Running in Circles…


© 2011 dal neitzel



If you’ve read Forrest’s “Thrill of the Chase” you probably remember the story about him agreeing to put the ashes of his friend and neighbor Olga on Taos Mountain in return for being granted her property at its appraised value. You might also remember that at the last minute Forrest decided while flying over the mountain with her ashes that the mountaintop was too barren and that Olga’s ashes would be much more comfortable down on the side where there are trees and squirrels and chipmunks.

Taos Mountain…or whatever its called

That story left a mark with me as I read it in late 2010 and I decided that one of the places I needed to look for his chest was on the side of Taos mountain. But there were two problems associated with the side of Taos mountain.

First, and most important, there is no Taos Mountain. This I found particularly annoying. There are the Taos Mountain(s)…A range that includes several high peaks, but no Taos Peak or singular such named mountain on any of my maps. Upon further investigation I read that there once was a mountain peak labeled as Taos. It was the highest peak in the Taos Mountains. But it was renamed about 60 years ago. Its now officially named Wheeler Peak.

How sad for Taos Mountain. Once bearer of a proud regional moniker linked to a spectacular native culture and dominant alpine geography…now relegated to promoting a fair-thee-well, minor military botanist who’s exploits can only be recited by those who have climbed to the 13,161 foot summit of Wheeler Peak and read the memorial plaque or those who have looked him up in Wikipedia.

I decided that Forrest and many other locals often referred to Wheeler Peak as Taos Mountain even though all the maps I found used the new appelation rather than the older, more appropriate and dignified, Taos Mountain. I like to think that the mountain appreciated the informal protest against willy-nilly name changing. It was probably orchestrated by a national department of official place namers in Washington, DC who had never been out here but had a mandate from some blow-hard congressman to name something important after Wheeler.

Second, there is no way the clues in the poem, as I understand them, can get me to the side of Wheeler Peak. To begin, there is no canyon which you can follow down to get to Wheeler Peak. Since its the highest peak around it isn’t “down” from anything..except sky.

None-the-less I felt compelled to go to the side of Wheeler Peak and find where the squirrels and chipmunks play and look for Forrest’s chest. Problem was, I only had five days off. and it takes 24hrs of pushing the gas pedal to get there. 24 hours back again. I cannot drive for 24 hours straight. But I can drive for 12 hours straight, take a nap and then drive the other 12.

By my calculations I could drive on days 1&2, hike on days 2&3 and drive back on days 4&5. Maybe end up with about 44lbs of treasure in the back of my truck. Never mind that this could not be the place. Some devious power had taken control of my mind and prevented me from thinking logically about this whole location.

The thing about this that made it sound easy was that I could drive all the way up to 9,000 feet on a Forest Service road and then have to hike up only about 3,000 feet to the side of the mountain over about 7 or 8 miles. There was a particular trail I was interested in that follows a stream up most of the way and then I could cut over to two lakes stocked with trout that I wanted to admire. Stay the night near one of the lakes and then come back down.

As if this idea wasn’t goofy enough I also had to ignore the question of whether Forrest, at 79, would have hiked up this trail with something like a 45lb rock in his backpack. Earlier in my research I had decided to see what a load like Forrest’s chest felt like. I found a pretty good sized rectangular boulder that weighed less…about 40lbs. It was huge and didn’t fit in my pack so l trussed it all up with some rope and wore it like a pack. 40lbs is a lot of weight and something shaped like a treasure chest does not sit against your back very well. Its fairly tortuous for us modern hikers. In the good old days those lean and extra fit explorers would have thought nothing of carrying two 50lb rocks, or a boat or a horse up that trail. I, on the other hand, am not one of those tough, grizzled mountain men of the past. That 40lb rock was really uncomfortable. I was not about to carry it uphill for 7-8 miles and I didn’t think Forrest would either.

In spite of all the reasons why it was senseless to look on the side of  Wheeler Peak, I went.

Mount Wheeler area

Once again, I saw beautiful country completely unlike the wet rainforestesque woodlands of my home state. Also unlike the oxygen rich air that I am used too at near sea level. At 12,000 feet the O2 level in the air is considerably less. It affects your ability to work. It makes you breathe harder. It makes you tired quicker. I think it also made me dumber.

And did I mention the temperature swing? The temperature when I started was about 60F. It warmed up to nearly 78F. Pretty nice walking weather. As I ambled next to my stream the spruce and pine forest heated up and smelled sweet like fresh sawn wood as the resin warmend under the bark of tens of thousands of trees. I love that smell.

I brought plenty of water and a jacket. I did not think that I would need a sleeping bag. Instead, in the name of “lightweight”  I brought a nylon thermal blanket and a sheet of plastic. Dumb! By 11pm it was 40F and it continued dropping until 4am when my GPS told me it was 31F.

Shivering keeps me awake. Too dark to explore. So I watched the night sky, and what a sky it was. There are no lights to stiffle the view of stars out there. No glare to reduce your eyeful of the heavens. I have never seen so many night objects in the starry, starry sky as I saw that night next to Wheeler Peak. I saw hundreds of falling stars whiz toward earth. I saw constellations I didn’t remember the names of and old friends like Cassiopea and both dippers. I made up a few constellations of my own, like Elephant Jumping Hurdles and Monkey Wearing a Dress. I even watched a satellite cut lazily across the sky. It was simply beautiful…and humbling…and fun.

