Grayling Creek 2017: Dal’s Version…

by dal…


Earlier this year ABC Nightline contacted Forrest, Cynthia and me about a story the network news folks wanted to produce on Forrest’s treasure and the searchers who go after it.

Forrest agreed, Cynthia agreed and so did I. The logistical problem of a story like this for the producers includes the fact that the search covers four mountain states and searchers are widespread in their opinion about which of those states the chest actually resides in. So if you, as a producer are covering this chase with two searchers and an interview with Forrest you could end up sending camera crews and reporters to New Mexico for an interview with Forrest and two other states to cover the search by two searchers. If I decide to look in Montana in fall and Cynthia decides to look in Colorado in spring and Forrest wants to do the interview when his new book comes out…that’s a lot of trips for one 15 minute story. It takes time and money to cover at least three different locations at differing times of the year with a three or 4 person crew each time. The big networks have the resources to take that kind of story in stride. Independent filmmakers would rather film a single searcher and Forrest both in New Mexico and within a few days of one another. One trip, one crew…get ‘er done.

If a producer should be so unlucky as to plan on filming a searcher who thinks the chest is located inside Yellowstone National Park…a whole new level of problems presents itself. For instance, Yellowstone National Park doesn’t want to encourage searchers inside the park and they will send staff to oversee the film crew and searcher, much like a prison guard at Alcatraz. You have to search within a quarter mile of a road…and many more restrictions for searchers being filmed.

On the other hand an independent filmmaker and searcher might just slip into the park unnoticed and “get er done”. As illegal as that might be, the story gets shot and the park is unlikely to notice. BUT…if the producer does get caught it can lead to arrest and fines…even permanent banishment from entering a national park. So folks who know the rules usually choose not to break them. The cost is too severe if things go awry.

The plan was for us to meet the ABC crew on September 18th for filming in or around the park. Esmerelda, Kathy and I left for Yellowstone on September 14th. It was beautiful the day we packed up. I heard some hooting in the woods and knew one of the critters that inhabit our woods was wondering what was going on.


Along the way we stopped near Arco, Idaho at Craters of the Moon National Monument for a walk and a look/see. This was a good time to visit. Dead of summer this place can be uncomfortably (miserably) hot and walking around on black lava rock when it’s 96 degrees is not my characterization of “a good time”. But it’s a unique micro environment and terribly interesting.


I like getting down on my hands and knees to look for small things. I ran directly into this guy:


I’m not superstitious but I have to tell you…between the Barred Owl and the Horned Lizard I was beginning to feel like we were favored. If this was the way we were starting out, the rest of the trip could be fortunate indeed!

Since starting her search, Cynthia had been looking in New Mexico. She has written some great stories about her searches there and I highly recommend you read them on this very blog. She is a riveting writer and a fantastic searcher. Her stories will entertain and inform you. But, for a variety of reasons Cynthia wanted to search up near Yellowstone. She had never been there before, not even as a tourist and there were things she wanted to check out. So Cynthia, her partner Michelle and their dog Molly packed up and headed north. Tom and Coreda and their dog Ming, who were visiting Cynthia and Michelle also headed  toward the park. That was great. I had not seen Tom and Coreda since Fennboree.

We were a big contingent. Including the 3 crew from Nightline and my wife Kathy, we would be nine people and two bronze-sniffing dogs. That chest was not going to escape this time!

As it turned out, only Cynthia, Molly and myself would be searching on camera. The question was whether we should search together in one place to make it easier on the Nightline crew or should we each search in a different location? AND…should we search inside the park or outside the park? I had ideas for both…where to search???

Another concern was snow. Winter was moving in and nobody wanted to get caught in a snowstorm while searching. It would send the wrong message to other searchers and anyway nobody looks dignified on camera while slipping and sliding around. As Kathy and I drove the loop road in Yellowstone we saw snow in the hills:



By the next morning the snow was gone. On the 17th of September Cynthia and I met up for some looking around West Yellowstone, finding a few Forrest Fenn memorable locations and planning our search.


We decided to search together but outside the park. I was particularly interested in an area around Grayling Creek I had not been able to examine. So we made plans to look there.

Grayling Creek has interested me for several years. The clues can take me to a number of places on that lovely creek and I know Forrest fished here.

I wrote earlier about searching on Grayling Creek in Grayling Creek Part One and Part Two on this blog. They can be found HERE

The creek starts in the park and winds its way west down to Hebgen Lake. It is one of many creeks I was investigating along the line of “There’ll be no paddle up your creek”

So here are the major points of the solution we were following:

WWWH = Madison Junction

Canyon Down = Madison Canyon

HOB = Baker’s Hole Campground

WAIT!!! Stop there…Why is Baker’s Hole the Home of Brown…?

That might be the worst fishing hole on the Madison. I’ve never seen anyone lift a fish from that spot. So it can’t be because of Brown trout.

Wellllll….We were using some old information that has been around this blog and others for many years. Namely that Baker’s Hole has not always been known by that name. You can see this for yourself on a 1912 Map of Gallatin County which is easily found on the internet.

Click HERE to go to the 1912 map.

