Losing Your Marbles on the Madison…

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I’ve been walking the moody Madison River both inside and outside Yellowstone National Park for a few years now. It’s a fun place to hike, particularly since the Madison is such a pristine river for so much of its 183 mile journey to the Missouri River. It’s hard to find pristine river that’s easily hiked in this country but if your aching to walk along one…try the Madison…but avoid the hazardous sections and the stretches that wind through private property.

I have not walked all 183 miles…In fact I’ve only walked a little over a seventh of the river, or those portions where I believe Forrest’s poem leads me. I generally start where the poem suggests I should “put in” and then start searching for other key features of the poem. Most I find without problem. But that blaze has been a constant sticking point for me…

So I come back a few times each year when I get the chance and try something slightly different, a place less worn, a path less traveled, a slightly different direction.…and walk more. Sometimes right along the river and sometimes a few hundred feet outside of it. But I’m not aimlessly ambling along. I am searching…scanning the scenic landscape far and near for an elusive clue in the poem…not that I know exactly what it is that I am looking for…I try to keep my mind open to anything that fits…use my imagination…(which Forrest says I don’t have).

It’s not as if I don’t find things…interesting things…puzzling things…

One spring day I stopped at a bend in the river to watch a school of small trout racing around in circles near the bank. Eye candy! I stepped away from the bank to take my camera off my shoulder and a spot of red caught my eye in the sandy bank above the stream. Just a small glint of red. Maybe a fishing lure, I thought. So I got down on my hands and knees in the warm, soft earth and started digging away with my fingers where the color showed. 


It wasn’t a dry fly or any other kind of fishing lure. It was the small arc of what turned out to be 4 pretty old marbles. A shooter, two biggies and an aggie. They had been there awhile. Impossible to say how long a while. But in my mind I decided they were 80 or more years old. Maybe Forrest and Donnie Joe stopped here to play some marbles in the sand while they were out exploring. Maybe they took a nap in the warm sun and when they woke-up they forgot about their marbles and headed back to the highway and their bikes for the ride home.


Maybe a Crow stole them from some playground in town and carried them, one at a time, out here and hid them.


Maybe they were in the back of a horse drawn wagon that an early tourist took from Virginia City to the park…before the highways…and the marbles fell out. Glass marbles were first made in America just before 1900. I believe the formal game of marbles is a British invention..but kids were probably playing some form of a marble like game with roundish stones for centuries before colored glass marbles and formal rules.

On another trip I found this small arrow point a few miles from where I found the marbles. It looks like part of the tang on the right side broke off at the notch. Maybe while being made or maybe while it was being used. I could not find any other pieces like this one in the immediate area so it does not seem likely that the site was a place where points were manufactured so I will guess that it was shot…maybe lost…or possibly discarded…


Close to a campground I found this 1985 Mexican 1 Peso coin. Not valuable but fun to find.


I ran into this deer antler shed in a thick lodgepole pine area while stalking wildflowers in Forrest’s old stomping ground near the Madison. Not a very majestic shed…but it had been on the forest floor for some time and the acid soil dissolved the softer parts of the antler leaving it grainy and interesting…Usually these things are devoured by porcupines or mice before they have a chance to lay around for a few seasons and get grainy. So this was a nice find.


And finally…the oddest of all…This is a Japanese fishing net float. Aside from being found in Japan they wash up on the beaches of the Pacific northwest coast after storms, making the trek across the ocean…unbroken. This one was trapped in a backwater, cut-off from the main stream of the Madison…covered in a thick green goop. Big floats are about the size of a basketball and are prized by collectors and seafood restaurant interior designers. This one is about the size of a baseball and still has the netting around it. But it begs the question…how did it get into the Madison River some 5,500 miles from Japan and at least 15 miles from the nearest seafood restaurant? It couldn’t be old or the netting would be rotted. I think it’s authentic…Japanese…but I am certainly no expert…fun find.


