SUBMITTED JULY 2017
The Ultimate Solution
After returning home from my second trip it wasn’t days before the experiences and thought fragments resolved into the most undeniable solution to the poem yet! This solution extends the track that I had been following tying together the complete arrowhead image on the map, the “f” Fort, and the previously unresolved lines of the sixth stanza. I guarded my excitement because I estimated that I had run out of credit with Ruthie… at least for the season! Feeling no need to research further I allowed my attention to drift away from the chase for a few months. The last quarter of 2016 provided plenty of distraction. Nothing gets past Ruthie for long! She soon learned of my intention to make yet another final attempt in 2017. I was surprised how quickly she adapted to the idea, but it was not accepted without a stern request that I would see resolution to this obsession with a third trip. I felt completely justified and guiltless because I knew in my heart that I had earned a private viewing of Forrest’s magnum opus. Here it is…..
As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.
This first stanza introduces Forrest’s intent in masterminding the chase. There are no clues here that directly aid in the search, and interpretation is not necessary to finding the treasure. Foremost he states that he acted alone in hiding the treasure, and that he alone knows of its secret location. The last line of this stanza is intriguing: I think “riches” refers to memories and experiences real and/or possibly imagined. It may also refer to the adventures that Forrest has experienced in his pursuit and discovery of artifacts; similar to the adventures that he now inspires others to experience in the search for his treasure. The sentiment of this stanza contributed to my initial impression that Yellowstone National Park, Forrest’s childhood utopia and wonderland, is the location of his treasure.
Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.
If Forrest had defined the search area as the entire continent rather than merely the US Rocky Mountains I would probably have arrived at the same starting point. In the big picture Yellowstone National Park is where warm waters halt. If you are not convinced then try driving past the Boiling River, Mammoth Springs, or Grand Prismatic Spring without halting!! Looking back I wonder that I might have developed this solve more efficiently if I had foregone the hours of research and map study and instead headed straight for Yellowstone with an open mind. All you need is the poem. The ranger at the entrance gate will hand you a simple park map that is probably the easiest map on which to initially spot the blaze.
If Yellowstone is the first clue then the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the clear second. One might notice that the first trail that leads into the “canyon down” to the river is the Seven Mile Hole Trail. This trail is too far for Forrest to have completed for his treasure hide, but some part of it will be traveled in the end. First we must get there. Our attention has been drawn to the spectacular canyon carved by the Yellowstone River. The length of river from the mouth of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and through the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone to Gardiner, MT, forms a bold arcing cut on the land that some might immediately recognize as resembling one half of an arrowhead outline. The tip of the arrowhead is formed by the confluence of the Gardiner and Yellowstone Rivers which viewed from above is a striking point of land in itself. Immediately down river from, or “below”, the juncture is the North Entrance to the park, the logical starting point or “put in” for the search journey. If you are halted, as you likely will be during the season, by traffic at the pull-off and parking areas for the Boiling River you might decide to stop in and check it out. One of the interpretive signs on the path to the Boiling River describes the phenomenon that warms the waters of the Gardiner River resulting in favorable conditions for the winter spawning of Brown Trout. The tail end of the Gardiner River is the home of Brown.
From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.
The roadway from the North Entrance, past Mammoth, continuing toward Norris, and on to Canyon almost mirrors the complimentary section of the Yellowstone to roughly complete the classic shape of an arrowhead on the map. This third stanza helps to hone this route into a more convincing symmetry making the image unmistakable, revealing the obvious intent of the author of the poem, and providing some important landmarks to be used to help identify the end location of the treasure using a precisely drawn arrowhead overlay on a typical park map. First stop along this road is the featured area “Sheepeater Cliffs”. This feature is marked on the simple park map and is a straight forward interpretation of “no place for the meek”. Drawing a straight line “from there” (the park entrance or “put-in”) to this featured stop on the road improves the arrowhead tip. One navigating the arcing edge of an arrowhead being drawn in a counter-clockwise direction should expect it to trend leftward: “The end is ever drawing nigh.” This is generally true of our arcing section of the Yellowstone River and its complimentary section of roadway, but a few miles south of Sheepeater the road bends sharply to the right creating a large bump in the drawing that significantly disturbs the symmetry of the arrowhead. This can be conveniently corrected by deviating from the road at Solfatara North trailhead to continue the tracing along Solfatara Creek Trail. There is no creek (“no paddle”) for the first three miles, and much of this fairly linear trail runs in a cut beneath power lines (“heavy loads”). The trail itself does not look very appealing for this reason. Why would anyone go to Yellowstone to hike a transmission cut? The only reason I could come up with was the near access it provides to the scenic Lake of the Wood (“water high”; sits at about 7800 feet).