You can see on that map where Baker’s Hole is today was once known as Brown’s Camp. Not too far below Baker’s Hole is Hebgen Lake…Hebgen Lake has a number of Creeks flowing into it and I have been checking them out as potential “No paddle up you creek” type places. By the way that map was also drawn by Fred Brown. I have not been able to find out if he was the Brown of Brown’s Camp…Maybe someone smarter than me can look into that…

In earlier years I had looked at the lower portion of Grayling downstream of the old Culligan Ranch to the lake. I have also looked upstream at the stretch between the Culligan Ranch and the waterfall. Much of this stretch is on private land and I had obtained permission before venturing in. Now, Cynthia and I were hoping to search the stretch between Hwy 191 downstream to somewhere above the waterfall. Our emphasis would be on the high elevation meadow along the north side of Grayling Creek. This stretch is completely on public land.


In particular there is a large open meadow on level ground where animals (In my mind) would congregate for grazing and watering. It looked to be a pretty place…somewhere maybe Forrest might choose to be his final resting place.  Isolated, but not remote.

We met the ABC crew on the evening of the 17th around a campfire at Cynthia’s cabin, down the road from the park. The crew staged Cynthia and me at a picnic table looking over maps and discussing our search plans for the next day. It was here that they interviewed us prior to the search.


The next morning the crew and Cynthia met at my cabin in West Yellowstone. From there we headed up 191 about five miles to where Grayling Creek goes under the highway. The day was overcast but still and comfortable. Perfect hiking weather. Cynthia and I watched as the crew prepped their film gear and armed us with wireless microphones. Then we headed out, five humans and one ambitious dog.

Cynthia always searches with her dog Molly, who seems to really enjoy snuffling around in the sage and wildflowers. She also has no problem wading in hypothermic trout streams.



The weather was spectacular and the meadow was beautiful. A perfect place to come and enjoy animals, the smells of pine, peace, and a beautiful trout stream. I had high hopes…EXCEPT…what Blaze????


This is almost always my dilemma. I get to a spot but cannot identify the next clue…in this case, the mysterious blaze. If I had been by myself I would have explored the place and then left…blazeless.

But Cynthia saw it right away. She was not coy about it at all. “There is the blaze”, she shouted, and five humans and one dog marched quickly toward her large, bold blaze, high on a cliff at the end of the meadow.


As we were parading toward the blaze Cynthia stopped to investigate a willow thicket mid-meadow. To our surprise, inside was a partly camouflaged and very recently killed deer. Frighteningly fresh. That morning perhaps. It made what’s left of the hair on my head bristle. I knew exactly what we were looking at. I had seen a hidden type of cache like this  about forty years ago while filming a documentary with the Craighead brothers.

The Craigheads were considered the crowned princes of Grizzly bear research and in the process of filming with them over several days they had taken me to a number of bear “locations” during the fall and winter. In addition to a bear den we had also visited a bear food cache. It looked uncomfortably like what we were now staring at. What I didn’t know and what concerned me most was where the owner was. The bear could be very close by. If the griz saw us messing with his food there would be hell to pay. I stepped back from the cache. I quickly glanced around 360 degrees. My nervous system was on high alert. I thought that if I were a bear I would have headed to high ground to keep an eye out for anything approaching my food.

The best we could hope for was a napping bear. I did not want to alarm anyone. We were having too much fun. I moved away from the cache and quietly mentioned tp Cynthia what I figured we were looking at. No bear revealed itself. I held tightly onto my thoughts and moved toward the blaze while keeping my eyes peeled for anything large and furry.


As we crossed the meadow to the blaze and ventured into Lodgepole Pine thickets near the creek I yelled out “HEY BEAR!”, just so we wouldn’t surprise any napping or foraging grizzly.

Finally, we stood underneath the blaze and looked quickly down. Cynthia saw the perfect hiding spot for Indulgence. A boulder that had peeled off the rock cliff hundreds, or perhaps thousands of years ago. It was trenched under at one end. Possibly as a shelter for some previous dweller…a badger or weasel or coyote. Molly was interested in the hiding place too. It was an exciting moment. Cynthia encouraged Molly to get into that den…Molly sniffing and getting excited…Cynthia and the crew adrenalized with the possibilities in front of us…me swiveling my head watching for bears…


After both Molly and Cynthia had explored the den and found nothing of significance we gave the area a thorough walk through, looking for any other possible hidey spots or smaller blazes while the crew filmed our every consideration. We noticed that there were no trails in the area and we saw no others in our luscious meadow the whole day. Not even a fisher on Grayling Creek. It seemed like such a perfect place. I thought about spreading my tarp here and spending the night anyway.



After spending a further hour scouring the edges and creekside…nothing was discovered and we reluctantly headed back to the highway and our vehicles.

I have to say that I really enjoyed searching with Cynthia. She is very respectful of the landscape and very appreciative of a beautiful meadow and trout stream. We had a great time. Cynthia is enthusiastic, agile and walks fast…so be warned if you have the opportunity to keep up with her…and Molly is a hoot…Always quiet and always observing as much as possible whatever is around her. Great hiking buddies.


