SUBMITTED JULY 2017
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.