At one time we held a contest for the most unusual “found object” someone recovered while out on a hike. Some pretty interesting things were carried back with searchers…LOOK HERE







43 thoughts on “Losing Your Marbles on the Madison…

  1. Nice read, Dal. Dang, now I want to go searching for Fenn’s loot. Isn’t this fun? You just proved it’s not all about finding ff’s treasure, though… there are many treasures waiting to be found.

  2. I’ve found a number of marbles in my ramblings. Many were where you would not have expected them. One special one was made of red ochre.

  3. All I ever find is rusty cans. Once in Grayling creek I found some cans of beer. My favorite find was a fist sized chunk of white marble on top of a black boulder. It was near a petroglyph of a radio.

  4. I too have found small curiosities near the Madison. I really want to use my metal detector but I am afraid of attracting too much attention to myself carrying it around there while Indulgence is still in its hidey place. I look like a weekend hiker most outings. A pack shovel is hidden in my backpack. I used it a few times. Just a bunch of rocks and mosquito bites. Good times though. Snows going to be lingering longer this search season. That Japanese thing is really truly perplexing. Great find Dal!

  5. A lot of us have lost our marbles on this hunt, Dal, so please take special care of them – you never know when we might need them back!

    (P.S. Can I interest you in a segment of old tire?)

      • Cruel? Hopefully only two-thirds so. I’m trying to make it to one-third and will let you know if I get there!

        Love that Japanese float, Dal!

        • I found half of an arrowhead. It was unique. Made from pink chert. I’ve mostly found my life unravel in utter demoralizing humiliation. I’m glad Cynthia, dal, fenn and the rest of the search community/followers ate having so much fun though.

      • I’ve actually seen tires used for shower shoes. It was a very ingenious design too. This company that sold them promised it would prevent you from slipping and falling in the shower. And they made the shoes to look really fun. It was a good sale. Everyone bought into it. Somebody ended up slipping though and a number of people ended up in jail. Still though it was worth it in my opinion.

      • Yup, still has pride of place in my junk closet, Dal. Tread is so-so, but good enough for shower shoes. Do you have fairy feet or great clompers? If the latter, you might only get 3/4 of a pair. Tell you what, remind me next time I’m in the vicinity of Lummi Island, and I’ll send it over so you can cobble something together.

        • You can junk them, shred them, melt them and discard them. Those stupid shoes just don’t forget. Every time I look down they some how are latched on to my feet. If I could escape to another country I have this terrible feeling they would some how track me down.

          • Oh, they’ll track you down, all right,. But it’s not the shoes you need to worry about, Just find out who’s wearing them.

  6. When I was 4/5 years old I remember seeing a shooting star that dipped too far and appeared to land in the woods South East of our house. The next day I remember we found a small metallic object. I don’t know what became of that but I still remember that day.

  7. I found a bit of worked brown agate once near a fire pit. The problem was that it was the kind of place where modern outdoorspeople, photographers, rangers and such like to hang out, so I figured it wasn’t old. Flintknappers wonder about what effect their work might have on future archaeologists-

  8. Your making me drool and you found my arrowhead I dropped looks like that one was made in Georgia

  9. The marbles are a cool find. I would be freaking out thinking that F placed them there for someone to find..

  10. Hi Dal;

    Nice read, and nice pictures, and nice memories. It seems as though we all come back from our searches with “Treasures” of one kind or another – and all the richer for them. Thanks for sharing – JDA

  11. Thank you for sharing your finds , Dal! The marbles are an awesome find but the Japanese float is a real head scratcher! The coolest thing I have found on the Madison was an old Beaver trap from the 40s or 50s . It still has the owner tags on it.

  12. I enjoyed your story and photos, Dal. You found some great treasures and the possibilities you’ve told are really nice.

  13. Let’s face facts, Another Brick In The Wall is rock music. And I’m not being facetious. We don’t need no education, just elucidation. Beautiful objects, crystal clear photos, and malleable text – what more could you ask for?