You can read Cynthia’s version of this search HERE

The end result of the crew’s work are two stories on the ABC site. One story is video and the other is written. The written story is HERE

The video story can be found HERE


Nez Perce Creek…

September 2017
by dal…


Everyone who knows my name probably knows my search area. It has not changed a great deal in the past few years. I looked elsewhere when I first went out in 2011 and 2012. But since about 2013 I’ve concentrated on the greater Yellowstone area. That is not to say inside Yellowstone National Park precisely. But in the general area of Gallatin County, Park County, Yellowstone and a bit further north.

How come my area is so vast you ask…?

Well…I say…because I go where the clues lead me and there are many, many choices as I move along my path. It takes me time to explore all the possible routes.

I pointed out a couple weeks ago that I felt the poem is not unlike a mideveal labyrinth or maze. They are different from one another. Which one of these puzzle types has become more clear to me over time. I originally thought Forrest had designed a labyrinth. A long route that twisted and turned. The single path was simple to navigate…but long and twisty. Here is a two dimensional representation of a labyrinth:

Since then, I have decided that what Forrest has really constructed is a maze. A maze differs from a labyrinth in that a maze has many false doors. The route is not direct. Many choices have to be made along the path about which doorway to go thru.The problem with a maze is that you don’t know you have chosen an incorrect path until you’ve followed it to it’s dead end. Then you have to retrace your steps back to your last choice and try a different door. Of course it can be more complicated because the maze could be constructed with doors behind doors so the choices are exponential with hundreds of more chances to be wrong than right. And, of course, all the paths, all the doors look the same so it is sometimes not so simple to see that you’ve been in this same place before.

We’ve all seen mazes drawn out on paper as a child’s puzzle in a magazine or puzzle book. They look like this:

In the mideveal world mazes were often actual devices…physically constructed out of hedges or fences or walls. Garden mazes are sometimes used as plot devices in dramatic films and recently corn mazes have become fashionable around halloween.

Fortunately, with Forrest’s maze I can, at least see where I have been before. Each choice may look different but there are many to choose from. No path is a known winner in advance. You will not know if you have made the correct choice until you come to the end. If there is no chest at the end then somewhere along the path you went thru an incorrect doorway. But which one?

Forrest says there are nine clues. I think this means nine correct doorways. If I get to the end and there is no chest, how far back do I have to go to try again? In my case I go back to the last choice I had to make and try again from there. Once I have tried all those doorways without success I go back to a further choice and try again….and on…and on…

I think you can see why it takes so long to move through the possibilities…

Apparently I am bad at making choices.

Of course all this is based on the premise that I’ve selected the correct place to begin. If I have not done so then all I will ever have are some wonderful hiking experiences…which is okay with me. I would love to find the chest but not to the point of distress when I don’t . Locating Indugence is not the driving force behind getting out and looking for it.

Okay…so what is the driving force…

I’ll take you through my last attempt so you can see how this works for me.

My startiong point for many years has been Madison Junction inside Yellowstone Park.

Madison Junction, Yellowstone National Park – Where the waters of the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers meet and where the Madison River begins. WWWH?

This starting place is based on a lot of thinking about “where warm waters halt” that I did over a couple years. I, like everyone, was bumping around in the dark about WWWH. I tried a few different things but none of them really clicked in my mind until Madison Junction. I feel good about Madison Junction and for the time being I am using it. But I also constantly consider what might be better…what Forrest really could have meant.. That is to say, I am keeping my options open even though I presently work from Madison Junction.

Since “where warm waters halt” is the place to begin it is certainly the most critical clue to identify. If I am wrong about where to start none of the other clues will lead me to Indulgence…but they do lead me on interesting adventures.

I had always felt that WWWH had to be a place of significance. It couldn’t just be another geyser or hot spring because there are thousands of those things in the RMs and as hard as I tried I could not make any single hot spring stand out above any other in the poem. There did not appear to be any identifying words or lines in the poem that would point to one hot spring over another.

I originally thought the Rio Grande River where the cold water springs start enriching it and making it viable for trout was a good place for WWWH. Those cold springs are common knowledge among fishers in that area. My first twenty or so searches began at that location around the place where the Rio Grande crosses into NM and they ended at various locations in New Mexico.

Frustrated with the places that I saw in NM, most beat to death by tourists and fishers, I felt that none met my criteria for a place Forrest would choose to be his last view on earth.

After reading the book again and again looking for hints I decided to look for a more prominent place as WWWH. I first saw Madison Junction while visiting the park to capture footage of grizzlys for a film project I was working on. Years later after being convinced that my place on the Rio Grande was not working out I was reminded about Madison Junction.  It struck me as a likely spot for Forrest to choose and to know about as WWWH.