If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.
If you have correctly interpreted the clues of the second and third stanzas you have over three quarters of an arrowhead drawn on the map which can easily be completed by symmetry coming around to its starting point at the “canyon down”. The end is the beginning. The lines that follow seem to halt the momentum of the second and third stanzas. The mouth of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is defined by the impressive Upper and Lower Falls. The course of water between these falls when viewed on a map or aerial photograph forms the spine of the letter “f” oriented perfectly upright when viewed in cardinal alignment. The crossbar comes in from the west as Cascade Creek drops down Crystal Falls to meet up with the Yellowstone River. “Quickly down” could be interpreted as ‘cascade’, and “marvel gaze” might refer to ‘Crystal Falls’. This stanza is designed to cause the seeker to pause here and ponder the whole of this “f” shaped feature that connects the ends of our blaze like the clasp of a necklace. One feels the deep power and mystery of this place when looking down into the small gorge from the Crystal Falls overlook. Is the chest here for the taking? The broken stone wall out of which Crystal Falls pours, the steep sloping sides flanking east and west, the impassible raging falls barring north and south, the overlooks like turrets, and the walkways running the high perimeter of the whole requires just a little imagination to perceive the area as the “f” Fort.
So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.
This stanza, like the first, addresses the author’s own actions and intentions and contains no directions or clues for the searcher to follow. The first and fifth stanzas, along with the final line of the poem, might be intended to aid in the process of legally transferring ownership of the treasure to the finder. This stanza also hints at his overall mission in creating the hunt. He has told us that the “thrill of the chase” began for him when he was nine years old and discovered his first arrowhead. He continued to pursue this thrill as a youth in Yellowstone, as a fighter pilot in Vietnam, as a successful art dealer, and as an accomplished amateur archeologist. The desire to pass his experience of the “thrill of the chase” on to future generations is why he created the hunt.
So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.
This sixth and final stanza is the most complex of the poem. In the first line Forrest asks us to listen to his words twice. This instructs us in how to interpret the following word “effort” as both “f” Fort and F (as in Forrest) ort (as in his leavings). “Will be worth” is translated as “will be even with” and/or “will be equal to”. “The cold” is Glacial Boulder which lies at the head of the trail to Silver Cord Falls Overlook and Seven Mile Hole. By tracing a straight line from the “f” Fort to Glacial Boulder, and then continuing that line an equal distance beyond it, the end location of the “F” ort (or treasure) lands on the axis of the arrowhead where the wooden shaft of an arrow would be fixed: “brave and in the wood”. How fitting that the treasure lie where the arrowhead (which symbolizes the “thrill of the chase”) would be fitted anew with a wooden shaft so it could once again take flight!
On the dawn of the New Year I began reviewing the available materials for content that would support or conflict with my solution. I came up with a handful of doubts or concerns: Was my spot too far to walk? Was the location of the hide too random (not intrinsically “special”)? Was I overreaching to fit my needs when interpreting Solfatara Creek Trail as “heavy loads and water high”? Was my interpretation of the 4th stanza weak or unresolved? Was I overextending my imagination to conceive of the “f” Fort? Most concerns I dismissed after a comprehensive review of Fenn’s comments. If he had been vague about something (he is usually vague) I let the uncertainty favor my solution. I discovered some comments (new to me) that further supported my solution. A few stubborn concerns laid themselves low in my consciousness and later proved to damage my confidence in the final days before my trip.