As soon as light began to flood over the mountain I started exploring again. I was somewhat tired and slow from the constant teeth chattering and lack of sleep.  By Noon I was through exploring and headed back down the trail. Of course I found nothing…At 6pm I was back in the truck and headed home. At 7PM I was close to dead so I pulled over for a nap. When I woke-up it was 2am and I still had 23hrs of driving to get home.

I promised myself on the drive back that next time my search areas would have to fit the directions in the poem…at least a little bit….


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9 thoughts on “Running in Circles…

  1. It’s funny how things are renamed, but I truly believe you keep the familiarity of what you grew up with…once talking to someone they kept referring to a Veteran’s Park in my city that I had live in all my life… I was completely drawing a blank because I had no clue where they were talking about, so asking them specifics I said “Oh, you mean Granger’s Pond.” Now it was their turn to look confused lol!

  2. Hey Dal,
    Before I give the reason, I would like to give the why.

    Why am I writing on this post?
    Like many others I have things that I imply from Forrest that I believe.
    I believe, like so many others, that Forrest was referring to Stephanie when he said someone would have a heart attack if she know who was close. And I believe that someone is you Dal. You have become within 500 ft of the treasure because you missed the other seven clues.

    The first two I believe you got right on this journey here.

    I know from previous times we have discussed on this board you don’t seem like the sharing of secrets types. You told me awhile back you wouldn’t want to go searching with anyone because you wouldn’t trust them. I think it may be the other way around too; you wouldn’t want to be put in the moral dilemma that if you were the one who found it what would YOU do. So you’re Duke in the beginning of City Slickers II. I’m more Duke from the end of the movie. *holds one finger up* “Honesty” I also believe if anyone should find it, other than myself, it should be you since this board has helped a lot of searchers. (I even give you my word that if I were to ever go out and find it, I would give you a piece of the treasure for payment of how this board has helped me)

    Moving along, I won’t go into much detail about this, but I don’t believe Forrest (from his previous books) really ever expected TTOTC to ever get widespread coverage. Of course, we all hope and dream, but since no one know who he was before the chase how could he possibly expect TTOTC to extend beyond his home. Thus I believe New Mexico is the state.

    Fenn has said not to over think it. When you think of warm waters halting and that brings you to the mountain top what better to not over think the clue than to say its the highest mountain top in New Mexico.

    So why did this journey go astray.

    Simple. Not far, but too far to walk.

    And here is my secret.

    What do you do on trails. You walk them.
    So don’t go down any trails anymore.

    When you parked your car, and went down a trail. You want too far to walk.
    When you park your, or put in below home of Brown, and get out. That’s when you should try to go off the beaten path or “no place for the meek”

    Just a idea….

  3. Hello sir, I was reading u p on the poem an some of the other info including an interview from forest and I did notice a couple of things. I’m no genius or a science but in his in interview in 2011 he seys when he walked back to his car he was smiling, an it was a special place for him. The home of Brown was found at the north side Taos, an the water does come down to the ski valley, from there below the house of Brown would be to far to walk to the canyon, but not from the the Phoenix grill. From the Phoenix grill to Williams lake, in between is a canyon according to goggle map the water goes into, which tells me loads of high water, cold water, it’s off the Williams lake trial in the wood. If you do look in there look look in a tarry scant, or marvel gaze, look as if your looking at rocks, after sitting in that water that’s what it will now because water changes bronze colors over time..

  4. this is a totally different direction, but has anyone been to the Rio Chama, ( Chama Canyon) ? My co worker was there a few years back, and on the sign to the Christ in the desert Monestary, the word Peace is actually above the sign. Not really mentioned any where else that i can see, but would be a perfect double meaning to go in peace once you find the treasure. Not only are you in peace about being the one to solve the riddle, but also physically having to go in to the property of “Peace”.

      • yes i have heard of it and had figured that it was searched frequently, just thought i would throw that clue in there since, again, the word peace isnt really mentioned as part of the title of the monestary from what i can see. But then there it is on the sign which if you werent out there to physically see it, you would never know it was there. Interesting considering FF wanted us to get off our couches and get outdoors.

  5. Cool story . I love that area , seen it with my own eye’s. Beautiful to say the least.
    May I add to your solve. I also paid a lot of attention to Olga, and not sure if he fulfilled his words , and it being, you will see him burning candles at both ends with in the tail. To con clued that a possible “WWH”
    But , if you re read the story he fulfilled his arrangement. HIs description of how cold it was give it away.
    To Thought , In his Viet Nam Photo he has a look of despair hidden by a smile. And the story where he never cried so hard in his life would be at least in my mine a WWH . If looking at it in this concept. I like your story and a well thought adventure for sure. Sounded like you had fun and mixed it with a little Thrill of The Chase. =) Good luck in your hunt , and I hope you find what your looking for.

    Or is his WWH his Brothers Passing , or his Dad’s , or ect ..

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