I was also drawn to the Yellowstone area because of Forrest’s remark about Yellowstone being a “special” place to him according to a document that Tony Dokoupil read and wrote about in one of the very first stories written about the treasure hunt, back in 2012. And I was also interested in a location that met the criteria Forrest mentions while answering a question framed by mdavis19 about specialized knowledge required:

Q- Is any specialized knowledge required to find the treasure? For instance, something learned during your time in the military, or from a lifetime of fly fishing? Or do you really expect any ordinary average person without your background to be able to correctly interpret the clues in the poem? -mdavis19
A- No specialized knowledge is required mdavis19, and I have no expectations. My Thrill of the Chase book is enough to lead an average person to the treasure. f

To begin, there was signage at Madison Junction describing it as the place where the Gibbon and Firehole rivers both end and as the start of the Madison. This is an atypical geographic situation. Not unique, but not terribly common either. Often a lake might have two or more streams feeding it and one leaving it that takes a new name. But Madison Junction is not considered a lake. It is simply a basin where two rivers pour in and one leaves. The single caution that I have about the place being Forrest’s WWWH is that it is simply a human decision that the Firehole and the Gibbon end and the river that leaves this place is a new river called the Madison. Why didn’t those same men decide that the Gibbon joins the Firehole in this location and the Firehole continues? It’s a subjective opinion…made by early geographers in the area. Forrest did point out that a comprehensive knowledge of geography might help.

Q- Mr. Fenn, Is there any level of knowledge of US history that is required to properly interpret the clues in your poem. 

A-No Steve R, The only requirement is that you figure out what the clues mean. But a comprehensive knowledge of geography might help.

Even more unusual in this scenario is the fact that both the Gibbon and the Firehole are “warm” rivers. Not at all cold as you might expect from a couple of mountain streams descending from higher elevations. They are both physically warm to the touch, comfortable to sit in. In the heat of summer they are often too warm for trout who have to escape up cooler side streams. These rivers are warm because they pass through geyser basins full of hot springs and other thermal events that drain into the rivers and heat them up.

The plural of “waters” might refer to the two rivers that halt in this spot.

Signage and descriptions of the curious geographic confluence at Madison Junction appear on visitor maps and brochures. It is a widely understood location for  the place where two rivers end and a third begins. All these rivers were mentioned in TTOTC. This was better than any hint I had for any possible WWWH location in NM. So I adopted it as my WWWH. I can assure no one that it is correct…and I may change when/if something better catches my eye. But for now Madison Junction is my place to begin.

Shortly after, I began my understanding of the poem as a puzzle…possibly a maze or a labyrinth, but certainly one or the other. I would have choices to make about words in the poem like “down” and “below” and “nigh”. The choices I made would lead me in specific directions. What I needed to do was try to decide how Forrest would think about these words. The book helped me some there too. I found other useful hints about Forrest and language in the video interviews and many stories he has given us. I paid attention but tried not to let the research take me deeper than I needed to be for my particular solution…

As stated, my WWWH is at Madison Junction.

Madison Junction- Gibbon enters from the right. Firehole enters from the south. Madison leaves to the left.

From that location I immediately have a decision between three routes…or three doors that I can use.

First, take it (the Madison River) downstream into the Madison Canyon and beyond toward Hebgen Lake.


Second, I can take it (the Firehole River) down (south) into the Firehole Canyon.


There is a third sketchier route but I can’t rationalize that one so I won’t discuss it so that you cannot accuse me of taking too big a bite of peyote.

So right off the bat my maze begins. I have two choices and must select one to try out. I tried the Madison first. I spent two years looking at that path for a hoB. The obvious choice is Hebgen Lake. A spawning area for Brown trout. Many hundreds (maybe thousands) of folks have considered this route. I have been uncomfortable with it from the start…Folks have examined the lake and all its tributaries and gone below the dam as far as Ennis trying to make this path work. It may be the second most popular search area, right after the Enchanted Circle in NM. Diggin Gypsy seems to have patented the search in this area. She’s been looking around there for  5? years now. What could she miss that I could find?

I managed to find an actual hoB above the lake. But it is an historic place and according to Forrest a knowledge of history is not required. None-the-less I looked for a year there. I could find things that encouraged me about meek and water high and heavy loads. I could even find a creek I could not paddle. But in the end, I could only find one convincing blaze and beyond that I could locate no chest..

So after two years in that area I retreated back to Madison Junction to explore another path. Heading south (down on a map) on the Firehole river and into the Firehole Canyon. Again, the hints and clues seem to work. I have two possible hoBs down this path. So the maze expands when I go in this direction. One choice is at Nez Perce Creek where the first Brown trout in the Park were stocked by the Army. More Brown trout…eeek.

Another is at Lower Geyser Basin where two fellows, one named Brown tried to stake out some land for themselves in 1870 so they could lay claim to the wonderful sights in that area and charge admission to see them. These fellows even started cutting fence poles in Firehole Basin. They were dissuaded from their entrepreneurial scheme by Nathanial Langford, a member of the Washburn Expedition who pointed out to them that the area would soon be a National Park and commercial holdings would not be tolerated.

Lower Geyser Basin – Yellowstone National Park

I liked this hoB…but in the back of my mind it seemed too esoteric and dependent on reading one small book written by Langford in 1870 titled “The Discovery of Yellowstone Park” . The account was nowhere else that I could find. Forrest clearly ruled out a knowledge of history would be required when he answered the question from Steve R. mentioned earlier.