The more time passed the more I believed that others must have identified the arrowhead. How could they not see it?! The blog forums were buzzing with anticipation for this search season, and several commented that they believed that this would be the year that the treasure is found. By early March I could wait no longer and purchased a plane ticket for May 19th. This would be about a week before typical melt off, but I took stock in rumors of an early spring. Snow depth telemetry data from the Canyon area available online indicated that the snow mass had been sitting at about 150% of normal. I worried about this, but still favored a competitive start, and began routine monitoring of the data every morning. The snow level sat at about 50 inches from the first of February… and sat… and sat. When it was still 50 inches on the last day of April I acknowledged my folly and moved my ticket to my next available weekend. I was glad that I did when May 19th arrived with 20+ inches still covering my search area.
In the last days before the trip my anxiety heightened. One specific doubt that I had previously shrugged off now resurfaced and caused me to question the plausibility of my golden solve. I had just watched the video recording of the Moby Dickens Book Store Q & A in which Forrest clearly indicates that there is a difference between the many searchers who have traveled unwittingly within 500 feet of the treasure and the few who had come within 200 feet. Previously I had chosen to assume that these near-misses were made by the same people, and that Forrest had only improved the accuracy of the estimated distance over time. The comment as I now understood it did not seem to fit with my solution. All those hiking the Seven Mile Hole Trail would pass the treasure at the same distance (approximately 330 feet by my calculation). If searchers on this trail weren’t looking for the treasure, then they would have no interest in deviating from the trail to accidentally come closer to the treasure. A familiar feeling began to set in. I could best describe it as low grade nausea or anxiety and might relate it to the feeling of being lost or uncertain of one’s surroundings, or the guilt after having done something wrong. Doubt had caused me to hasten and half-heartedly search nearly every other location that I had been to on this journey. In the case of Otter Creek I had to make a return trip before I was content with my search of the area. Would this happen again?
Another concern was the randomness of my determined treasure location. Most believe that the “very special place” that Forrest refers to is a favorite fishing hole, a secret scenic splendor, an unknown site of archeological significance, or an intriguing geologic feature. It seems that most also believe that the blaze is a physical marker of some kind that will be found on site to reveal the hiding spot of the treasure. The end location in my solution lands in a random section of undisturbed and untraveled pine forest with minimal elevation change. There would likely be no scenic vista or geologic prominence. The arrowhead blaze on the map is huge and I estimated that slight variations in its construction could account for upwards of 1000 feet of error in calculating the axis location near the base of the arrowhead. The precision of the measure to the treasure location seemed to improve with the equidistant line drawn from the “f” Fort balanced through Glacial Boulder, but I expected at least 100 feet or more of error. Any subtle variations to my interpretation of “your effort will be worth the cold” could change the mark significantly. Forrest seems to have indicated that the one with the correct solution will smugly stroll from the car directly to the treasure. For this to be true in my case I believed that there must be some marker or markings to guide me in once I arrive. This was the only part that remained a mystery. I adopted a hunch that Forrest had left an arrowhead blaze on one or more trees to lead to and/or mark his cache.
