Our First Treasure Hunt…

SUBMITTED August 2014
BY Julie


We found Cows, Laughter, Car Dancing, and a Fear of Heights…but no Treasure!

As my kids get older, the short amount of time I have left before they head to college is really starting to hit me. My new mantra is “Don’t Miss the Moment!”.

So when I saw the story about the Fenn Treasure on the Today show last spring, I thought it would be a wonderful way to create some memorable moments with my 12 year old son. The perfect way to get him away from his phone, video games, and out of his room.

I thought we’d start our search close to home, here in Colorado. I wasn’t really thinking we would find anything, for me it was really just about spending time together. My son on the other hand was hooked immediately. We spent hours researching online, talking about what the poem meant over dinner and drives to/from soccer. Soon, I too was totally in to the Chase!

We made a file folder with all our research. Apparently he felt this was top secret information, labeling it “Confidential” and then hiding it in my office. It would be several weeks before the snow melted and our search area opened. During those weeks, I would find our treasure file hidden in odd locations throughout the house. He said he had to move it in case someone (other treasure hunters apparently) broke in and stole it. Curious what runs through his mind?






As the weather warmed, he had me check daily if the area was open. Finally it was and we were off to the Black Canyons of Gunnison. We had narrowed our search to the North Rim Trail, the less touristy side of the canyon. We figured it was a possible location Mr. Fenn could have driven through on his way to Yellowstone. It was about a 6 hour drive for us from suburbia to our hotel. Then the next day about another 1.5 hours to the Canyons.




Apparently, long road trips involve lots of snacks!

And wildlife jumping in front of our car….

…car dancing/singing…..and my young photographer entertaining himself with my camera. Here’s his shot of a mountain we labeled “Butt Hill”. Which in 12 year old boy world was entertaining for about the next 25 miles.


The next day we set out for our target area, and had an interesting wildlife encounter, one we don’t see much in suburbia. As we came around a bend in the road it was filled with cows. With no other choice, we parked the car and just let them walk by. They were close enough to touch from the car. We sat there for about 20 minutes surrounded by cows and laughing. The my stomach is going to hurt tomorrow laughter. There were many cow jokes, “Close En-cow-nters”. I didn’t say good jokes!

Soon a guy on a horse (we wondered if we would still call them cowboys?) came by and told us we could drive on if we just went slow, that the cows would move. We were laughing so hard we decided we should just wait.


Finally we were getting close! We crossed the narrow road that was the dam where “warm waters halt”. This freaked my son out since the guardrails were basically nonexistent and it was a long drop down.


We arrived at the North Rim. This freaked me out, since there were no guard rails at all, and it was REALLY a long ways downs!


I took a look around, and immediately I knew we were not even close to being in the right area for the treasure. While it was absolutely breathtaking, we most definitely were not “in the woods” for most of our search area, and our clues didn’t line up quite like we thought.

But we trekked on…..

From the dam it was quite a ways down the canyon. Definitely an area too far to walk! We put in below the home of Brown, checking in at the Ranger Station.


From there this road was absolutely no place for the meek, with its sheer drop offs into the canyon. I never realized that I had such a fear of heights until I was driving along this road to our trailhead. My son just laughed and said, “don’t look, don’t look!” over and over.


There was “no paddle up our creek”, as we walked upstream along the edge of the canyon rim to the next clue. Heavy load was “Balancing Rock”. The photo doesn’t show it well, it makes it look like the boulder is attached to the wall. Actually, it was just balancing.


Just down from balancing rock, was “Kneeling Camel” rock, we reasoned that camels store water. So this could be water high.



We thought for sure we had found the blaze with “Painted Wall”. A painted marker that would be there forever.



We looked “quickly down” the trail that lead to the abandoned forest ranger’s station and an old outhouse. We thought several words in the poem referenced an outhouse: “go in peace” and it would be “cold” to use at night, “title” to the throne room. We did a thorough search of the area.

(This was before Mr. Fenn announced that the treasure was not associated with any outhouse or structure.)



Some of us searched more thoroughly than others.


With no treasure in hand we made our way back to a beautiful overlook, had lunch, and reassessed our clues and thoughts on the area. My son took a little break to climb a tree, the only time I’ve ever seen him climb a tree!


We got directions from the ranger, and opted to hike out to a stocked, high mountain lake we’d read about. Possibly another option for “water high”? We hiked out quite a ways (never finding the lake), until suddenly I had the feeling we were being watched. I looked around to see if there were other hikers (not likely) or some wildlife nearby (more likely). I couldn’t see anything, but decided it was probably time to head back. My son explored the rocks and terrain a bit on the way back, and found a bird wing.


