POSTED APRIL 2018
I could no longer endure this winter’s wait… I needed adventure and I needed it now.
On page 120 of TTOTC, there’s a picture of Forrest as a youngster standing at the end of a wooden table, displaying 11 large trout. The caption below the photo says “A good day on the river, I was twelve. What fish we couldn’t use we traded for potatoes and other goods. It’s what kept us going during the war when my father was making $4,000 a year teaching school in Texas.” I wondered if that could be the reference to the line in the poem “and hint of riches new and old”. Those fish were a commodity the Fenn’s traded for food… could they be the “riches old”? And if so, then what? Where do we go from there?
At the top right on the same page are the words MADISON RIVER. The Madison begins at the confluence of the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers at Madison Junction. Everyone who searches Yellowstone already knows this… it is probably the most popular WWWH in the eight years of Fenn treasure hunting.
And if you’re still not convinced, look at the sentence at the end of the opposite page where Forrest wrote, “But as I got older, I realized there were many moments to remember, like the time I sat under a tree on the Madison River and watched the osprey dive for fish as I wrote a note for my wife…” The chapter concludes with the sentence “And when my tackle box is closed at last and the cadis hatch is gone, I will rest through all of time and space, pillowed down and scented in, with a smile that comes from remembering the special things that brought me to that final place, one of which was knowing Peggy was there, somewhere, waiting for me.”
It seems to me that last sentence in the chapter titled Flywater just described his “special place”, his final resting place… a place that is private and dear to him… and where he ultimately hid the treasure chest. He mentions Peggy… is it where he sat under a tree along the Madison and wrote her that note? Is the underlying message of his poem his final love letter to Peggy?
On that same page are words or phrases similar to the words in the poem… personal secrets, space was mine alone, I know, watching the waters deepen, and words “special”, most “dear”.
Even if this idea is on the right track, the Madison River flows 183 miles from Madison Junction to Three Forks, Montana. (You could glean even more hints for the Madison River in the chapter Looking for Lewis and Clark, where Forrest wrote about Osbourne Russell and Jim Bridger.)
But where to start… I don’t like Madison Junction as where warm waters halt. I want to find a warm water spring nestled off the beaten path but not too far from the banks of the Madison River. There are a few to be found on a detailed map but the actual search will have to wait until late May or early June, when the weather settles down and the search becomes less COLD. Forrest did write, “You’re effort will be worth the cold”… if he means this literally, how much cold do I have to withstand to find his loot?
I have a dismal feeling that I’m a good 7 years behind Dal, and Diggin Gypsy, and many folks who have already made various trips to search the YNP area, including the banks of the Madison River. I need a plan to catch up… so I thought I’d start now, using the process of elimination to help narrow the field.
I had been watching the extended weather forecasts for Pocatello, Idaho, Henry’s Lake, Ennis, and Three Forks, Montana for a couple weeks. I needed a 5-day window of drivable roadways to get from New Mexico to Three Forks, where the Madison ends (I also included a couple days in Gardiner/ Mammoth Hot Springs), and back home. My plan was to actually drive along as much of the Madison as I could so I could eliminate areas… I had already seen much of the river inside Yellowstone last fall so could skip it. This trip was intended to see the river from Hebgen Lake downstream all the way to the end.
I was out the door before 5am Saturday morning… it’s an easy drive from Rio Rancho up Hwy 550 to Rt64 to head west and north to Cortez, Colorado, Moab, Utah, etc. I stopped for a moment along the road just north of Nageezi, NM, to get a shot of this sunrise. This alone was a wonderful reason to get an early start.
Then I continued north through Canyonlands where the road skirted Wilson Arch… I pulled into the parking area to take a picture but decided I had to climb up beneath the arch where I could see others milling around. It was worth the effort, on hands and knees here and there… wow, the view was incredible. Descending was worse… on hands and feet and butt… moving like a hermit crab down the precipitous side back to the parking area… well, that was exhilarating, and I was grinning… Yep, this was already an adventure!
In 12 hours after leaving home, I was pulling into my hotel parking lot in Pocatello, Idaho. I almost wished I hadn’t made reservations so I could keep on driving… the adrenlin was pumping and I couldn’t wait to cross Raynold’s Pass and drop down to the river. But I knew Sunday was going to be a long day so tried to sleep.
At daybreak I bolted from bed, skipped the free breakfast and headed north to Idaho Falls, then northeast to Henry’s Lake where I turned northwest and crossed the Continental Divide at Raynold’s Pass. It was magnificent with the snow and the sunlight making it’s way through the cracks in the whispy clouds above.
It wasn’t long until I reached the Madison at the Raynold’s Pass Fishing Access area. I pulled into the parking area, grabbed my gear, and walked along the river downstream a bit. It was beautiful, but not where Forrest hid the treasure chest, IMO… there were barely any trees.