I had a tight weekend trip planned arriving in Bozeman by noon on Saturday. I knew the routine and my pre-planned movements successfully landed me at the trail head about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. I could tell I was tired, though… I hadn’t been sleeping well for the past couple of nights, and I wasn’t thinking quickly on my feet. Luckily I was only a couple of hundred feet from the car when I remembered that my maps were left in the trunk! The sky was gray with diffuse cloud cover, but no rain, and the wind was whistling through and bending the trees causing the creak and chirp of tall and skinny pines rubbing together. With no direct sun it felt later than it was. Despite the initial ominous tone I quickly found comfort on the trail. The ground was firm, free of mud, and the tracks were by a large majority human… I only identified one set of bear and cub prints. After thirty minutes on the trail I came to a sign indicating I had walked one and a half miles from the Glacial Boulder trailhead and had one mile to go before the next junction. I stopped and turned on my old Garmin GPS. It struggled for a few minutes only finding one satellite… finally I grew impatient and stowed it. Map and compass were more important to me anyway, but it would have been nice to use GPS for distance measuring and documentation. The mileage sign is about a quarter of a mile down a section of the trail that moves due north and away from the canyon rim. In another eighth of a mile the trail changes direction about forty five degrees to the east. A quarter mile past this bend is the near point on the trail to my determined treasure location. I did my best to estimate the distance by counting my paces from the bend and placed a rock on a log to mark the spot. I didn’t send off into the woods yet, though… I walked a bit further to be sure I didn’t miss any marking potentially left by Forrest to direct the wise searcher to the cache. The trail continued to rise gradually until it reached its high point several hundred feet beyond where I had placed the rock. There on the left side of the trail I found large triangular or arrowhead shaped blaze carefully hewn into the side of a pine tree. This blaze has a slight right tilt which if laid or projected horizontally would align nicely with the direction of my arrowhead on the map. Just what I was looking for! Orienting the map I noted that if I walked back into the woods following the counterpoint direction of the tree blaze (or shaft direction if it were a completed arrow) I would arrive at approximately the same spot that I had already planned to walk to from my previously marked near point. This is how I started my off trail searching. By my estimate the treasure would lie between 300 and 400 feet from the trail. Due to Forrest’s use of 500 feet as the common near miss I made sure to walk over 500 feet along a fairly straight path and then doubled back with slight variation until I was back on the trail. Just for curiosity sake I did the same on the other side of the trail following a line in the direction that the tree blaze seemed to point. I repeated this process two or three times on either direction with variations including starting from my rock on a log spot to search through my pre-determined end, as well as, some exploration of various rises on the tree blaze side. I moved slowly and scanned 360 degrees around my position at any given time looking for some marker or sign of human presence. I found nothing. I walked the wood for over two hours before I decided to pack it in for the night. I planned to return the next day for a more thorough search, but my heart was barely in it. I had arrived with some significant feeling of doubt and the failure of my initial attempt left me all but deflated. I managed to nab a canceled campsite reservation at the Canyon Campground and settled in for much needed sleep.
I awoke at 5:30 am with daylight burning. Pondering the maps a little I made a plan for the return to my main search area, but first I would make a couple shorter excursions. I returned to the brink of the Upper Falls lot and walked out to Cascade Falls Overlook. I carried a tent stake in my pocket thinking that if I found myself back down in the “f” Fort I would probe the earth where I had dismantled the rock cairn back in September. It seemed improbable that the treasure be buried down there, but I found it hard to completely dismiss the curious find I had made in this mysterious and potent location. Conditions proved unfavorable. The rocky gulch that I had easily descended in September now ran water. If I could find a safe way down I would have certainly gotten wet trying to cross the swollen Cascade Creek. I peered down toward the small group of trees and renewed my affirmation that this was just too exposed a place for Forrest’s purpose. I could not see the remains of the rock cairn. It would be left a mystery to me.
I then returned to the Glacial Boulder, but instead of trotting down the trail toward my search area I paced off into the woods toward Canyon Campground. My plan was to search a line drawn from Inspiration Point through, and balanced by, Glacial Boulder. This was based on an alternate interpretation of the fourth stanza in which the lines reference the successive overlooks: Lookout Point, Grand View, and Inspiration Point. I toyed with the word “inspiration” and its various meanings as being a central theme or motif in the poem: the key word to unlock “begin it”, “take it”, and “take the chest”. In this less polished solve the “effort” was Inspiration, or to inspire, which was the Point, or purpose, of the chase. I plodded through this section of wood in similar fashion to how I approached my search area the previous evening. The contrast here was that the route was crossed by several well-worn paths of which some included old trail markers nailed to trees. I made just one pass covering a greater distance than required before exiting directly to the road.
