SUBMITTED JULY 2015
The Woodsmans Solution
When I first looked at this search area on a map it seems an unlikely spot, but with all the apparent connections to the poem I wasn’t just going to ignore it. If you follow the line of thinking presented below I think you will agree this solution seems plausible and checks many boxes from the list of requirements Forrest’s quotes have set out for us. Equal parts logic, imagination, and serendipity converged to put me on this track and hopefully you will find that this is one of the more straight forward approaches that have been put forth to date. This solution comes with a “word that is key”, a coherent over-arching theme, a “one foot in front of the other” path, and, most importantly, no numbers, ciphers, anagrams, codes, jumbles, symbols, coordinates, or letter cherry picking of any kind. It is a 100% poem-based read, and if I mention more than 1 connection to the book feel free to slap me. It unlocks Fenn’s use of literary-style allusions to hide the clues and best of all these allusions are something everyone’s kid would relate to. So put away your magic decoder rings, sit back, and prepare to be pleasantly surprised (I hope).
Where Warm Waters Halt
Forrest has been thought of in many ways and called many things but I believe at heart he is an outdoorsman. I see some of myself in him. I too worry that I use the word “I” too much and I end a lot of my sentences with prepositions to. I grew up in New Mexico but now live in Colorado. When I was in elementary school my folks would boot me out the door in the morning and my friends and I spent countless hours roaming the canyons of northern New Mexico, climbing trees, chasing imaginary bad guys, teasing rattlesnakes with a stick (trained professional-don’t try this at home), and rolling over those logs. The only rule was don’t get hurt and be home for supper. I was hunting elk when I was ten, and loved the family camping vacations 4 wheeling through the Rocky Mountains and exploring ghost towns and mining claims. My father had a collection of books about “Lost gold and buried treasure”…I read them all. I’ve hiked, camped, and hunted in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana and consider myself a woodsman.
As an outdoor guy I was thinking, how would a woodsman go about creating this clue and could it be based on something an outdoors person would have observed? I stumbled through all the low hanging fruit like everyone else (YNP, Mammoth Hot Springs, Firehole river, Madison river, etc). Too easy…..gotta have something better.
What if the answer is more like a riddle with a solution that has both a generic and a specific part? Being a researcher, I though perhaps the best way to solve this problem was to break it down into two simpler pieces. For instance: a) where does water halt, b) add warm back in later and see how that modifies the result. Weeks later I was thinking about a fall grouse hunt I did with a friend a couple of years ago. We got into a tight steep-sided valley that ran down from the top of a larger mountain. The birds loved this area because it was dark and shady and had a small creek running down the middle that allowed all their favorite plant foods to flourish. With my friend hunting one side and me hunting the other we worked our way upstream, bagging birds, and climbing ever higher on the mountain. All of a sudden I realized the water had disappeared and along with it the birds. Wait a minute….I thought I was paying attention so what happened to the creek? Circling back I was quite astonished to realize how abruptly the water just appeared out of the ground. One minute it was a flowing creek, next gone and dry. Could this be a candidate for how water is perceived to halt (especially if you are in the woods)?
I know what you’re saying…. there are millions of streams and creeks…shouldn’t there be a hot springs involved….how does this help unless we know what stream? To me, logic dictates that the poem must contain information that identifies a specific location. F said “not every noun is a clue” so what about those adjectives…”warm” for instance. But before you can understand why this makes sense I have to touch on another part of the story so more on “warm” later. Suffice it to say, for the moment, I would ask you to believe the origin of a stream could also be considered where water halts. Didn’t F said to “begin at the beginning”.
Last year’s search had led me to a Wild and Scenic river known as the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone just outside of YNP on the east side. If ever there was a spectacular canyon with panoramic views and the perfect mix of remoteness and accessibility, this is it. Most people drive right by and have no idea what’s there except a small glimpse from the bridge over the intersecting Sunlight Creek Canyon. I like it so much I might ask to be buried there. The only problem was that right from the beginning I found myself struggling to force the clues into place. The solution didn’t flow well and, with boots on the ground, it just got worse. Yes there was water high, no place for the meek, too far to walk, canyon down, but WWWH wasn’t clear and HOB was even more desperate.