  14. What a great Sunday morning Story Dal. I forgot how many cool things people found while out searching. It was fun to look through the pictures again. I love the Chinese writing rock and when I first saw it I thought it was fake 🙂 But, I looked it up and it’s a real type of rock. It’s nice to know that even if we don’t find the chest maybe we can find some cools rocks instead…:)

  15. Hi Dal – Great story and pics!
    Ok, here’s what I see with my always off the charts imagination:

    A drift boat, or float tube, going down the Madison, with a fisherman holding that baseball-sized Japanese float in his hand, with a drift line attached. He throws it toward the undercut in the far bank, with the other end attached.to his wrist. The float acts as a bobber to let him know when the 10lb Brown is on the hook below it. Then he just drags the Big One with him to the shoreline.

    Sort of like Tenkara fishing, but without the bamboo rod.

    • Dal – Forgot to mention that I met Grant McClintock’s ex-wife, Paula, and their great friend, Charlie Pine, here at the Sun Valley Opera House at a fly fishing film festival this past Friday night. Gotta get a copy of “Flywater” for Grant to sign, when I get to meet him here this Summer. Maybe he will tell me where his secret fly fishing spots are on the Madison?

      Big Smile!

        • Diggin Gypsy – The Universe always has a plan. That’s my motto. I always end up right where I need to be, just when I need to be there.

          Of course I will keep you posted!

    • lol, you have a good imagination Lisa! I was thinking that if the private parts of the river are upstream somebody did a little exterior decorating on their beach with some new Japanese floats from Pier One. Then the spring melt came and washed it away! 🙂

      • Hi Spallies! – I wish I was in West Yellowstone when you and Dal got together there. And I wish Diggin Gypsy and her sisters were there, then, too. It would have been EPIC!

          • Diggin Gypsy – Oh, I think we will meet. This Spring/Summer in West Yellowstone. Lots of snow, so it might have to be in July. So Forrest can just keep his bronze chest a wee bit longer. Enjoy, Forrest!


    • Dal – And I think Craig Matthews called those who fish while floating this way down the Madison in boats or tubes “the Gulpers”, in his Yellowstone fly fishing book. I used that book to explore the Madison in March of 2013, before I ever put my boots on the ground to search. Those “Gulpers” like to “put in” at Baker’s Hole, which happens to be “below the home of Brown” of Brown bears and Brown trout upstream.

    • Preferably only memories and pictures when in public lands.

      Why deny others the pleasure of seeing what you have?

      Kinda selfish to do so.

      • Most of the time I take things that don’t belong like trash.
        Most of the things I take you would not want to see or are too small for you to notice, mostly man made.
        Call me selfish for doing the right thing.

        Natural things I take:
        Small stones in the shape of a heart.
        A pine cone with a few needles.
        Small strange shaped rocks or pebbles.
        Bark (you should know this one)
        Bison fur.
        Antler remnants.

        There’s plenty left for others where I go searching.

        • Phew! I scoured your list but I don’t think I saw “big bronze box.” You had my old ticker going at a fair clip for a moment though!

  16. Great write up Dal! It is always fun to find trinkets from the past. Those thing always make me wonder what the backstory of the item was.

  17. Forrest has said that “much of the Rio Grande is not in the Rocky Mountains”. Comparing the course of the Rio Grande to that of the Madison, they both primarily stick to broad valleys outside of the mountainous areas for the most part. From following a good amount of it myself, I’d say that there are only 2 sections that could be considered “in the Rocky Mountains”: the first short section inside YNP just after it starts at the confluence of Firehole & Gibbon Rivers, and the section that runs through the Earthquake Lake area.

  18. Dal, thanks for pictures of some interesting finds. I have not found much of interest in my field trips so far, with one exception. In an isolated area of SW Colorado I came across a hand made wooden bench in the middle of nowhere that someone made to sit and contemplate the vista from a bluff. The view was tranquil and almost sublime in my opinion. It looked down on an aspen-filled stream that was bright green in the early summer time. I could only imagine what this stream might look like in autumn with bright yellow foliage. Look forward to hearing more of your adventures and treasure finds.

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