He thought it could be an owl wing, and therefore a “wise” owl reference and the blaze, until I pointed out that it probably hasn’t been out there for several years. However, finding only part of a bird didn’t make me feel any better about the whole being watched feeling, so I was glad to be heading back to the car.

We both were a little disappointed on the return drive to the hotel. My son just looked out the window, and didn’t want to talk. I felt horrible about how upset he was. However, about thirty minutes later he perked up and started sharing some new thoughts on what the poem might mean. We spent the night hanging out in the hotel pool, discussing the day, and new treasure hunting ideas.

As we headed home (with more road trip snacks), my son shared many things I never knew about him. It was an amazing “moment” that lasted for hours. The most surprising reveal was how much he liked being outside, hiking, camping, and having adventures. He wished we did more of this with our family. This from my quiet, video gamer!

So last summer, we took a couple camping trips and signed him up for some adventure classes through REI. Between his birthday and Christmas he now has the most impressively stocked, wilderness survival backpack a boy could have. He wears it around the house quite often, with his version of an Indiana Jones hat (you see him wearing it in these photos).

Most importantly, we are preparing for our next treasure hunt. We are heading to northern New Mexico in May.
I find myself now doing research not only on New Mexico, but also on how and where to find arrowheads, artifacts, and petroglyphs. Any tips are appreciated! I know he would think our journey a success if he found an arrowhead (in addition to the treasure of course).

We have a few New Mexico areas scoped out, and are counting the days until our next trip. Our research is safely tucked in to file folders, which of course are hidden again somewhere in our house.


In a way I hope nobody finds the treasure for a long time, I’ll take memories and moments like these for as many years as I can. Thank you Mr. Fenn for this wonderful adventure!

26 thoughts on “Our First Treasure Hunt…

  1. You are a great mom Julie…and video gamer is a great son and serious searcher…

    Sorry I botched this. Julie sent me this story months ago but I lost track of it. She is a very patient person. She only reminded me about it today…jeese!!

    • Thanks Dal! Brendan and I were very excited to see our hunt up on your site. 🙂 Our second outing this May was much more adventurous. Can’t wait for our next search/trip to New Mexico coming up soon. Thank you to everyone for your kind comments.

  2. Hi Julie, would you like to have a 10 yr old son with lots of life experience? If I could only go back 50 years. You’re the world’s best mom.

  3. Wow! That is not only a great adventure story, but is also a great solve attempt at the poem. I think things like “Butt Hill”, Painted Wall, and Kneeling Camel are exactly the reasons Mr. Fenn suggests to consult a child.

  4. Great adventure story Julie and what a wonderful experience to share with your son. You’re a great Mom! Looks like you have an Indiana Jones in training! 🙂

  5. Loved the story Julie! I got a laugh out of the Butt Hill. It looks like that to me too. I also have that fear of heights, but it is only when I am on the side of a very thin trail on a mountainside. And thanks to peripheral vision, you can’t just “don’t look.” When your son grows up and has grandchildren, you can still go on adventures with him and the grandkids too. It doesn’t have to end. Your son sounds like a great kid and I wish you all the luck for your treasure hunting.

  6. Great story and very well done. The photos made it seem as though I was along for the search. Hope to read of another of you and Brendan’s search adventures.

  7. Great story. I am looking forward to when my son is old enough to go on trips like this.

  8. Your story about your adventure with your son is lovely and joyful. It brings a tear to my eye. Those beautiful times together will never be forgotten and will make an edible impression on your son for his entire life. Something about being out in nature alone or with the ones we love taps into our very soul and nourishes us. Thanks for sharing it with us and we look forward to hearing more about your other trips. And thank you Forrest Fenn for prompting us to go! It been a beautiful gift to so many.

    • Ok, make that “indelible” instead of edible–although I guess an impression could be eatable…..

  9. Nice story, Julie! I also have looked down from high up and been a bit scared. I just told myself, OK… IF YOU ARE BRAVE… then, I decided that yes I in fact am brave and continued on. Self assurance has kept me going. It leads to confidence!

  10. this is exactly what I want for my inner city kids a chance to explore. make memories. appreciate a vast beautiful countryside. find common ground with caring adults and especially to learn the code of the west from cowboys and how to live with honorfrom our native culture. Thank you Mr.Fenn you have made the difference.Your life has been a gift to so many of us.

  11. Great story…one of my favorites on this blog. Hope you go on more searches and post your story each time.

  12. What a wonderful story of a mother and son he will have so many memories of those wonderful adventures and not on a hard drive job well done and these are the treasures Mr. Fenn had intended.

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