I took a few months off from the search after that and tried to regroup my thoughts. I told myself there wouldn’t be any more searches without better clue fits, and I developed a half a dozen criteria to better self-assess future solutions with a little more critical thinking. But as you all know a fella can’t stay away from this obsession too long and after a while I found myself browsing through the materials I had collected from the last trip. Suddenly there it was staring at me from the pages of the Shoshoni National Forest Visitor Guide….a paragraph on the Tie Hack Memorial and a picture of a log flume in a slot canyon. In part it reads:
Tie Hack Memorial: “ Between 1914 and 1946, Scandinavian loggers produced over
10 million hand-hewn railroad ties. Located approximately 12 mi/19 km northwest of
Dubois, Wyoming, along the Wyoming Centennial Scenic Byway, the Tie Hack Memorial is
dedicated to the hard-working men and their families whose sweat and toil contributed to
the first transcontinental railroad linking our country from coast to coast.
Ties were made from trees hacked and cut by hand, hence the name “tie hack.” Tie hacks
were a special breed of loggers who could quickly fell and limb a tree, and fashion the tie
down to the specifications demanded.
In the early days, ties were delivered to the railroad by floating them down the Wind
River on the annual “long walk to Riverton.” This walk took place just after the Wind
River peaked in spring runoff so the ties would move swiftly downstream, but it was
dangerous and difficult. Wooden water channels (which can still be seen in the area) called
flumes were built to carry logs down steep canyon sides to await downriver transport.”
My mind was racing now. This one small PR statement which I had previously glossed over was now connecting my mind to familiar phrases like “heavy loads, and water high”, Brown (wood), “no place for the meek”, “brave and in the wood”, well….. you know them by heart.
Where the heck is Dubois, Wy?
Dubois sits on Hwy 26 just east of the Wind River mountain range part way between Lander and Moran Junction. Although it’s probably not considered a preferred access route to YNP today it used to be when Lander had rail service for tourism and was considered one of the gateway cities.
As the brochure states, the period between 1914 and 1946 was the boom era for the tie hacks. Some timber activity began in 1906, but major logging didn’t begin until 1915 with the Wind River Timber company. The railroads were pushing their territories into the west, the mining industries needed ore hauled, and later during WWII, railroad ties were in high demand. Wind River Timber was bought out in 1921 by Wyoming Tie and Timber and supplied ties for Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company. At one point railroad ties were referred to as “Green gold”.
I highly recommend the book “Knights of the Broadax”, by Joan Trego Pinkerton. It’s out of print but I scored a used autographed copy off Amazon. Joan lived and attended school in DuNoir as her father had been hired as the accountant and pay-master for Wyoming Tie and Timber. It’s a fascinating insight back to a simple but brutal way to earn a living and the writing style is very Fenn-like in certain respects. It was said that a good “hack” could cut between 20 and 50 ties a day and make up to $5….considered very good wages at the time.
Let’s cut to the Chase (pun intended). Although Dubois gets credit for the Tie Hack memorial, the bulk of the tie hack industry was centered around the settlement of DuNoir about 15 miles north and west of Dubois in the foothills of the Wind River Range. DuNoir was actually the logging camp set up by the Wyoming Tie and Timber company to harvest railroad ties near Warm Springs mountain. In those days it was not practical to haul timbers out of the woods so it was very common to build flumes to float wood to market. In this case, the major flume system was built in Warm Springs Creek adjacent to DuNoir. Told you “warm” would pop up again.
A literary allusion is an indirect way of describing something without really addressing it directly. It’s kind of like a metaphor but not really the same. For instance, when that steamy romance scene in the movie cuts to the image of a speeding locomotive disappearing into a tunnel….well you know what that means without all the blanks filled in. So imagine, if you will, that Forrest’s poem is a subtle allusion that essentially describes the historic tie hack industry surrounding Warm Springs Creek and a word that is key is “wood”.