So I began looking at other possibilities. But giving up on historical connections, in spite of the fact that Forrest had stated that US History was not needed….is difficult because I love to investiogate the history of the land where I stand at any particular moment…

I can sit down on a battlefield and imagine the battle. I can see individuals fighting for their lives. I can hear the sounds and feel the heat. I can smell the powder and hear the gun shots. It all plays out like a movie in front of me. It is an adrenaline rush. I can stand in a coulee in Washington and imagine the unimaginable mountain of water that poured out of the east to carve this thing I’m standing in thousands of years ago. When I pick up an arrowhead I can hold it tightly and imagine it being crafted . I can feel the breath of the individual carving it as I peer closer at his hands. History is intoxicating to me.

So, in June of 2017 when I visited the Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park I was armed with the knowledge of what I believed to be three clues, and I was hunting for a fourth. I wanted to explore Nez Perce Creek as a possible “no paddle up your creek” but I also wanted to walk along it and see if I could conjur up the events that took place here. The history of the creek not neccessarily related to its potential as a clue…but interesting to me…Finding those connections alone would make the search delicious.

Confluence of Nez Perce Creek and Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park

There are many tales of fantastic human feats accomplished in Yellowstone. The tale that has conjured up the most interest from me has been the story of the Cowan group.

In 1877 nine tourists were camping in Yellowstone when 800 or so Nez Perce came through trying to outrun the Army and get to Canada. Mr and Mrs Cowan were two of the visitors in that group. The Nez Perce discovered their campfire one evening and raided them. The Indians decided they wanted the party’s supplies and horses. Mr. Cowan unwisely but heroicly objected. So they shot him in the head and left him for dead. They took the remaining eight tourists as captives, Mrs. Cowan, beside herself in grief, all their supplies and horses and headed northeast.

Miraculously Cowan didn’t die. The lead barely penetrated and flattened on his skull. He was knocked out cold. When he awoke he was all alone, no food, no horse and I imagine he must have had one helluva headache. But bad luck always comes in waves and later another element of the Nez Perce came by and shot him in the hip…and left him for dead again.

Tough guys, these Cowans. He survived and was eventually found by Army troops and treated by surgeons. He was later reunited with his wife and others in the camping group after the Indians let them go. He wore the lead slug that the Army surgeon dug out of his head, as a watch fob for the remainder of his long life.

In 1905 George and Emma Cowan pointed out the spot where George was shot and Emma was captured by the Nez Perce in 1877.

In 1905 the Cowans returned to the park to show historians where they were camping when they were raided by the Nez Perce. George Cowan lived into his nineties and Emma Cowan wrote an account of the story which is still available today.

Many, many years later descendents of the Cowans and the Nez Perce that were part of that event met together in Yellowstone to reconcile and to tell family stories. It must have been a fascinating meeting.

I was interested in following Nez Perce Creek as part of my pursuit of Forrest’s treasure but I was also interested in seeing if I could find the Cowan Group’s campsite from when they were raided. I had a copy of the 1905 photo of the Cowans that was taken in the spot they remembered as their campsite. So even if this path did not lead to the blaze and Forrest’s chest I was prepared to have some fun, explore and learn.

Nez Perce Creek

I have to tell you that if you are looking for a sweet hike in Yellowstone you couldn’t do much better than Nez Perce Creek. I parked in a pulloff on the loop road. Grabbed my camera and my photo and headed out. It was a magnificent day. Warm, but not too warm. I was in good spirit made even better by the day and the landscape and the purpose.

I spent most of the day walking that creek on its north side. I passed no other humans. Saw lots of birds and listened to more. The world was beautiful and I was exceedingly content.

Shooting Star along Nez Perce Creek

I get down on my hands and knees a lot when I am hiking with a camera because I love taking pics of wildflowers and ant hills and peculiar rocks.

In one wide spot along the creek I stopped to canvas the area. It felt warm and occupied. I could see no one else but I could sense that something had happened here. I could just make out a very old campfire ring near the creek and possibly…just possibly…old wagon tracks.

Was this the site where the Cowans had been raided? I took out the photo to compare. It was ambiguous. Possible match but not guaranteed. I went over near the ghostly mark of a campfire ring, got down on my hands and knees and started scouring the grass and dirt looking for something but I didn’t know what.

Under a small tree, perhaps uplifted by that tree over the years I saw a glimmer of white, no larger than a postage stamp. I reached for it. Picked it up and held in my hand a quite old piece of china. Possibly a piece from a broken dish or platter. Who brings china to camp? Civilized tourists in the 1800’s would have brought china. Emma Cowan could have brought china.

China sherd that I like to imagine is from one of Emma Cowan’s plates

A glass bead. Perhaps worn by a Nez Perce Indian during the raid

I did not dig. I only searched the surface. I looked for another twenty or so minutes and was just about to quit when I saw a second tiny flash of white about ten feet from where I found the china sherd. As I moved toward it, I lost sight of it. I spent another five minutes trying to recapture the location of it. I finally did. I picked up a tiny, oval shaped, pure white glass bead.