On MW Forrest said: ” Stop arm chairing that thing to death and get out there in the trees where the box is, but before you go, look at the poem as if it were a map, because it is, and like any other map, it will show you where to go if you follow its directions.” Yep, I feel like I’m not following the directions… at least not yet. I needed to drive upstream towards Hebgen…
The scenery did not disappoint… it was absolutely magnificent. I decided to use my cell phone to make a few videos. I held it in my left hand which I steadied on my side mirror as I drove. There was little traffic… I think it was 26º. My hand got cold but I didn’t care. I was on a mission… then I accidently dropped my cell phone as I was driving. Oops… thank goodness it bounced away from my truck, and landed face up.
I stopped many times to get out and take pictures… I will spare Dal the inconvenience of posting so many in this story; instead, I will post a link to them at the end. (I included captions to describe the places.)
By the time I got to Grayling Creek, the sky above West Yellowstone looked ominous… like Forrest had a direct line to God and they were warning me to turn back. So I did…
From there I made my way back along the Madison and continued my journey downstream on Hwy287 to Three Forks, Montana, stopping at each of the fishing access areas to peruse the liklihood of Fenn’s loot hiding in the vicinity.
The next photo is from the Lyon Bridge… yep, I count that as a possibility to “marry the clues on a map and see where the lines cross.” There are trees.. a forest of pine trees along one bank, and easily accessible, all year long.
Eventually the terrain became a wide valley… the photo below shows a herd of elk lying in the field… the river is behind them, and I don’t see trees…
I continued on to the Lewis and Clark Hotel in Three Forks… it was a small town, but charming… probably… on any day except Easter Sunday. Nearly every eating establishment was closed… and I was starving! But I didn’t care… I was ecstatic… I had accomplished my mission. Here is the link to my SmugMug pictures for that part of my trip.
But wait, my journey and reconnaisance trip doesn’t stop here. I planned an extra two days to stay in Gardiner and drive into Yellowstone National Park to visit Mammoth Hot Springs and see wildlife… the 4-legged variety. (There was also some wild life of the 2-legged variety in the Two Bit Saloon in Gardiner, but that came later.)
I had never visited this part of the park before. There are pros and cons for visiting in the winter… it is COLD…. 16º Tuesday morning as I made my way through Mammoth Hot Springs and on towards Tower-Roosevelt and the Lamar Valley. Even though the road is open to traffic, that doesn’t mean the road is bare… driving through the hilly, windy forested area where the sun seldom shines was gut-wrenching, at least for someone living in NM who seldom has to drive in snow or icy conditions. I went slow… there was little traffic so I had the entire road to maneuver.
I saw billions of bison and elk… not literally that many but A LOT. I stopped stopping to take pictures of them and continued on to Slough Creek where there were supposedly wolves seen that morning. By the time I got there, they were gone… how do I know this, you might wonder? Because the career wolf-pack-watchers were gone… the SUVs and pickup trucks with the big anntennas and surly people with the gigantic lenses, so I was told.
Part way through the Lamar Valley, I decided to turn around and head back to the Terraces in the Mammoth Hot Springs area. It was still a pretty day, albeit a bit windy and still bitter cold, but I definitely wanted to see them. It was one of the best decisions I’d made the entire trip… I fell in love with the upper and lower terraces. It is a photographers paradise. (One of the pros of a winter visit, less people…)
Once again, I will spare Dal the hassle of including them in this story… here’s the link to the Yellowstone photos, with captions on most of them.
I want to make sure everyone who reads this story understands I did nothing dangerous to put myself at risk. I even used my better judgment and postponed a drive through Yellowstone Monday the day I arrived, when it was snowing, blowing, and visibilty was horrible. I hated the thought of another YNP Fenn treasure searcher having to be rescued… or worse.
I also went extremely prepared… I had snow shoes, snow boots, 2 pairs of hiking boots in case one pair got wet, a winter ski jacket, hat, gloves, enough food and water inside the truck I could have lived in there for a week, as well as a shovel, chain, and flares.
I did not actually search for Fenn’s gold at any particular spots… because I haven’t found the place to begin. But now I have a better understanding of the terrain.
I also drove home by way of Rt191 from Bozeman to West Yellowstone before dropping south into Idaho… holy moly! This is a must-see drive for anyone in the area who has never seen this canyon and the Gallatin River.
Now I’m so confused… this canyon and river is as beautiful as the Madison… and Fenn was a fishing guide here so would know the area well.
I have 6 weeks to solve the poem… then I return.
As a word of caution, I hope anyone who plans to search in any of these areas looks at my pictures to understand how much snow is still there, especially in the trees. Don’t be stupid! Go prepared and always tell at least two parties where you will be, and check in with them every day.
I saw these words on a plaque in the lobby at the Lewis and Clark Hotel…
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take,
but by the number of moments that take our breath away.”
I am fortunate… I just had many!