I then returned to my primary search area down the trail toward Seven Mile Hole. Instead of walking all the way to the near point on the trail I chose to depart into the woods just a few steps beyond the trail distance sign I had encountered on the previous day. I was attempting to follow the final length of the linear projection from the “f” Fort through Glacial Boulder. This meant a quarter mile of off trail walking to get to the calculated end point. I had changed the axis of my approach to more comprehensively address the potential error. I continued beyond my “X” up onto a broad elevated area toward a labeled high point which happened to lie on my path. I then expanded my wanderings to include any and all high points in the relative area. After about two hours of rambling through this wooded plateau I started recognizing every rock and tree and decided to return to the trail. I was disappointed but not surprised by the outcome.
I needed to get out of the woods and breathe the open air for a while. I headed to Wapiti Lake trailhead to exercise the fleeting hunch that I had conjured up at the end of my second trip. Again pursuing the alignment of Glacial Boulder and Inspiration Point, but this time in the opposite direction, across the canyon, I aimed for Forest Springs, a thermal feature near the Wapiti Lake Trail. A steady drizzle set in forcing me to don a poncho to avoid becoming drenched. The rain couldn’t dampen the beauty of this easy two mile walk… Long range views of snow topped mountains, the company of grazing bison and elk, the smell of sage, and the added adornment of wild flowers had me in good spirits. Before long I was amongst the trees again, but they seemed better nourished – generally larger and healthier than those of the previous wood I had explored. The sulfur smell was not overpowering but rather comforting, as was the warmth and bubbling sound emanating from several white steaming thermal pots on either side of the trail. A few breaks in the trees offered views into the meadow valley to the south. I passed a small body of water, and then arrived at the finger of woods containing Forest Springs. I walked along the small emerald green heated spring waters that followed the edge of the wood where it met with the meadow and led to a strip of calcite-rich sand. I had come to the opinion that this was the most pleasant and scenic little walk I had taken in Yellowstone and speculated that Forrest would have done well to plan this as his final stroll before laying down on the box. I didn’t stop to rest, though, and circled back straight through the wood toward the trail and then returned directly to the car. My treasure hunt was over but there were a couple more short hikes I wanted to take by the north entrance before the end of the day.
One was to walk the first mile or so of Rescue Creek Trail. This cut across the flat plane of land that was my grand arrowhead’s tip. I wanted to get another perspective of this wedge of land and possibly view the terminus of Bear Creek from the south bank of the Yellowstone River. I enjoyed the short walk but decided not to follow through with the off trail hiking that was required to access the river view.
Then I exited the park, selected a site at Eagle Creek Campground, and set off to walk the Yellowstone River Trail down Bear Creek to the river. This ended up being one of the most interesting and featured short hikes that I had taken in the park. An old stone and plank miner’s cabin (Joe Brown’s?) remains in pretty good condition, but not accessible from the trail (at least in June) due to the impassible raging waters of Bear Creek. The trail side was littered with rusty but intact old mining equipment. From the foot bridge at the base of the creek I could see the mysterious doorway into the rock that was recently noted on the blog by another searcher. I’m certain it has no relevance to the treasure hunt, but it is intriguing none the less.
Thankfully I returned home with no new twists of interpretation or leaps of insight to lead me onward into ever uncertain depth in the chase. I was ready to welcome the resolution that would come with knowing that my solution was all together off the mark. Unfortunately, I could not reckon with this belief. The arrowhead solution was just too good. Reflecting on the past days I considered that my doubts about my solution may have limited my focus in the field, and that my expectation that some marker or marking would easily lead me to the treasure may have been unfounded. Could I have walked right past it? I wished I had been more thorough in my search of the area, and I imagined how I my approach would differ if I had another chance… I would locate to as near to my exact calculated treasure spot as possible and then slowly spiral outward from there within a range of reasonable error. I would carry no expectation of a marker or marking… I would assume that the small chest lay somewhere in the area on top of the ground, but possibly covered by grass and tree fall… I would consider variations and side searches such as more exploration in the woods beyond the arrowhead tree blaze that I had found, but only after my primary search area was thoroughly combed.
Fortunately, a friend had recently moved to Bozeman who required very little convincing to jump in the car and go check my work. He carried an operable GPS and arrived at the same general search area as I. He then carried out the search I wished I had. He had the same outcome. I think I’ve found the bottom of this hole. Do you?