“Riches new and old” = ”Green gold”, the tie industry (hint)
- “Begin it where warm waters halt” = the headwaters of Warm Springs Creek
- “Take it in the canyon down” =follow Warm Springs Creek down canyon
- “Not too far but to far to walk”= the flumes were long and the distance from headwaters to DuNoir was about 10 to 15 miles via back roads
- “Put in below the home of Brown”= enter the actual canyon below DuNoir the logging camp “home” of wood
- “From there is no place for the meek”= the canyon is steep, deep, rough and so were the Tie Hacks who built the flume..no roads or trails
- “There’ll be no paddle up your creek”= you can’t travel up a flume but people did ride them down to town (see fig. 3)
- “Just heavy loads and water high”= the flume was built high on the canyon walls and carried huge loads of timber down to the Wind River every spring
“If you’ve been wise and found the blaze”= I really wasn’t sure but I suspected there wasn’t a blaze in the sense most people attribute it to. I’m saying this really isn’t a clue just a reference to the “path” formed by the clues or essentially Warm Springs Creek water course.
- “Tarry scant with marvel gaze”= view of the Natural Bridge (read on).
- “Look quickly down”= duck your head as you enter the hiding spot (arch/tunnel)
The treasure chest has to be somewhere and, in the context of this solution, if there is no actual blaze, then there’s got to be an obvious place in the canyon to start looking. Enter the Natural Bridge”. Towards the bottom of Warm Springs Creek and a short distance below DuNoir is an unusual geographic feature. Apparently an ancient rock slide blocked off the canyon and the river eventually hollowed out an arch under the limestone debris. With no other option available, the old timers routed the flume right through the arch. Half arch/half cave and open on both sides this cavernous feature reportedly comes complete with stalactites and stalagmites growing in it. It’s sounds quite spectacular. When the flume was abandoned the portion inside the arch was said to be “petrified” by dripping calcium rich water.
Forrest told us to “ask a child” about the poem. I interpreted this to mean that a child can relate to the imagery of the poem. Hopefully most of you have already jumped to the same conclusions I did but just in case:
- The Tie Hacks were known as “Knights of the broadax”. Kids like stories about knights. Knights are brave and in the wood.
- Flume rides are a classic of almost any water or amusement park.
- There is a picture of Forrest and siblings riding a log in the book. There’s my only nod to TTOTC.
No formal trails are shown in the canyon.
The closest point from a dirt road to the natural arch is about 1 to ½ mile cross-country on foot….a reasonable balance between remote and accessible. It sounds interesting as hell to me but not on the “Things to do list” at the Dubois C of C.
One of the things I asked myself to do after the last failed search was have a darn good reason why Forrest would have spent time in a proposed search area. In this case there are actually two pretty good ones:
- As mentioned before, this is on the way to Yellowstone and was once considered a gateway route out of Lander. Young Forrest could have easily been traveling with his family along the Wind River when the log drives were in progress mid-June, and could well have stopped into DuNoir to look around and become fascinated with the place. When Forrest was ten years old this industry was at its peak. I’m sure this would have made a huge impression on me if, as a kid, I’d seen a river of timbers floating down to market. Some may argue that this is an unlikely route to take but I might disagree. When you’re traveling at 36 miles per hour a twisty scenic mountain road might actually be preferred.
- There’s another more recent reason for Forrest to be familiar with this area…the Frison Institute. I’ve only heard this connection whispered about once or twice before on the blogs. Associated with the University of Wyoming anthropology and archeology departments, the Frison Institute promotes research and educational programs in those fields. More specifically this entity was formed after the discovery of the High Rise Village in the Wind River Range adjacent to, you guessed it, Dubois. And guess who sets (or did sit) on the board of directors and was a major philanthropic donor? Dubois is also the frequent host of the Frison Institutes fund raising dinners. Kind of a convenient reason for a certain someone to be in the area no-questions-asked if a little annual look-see was called for. The High Rise Village also gives “rise”, if you will, to some other interesting solutions but I couldn’t make it work and gave up in that direction.
So that’s the story of the proposed solution but please stay patiently tuned for Part II- Boots on the Ground with a few cool pictures.
I thought, perhaps, this was a more straight forward interpretation than what’s generally been presented. However simplicity may be relative. Let me know if you don’t agree…I’m not seeking accolades.