  I reasoned that the treasure would lie at the point where the Otter is first encountered from this direction “in the wood”.  I closed in toward this point.  A few thoughts and events converged here that were pivotal, but I wouldn’t fully grasp their importance until later.  I had begun to doubt this search because with no nearby roads or trails it seemed unlikely that any, much less several, searchers would have accidentally or unknowingly come within 200 feet of the remote area I was travelling in.  I was already mentally preparing to turn back as I met the creek and entered the wood.  Then something at my feet caught my eye.  Just inside the wood on the north bank of Otter Creek was a perfectly square depression in the earth that seemed to fit the dimensions of the treasure chest: about 10 inches by 10 inches, and with a depth of about 4 inches.  I snapped a couple of quick pictures and walked a short way further up creek into the wood.  Soon I glanced at my watch and double-timed it back to the car to spare a few minutes for another last-ditch effort.

The rationale that the end of the hunt should coincide with the end of the arrowhead drawing continued to draw me toward the falls, but I couldn’t be convinced that the proper falls area could contain the treasure.  It would have to be somewhere peripheral to the main tourism center.  My thoughts lingered on the arrowhead’s path along Otter Creek that completes the journey to the starting point…  Maybe the wooded area across the Yellowstone River from the Otter Creek outlet would be worth a look?  I moved the car to the Wapiti parking area on the other side of the river and set off through the picnic area into the wood. Eventually I reached the viewpoint opposite Otter Creek. There is a fantastic old fallen tree there with a dried and weather-worn maze of roots covered in bright green moss. The trunk pointed exactly away from the creek. I looked around the edge of the eroding bank finding nothing else of interest, so I followed the direction of the old tree up into the woods.  I lost sight of the tree as I climbed, but I tried to maintain its trajectory rising about one hundred feet in elevation before reaching a ridgetop. I looked around the immediate area and then walked along the ridge back toward the parking area. I had passed below some rock outcroppings when traversing to the Otter Creek viewpoint.  I took some time on my return to climb around them and look into mailbox-like slots underneath several of the rocks that seemed to be eager for the insertion of a 10x10x6 inch treasure box.  There was no rationale in this kind of searching… as humbling as it is to recount I mention it because it illustrates the futility of searching without a completed solution to the poem.  There were so many moments like this during the nine days – peering into slots and crevices or overturning logs and old stumps in a manner that lacked specific direction or precision… just fruitless hopefulness.  The active treasure hunt seems to demand the full attention of two sides of the mind that don’t work at the same time: the creative/imaginative mind and the logical/rational mind.  Enacting this struggle with my “boots on the ground”, however, later proved to be a necessary process to learning and understanding the completed solution.

I gifted my bear spray and air horn to some young hikers standing at the Wapiti Trail kiosk. The anxious pace of the day continued as I had spared no extra time, but my actions were now all pre-planned and mechanical.  Luckily I arrived at the airport with some minutes to rest and reflect before my flight boarded.  My thoughts began to catch up.  I was still grappling with the question of the Otter.  I pulled out my tablet and resumed searches about otters and the various definitions of the word brave.  As my brain sorted and filed the various images and thoughts from the day I suddenly had the answer!  I knew where the treasure chest was!  I was there just a few hours earlier!  The little creek I walked along was less than two feet wide and covered up for much of its journey by tall grasses, but it persisted, coursing a straight line, bold blue on the map, four miles alone, the main waterway draining the valley, before offering itself into the larger Yellowstone River as the final tribute before the plunge over Upper Falls.  It didn’t matter that it was named “Otter”… the creek was by its character “brave”.  I knew then that with another short visit to Otter Creek I could more carefully analyze and document the depression I saw, as well as, walk further up and down the banks in the wooded area. To that end I was confident that I would find the treasure or know that someone else had.  As the plane delivered my body homeward an anxious undercurrent began to draw my mind back in the direction of Yellowstone.

DWRock-