SUBMITTED JULY 2017
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!