I sat right in that spot, facing the creek and looking in the direction that I imagined would have given the campers back in 1877 the most delight. Bead in my left hand and sherd in my right I imagined the Cowans, the camp, the Nez Perce, the gunshot, the fear, the anger. Like a John Ford film it all played out in my mind. Panoramic scenes on the stage in front of me. It was exciting. It was exhausting. It was fulfilling.

Lupine along Nez Perce Creek

I replaced the sherd and the bead and continued my movie.

I did not find a chest nor a blaze leading to one. At the end of the day I didn’t have any sense that I was even in the right spot for Forrest’s treasure but good god I enjoyed that hike…


Little Treasures…


JUNE 2016
by dal…



It’s a magical, mystical, damp world outside my cabin today.

Perhaps the Pacific Northwest has as many words for rain as the Inuit are said to have for snow. Drizzle for a day in June is a welcome and hopeful event. A drizzle is not so bad that you can’t work or play outdoors, yet the effect is to enrich the emerald landscape, replenish island wells and uplift the dried out spirits of parched, mossy-backed Lummi Islanders. A 24 hour drizzle is a very good thing indeed.

So while outside we have what the Scots might call a hagger, inside my cabin we have an alder fire to stave off the chill and I am content to think near it, review the photos from my last search and conjur up the “little treasures” I discovered in Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico as I traveled first Southeast to Fennboree and after, North to my Home of Brown in Montana, and then West to Lummi Island. Another 3,458 miles under Esmerelda’s belt. All her wheels stayed on this entire trip.


The highlight of the trip, of course, was seeing Forrest at Fennboree. He was in good spirits and appeared to be having a fine time meeting searchers, signing T-shirts and telling stories.


My first wildflower sighting at Fennboree was in my campsite at Black Canyon Campground. These wild, native Rock Clematis were spiraling up the pine trees forming a lovely, pale orchid backdrop for my hot dog dinner.

The Monday after Fennboree I met with Forrest and recorded a couple of new stories on video to post on this blog. I have not edited them yet but let me just say that I think Forrest’s character really shines in the latest stories about roughing it all summer up on Hebgen Lake as a teenager. You’ll love his recipe for mud-baked trout over a campfire. He also talks about starting out in the art business when he emerged from the Air Force in 1970….and a bonus piece, based on a question suggested at Fennboree about the origin of Forrest’s belt buckle. He’s been wearing the same beautiful, multi-colored turquoise buckle for decades and he took the time to tell us about it…


For me the best two times of the year to walk around in the Rocky Mountains are Spring and Fall. Both seasons come and go quite quickly at higher elevations. Basically, spring for me is the week just before kids are let out of school and immediately prior to the long lines starting up at all the National Parks. It’s a special time of green meadows fragrant with the new growth of herbs and wildflowers, and the forest edges delicious with the aroma of new pine and the rush of ice cold creeks heading somewhere in a big hurry. Fall happens the week the kids head back to school. The meadows in Fall are filled with gooseberries and huckleberries. The bears like this time of year too. The autumn colors are a splendid visual miracle and the cold nights return to make sleeping in the outdoors a pleasure again. Two times of year…two sensory overloads.

As I headed north from Santa Fe spring was noisy all around…beckoning, luring, inviting me to stop and smell the fresh scented air and feel the clean mountain breeze against my face. I am in a hurry to test out my new theories but I can’t resist stopping for a few hours each day to wander in the open meadows and photograph wildflowers. It’s one of my small joys. I can’t explain the pull…I just love it.


Purple Larkspur on the rim of Flaming Gorge Reservoir.


A sage steppe vista like this never tires my eyes. There are wildflowers and critters gallumping all through this place.


This little Sunflower seems to dominate its immediate neighborhood and yell “Here I Am!”.

My destination was a new HOB in Montana to see if I could  “put-in” there and discover the next clue. As many of you know, my starting point is inside Yellowstone National Park but as I follow the clues I am led outside the park into the Gallatin National Forest. This is my destination. My newly discovered home of Brown….the next step in solving the poem for me. A long way from a final solution but it’s taken me five years to get to this point. I’ve tried several other hoB places before this one. So far they have not panned out. I am hoping this one does.


Below my hoB and looking for the optimum “put-in” in the Gallatin National Forrest. The wildflower in front is a clump of Orange Indian Paintbrush. There are several varieties of Paintbrush that occur in various colors from deep red to pale yellow throughout the Gallatin region right up to 11,000 feet in elevation.

A close-up of the Paintbrush.



This is my first travel up a little creek I can’t paddle. The creek ends here. It’s certainly interesting with thousands of minnows bashing around when they see my shadow in their home, but not the place I would expect Forrest to want to spend eternity.

I wonder what this place looked like a thousand years ago. Was it a protected area where traveling Indians might have set up camp? Before I leave, I spend a few hours on my hands and knees looking for “little treasures”. I don’t find any arrowheads but I find plenty of wildflowers.


This Star Flowered Solomon Seal was growing in the moist soil near the edge of the pond.


There may be a dozen or more onions that grow in the west. This one is called Shortstyle Onion and is common throughout the area. Yes, it is edible; ask any Jellystone bear. They are quite adept at digging them up.


This is Oregon Grape or sometimes called Barberry growing under the darker canopy of Lodgepole Pine that dominates the Gallatin National Forrest. In a few weeks the yellow flowers will become clusters of juicy purple berries that look like grapes. They make a handsome jam…if you add enough sugar. In the fall the leaves often turn bright crimson and add splashes of Jack Frost color to the forest floor.


As I prepare to leave I walk into a patch of a few hundred Wild Strawberry plants. In a month there will be tiny red fruit all over this patch. The wild berries might be small but they are usually wallopingly tasty.


Back at the river I admire the view. Maybe next time I should bring my kayak…or my fly rod. Does that look inviting or what????


I’ll be back to continue my search down the river….

Maybe after I publish this Forrest will announce that someone has been within 13feet of the treasure…I know he’ll be talking about me….




The Case for Hyde Park…


MAY 2016
by dal…


I call it Hyde Park for short but its proper name is Hyde Memorial State Park

Many searchers feel that Forrest must have hidden Indulgence in New Mexico. There are more than a few logical reasons why this could be true. The number one argument for New Mexico appears to be that it is the State where Forrest lives, and if he were to head out from home to hide his box of goodies,  not having to travel far would make it easier for him to escape and return unnoticed. He would probably not raise a single eyebrow among those in his immediate family if he were only gone for a few hours, many advocates of the New Mexico dogma point out.


Although I was once a follower of the “New Mexico creed”, I have since moved on. But ever since Cynthia announced that Fennboree 2016 would be held in Hyde Memorial State Park, Just about 8.2 miles northeast of Santa Fe I started thinking how clever it would be for Forrest to hide his treasure in a place called Hyde Park. So, I spent a little time looking into this place.

First of all, Hyde Park is in the Sangre de Cristo range of the southeastern most extension of the Rocky Mountains. I am not the only person who believes this. The United States Geological Survey states this on their Rocky Mountain geographical description website. As does just about every other reliable organization that talks about the southern Rocky Mountains. In fact, Hyde Memorial State Park is just about 25 miles north of the absolute southern limit of the Rockies.


The park is situated on 340 acres between 8,400ft and 9,440ft elevation.

I believe that calling Hyde State Park NORTH of Santa Fe is a stretch. It’s more East than anything…but none-the-less, when I draw an east/west line on a map through Santa Fe…Hyde Park falls well north of that line.

Okay…so we’ve got a place on public land, not far from Forrest’s home, in the Rocky Mountains, potentially north of Santa Fe and in the possible elevation range with an interesting name that could be associated with a clever hiding place…What else ya got?

I got B. T B. Hyde…


The park is named after Benjamin Talbot Babbitt Hyde, known as “Uncle Bennie” or “B.T.” or B. T. Hyde”. It turns out that Bennie was passionate about making sure kids had an opportunity to learn about and explore the outdoors…sound familiar?

Bennie was an original thinker and amassed a fortune by taking an ordinary product and thinking differently about how to market it…sound familiar?


Bennie’s product was soap…bar soap. He was the first to manufacture and market soap in individual bars. Babbitt’s Best Soap was a colossal hit. He was the first manufacturer to give public tours of his factories so families could appreciate the cleanliness of his plant and the pureness of his product. He was also one of the first to give away free samples. He was willing to take chances with marketing his products and it almost always paid off. His soap became such a household staple that Babbitt was touted as a marketing genius…sound familiar?


Babbitt often told this story at speaking engagements:
“I met a young shoeshine boy with the name B. T. Babbitt. When I told the boy my name was also B. T. Babbitt, the surprised boy said, ‘Lawd mister, did your momma get your name off a soap box too?'”

Benjamin Talbot Babbitt Hyde and his brother Frederick E. Hyde, Jr. were amateur anthropologists…sound familiar?


They financed an expedition in the winter of 1893-1894 to excavate the cliff dwelling civilization in Pueblo Bonito. In addition to the cliff dwellers, evidence of an earlier “Basketmaking” civilization was discovered beneath the canyon floor. The finds were substantial, including thousands of cylindrical pottery vases unique to this site, turquoise, flutes, baskets, and human remains…sound familiar?

There is also an intriguing connection between the Hyde brothers and Richard Weatherill’s work at Mesa Verde.

Uncle Bennie was always interested in educating children about the outdoors and when he retired in 1927 he moved to Santa Fe and started The Children’s Nature Foundation on a large ranch near Tesuque. He often lectured on snakes, poisonous and non-poisonous which he usually brought with him in a suitcase. He argued that, in fact, snakes were man’s best friend, not dogs.

Since then, the foundation has purchased and set aside hundreds of mountainside acres for public use. The 350 acre Hyde Park property was donated to the State in 1934 for the sole purpose of creating New Mexico’s first State Park. Which finally happened in 1938.


Well…okay, but is there a blaze?

Depends… One possible blaze is a waterfall in the park on the Little Tesuque Creek that runs thru the park. But the creek is intermittent at that point and derives its flow from snowmelt. The waterfall is often missing any water to fall. But that would not be the only blaze possibility.

What about Brown and meek and etc. etc…

Well…actually, I have found some curious places in and around the park…that are very interesting…and, of course the park itself is not far, but too far to walk from an exciting location where warm waters halt.


I am not saying that this is the place…I’m only thinking out loud that it’s a REMOTE possibility…but I’ll be snooping around and you might just want to do a little research before you show up for Fennboree 2016….

Just my opinion…of course…
No one else would have this opinion but me…


Spring Decisions…


by dal…

Spring is coming…I need a plan…

I’ve come upon a completely new (to me) technique for figuring out exactly Where Warm Waters Halt. Now I know from reading on the blog that there are many different methods folks use to come up with a place to “Begin it…” and the fact is that I have actually employed many of those ideas over the past five and a half years…anagrams, counting letters, numerology, associative wordplay, reading Forrest’s books for clues, consulting with gypsies, cohorting with trout, numerous conversations with drunks, prayer… But I have to tell you, this is by far the least stressful. Although I will admit that Goofy’s Mouse Pad Wee Jee Board at just $9.99 from Sacha’s on-line store ( is a great bargain, and students will also find the mouse pad useful for taking multiple-choice exams and even choosing a main dish at a Chinese restaurant.

But after very little luck at stumbling upon a place to “Begin it…” for the imminent searching season, I came upon this idea while reading a book about Supreme Court decisions over the past twenty years. If it works for them, I see no reason why it cannot work for all of us.


This technique is not without it’s drawbacks. First is the cost. I had to buy a set of six darts from Amazon for $3.99. But when you consider the alternative…say a medium grade metal detector at 300 to a thousand bucks…$3.99 isn’t so bad. And, of course, there are rules to consider…metal detecting is not allowed in National Parks and Monuments and I discovered that detecting around the old FennHaven Motor Lodge is not very productive unless you’re looking for bottle caps.

On the other hand, no one cares about darts. You can take them into any park. They don’t make noise unless you miss and accidentally stick one in a cat. They are just as functional at home as in the field. No batteries required.

For those who would point out that Forrest said we should use the book..I’d like to suggest that the book makes a great placemat to protect your darts from the nasty grime left over on old campsite picnic tables. I use the book regularly.

dart2smOh…and one more tip. The bigger the map, the better. The first map I had was so small I couldn’t tell if my dart stuck in Taos or Durango. But by using one of those great big Benchmark wall maps of the search area, I can tell, down to the township, where my dart is sending me.

A variation on this theme is to use nine darts (more $)…make sure you number them 1-9 so you know which dart is which…then your entire solution is laid out in front of you…
I have to admit though, it seems like some of the solutions I’ve read lately already use this technique!


20 Seconds of Holy Cow…


by dal…


The last time I walked this stretch of the Madison I got caught out in the open in a fast moving thunderstorm where I was the tallest object around and perfectly grounded while I was knee-deep in river water. The surprise storm brought a moody darkness and a chilling wind that did nothing to make me feel comfortable. Lightning has always scared the daylights out of me and I couldn’t decide whether I was safer staying in the river or hugging the flat grassy shoreline in soaking wet clothes. Another conundrum!

Just as I was moving out of the river a powerful bolt of searing white light exploded into the ground a mere football field away from me and up on the bank. The attack was so loud that I couldn’t hear it. My brain only registered it as a very strong pressure wave that pushed against my skeleton and then set my whole body tingling from the electrically charged air. I couldn’t imagine a worse place to be stranded. I was trying to remember the facts about lightening that I learned at the science museum in Boston many years ago. Nothing surfaced in my clogged brain except the point that a lightning bolt could discharge about a BILLION volts in less than a second.

The back part of my brain where hundreds of generations of prehistoric learning resides, took over. I decided to head for the spot where the lightning hit the ground. It would certainly be the odds-on safest little plot in the valley since everyone knows that lightening never strikes twice in the same spot. It must be true! Please let it be true!

The only flaw in that plan was the 100 yards of open space I had to cover to get to the safe spot. The back part of my brain was screaming at me to move quickly…but not to run…”and why not run”, I asked the rear of my brain which was now in charge? “Because”, it answered, “running will attract the attention of the storm.” At the time it made perfect sense and I walked quickly but did not run.

The storm passed as suddenly as it had appeared. Before I even got to the safe spot the lightening was a mile away and the rain and wind had both quit to an eerie and uncomfortable stillness.

Then, in a flash, sunshine and warmth descended from heaven and the place looked like a rocky mountain dreamland again. My fears were washed away and forgotten.

That was a couple years ago..

Today I was revisiting that spot because I had the sense that I was not completely together when I was here last and I probably missed searching in areas about the size of Rhode Island. I wanted to come back and look again..with all my wits…

So here I was walking the river..back and forth in areas where my sight overlapped. Every inch in every 100ft column would be looked at twice from different directions. I knew how to search..what I wasn’t sure about was what in the heck I was searching for..a blaze of some kind..a mark or geological remnant or device that would be around for a hundred or more years…semi to fully permanent. As I approached the bank of the river on pass number 117 I saw something odd in a foot of clear water about three feet out…


Click to open larger, uncropped image

Just sitting there. It was about ten inches on each side and about five inches high. Is that a latch? Is that thing made of bronze? It’s not supposed to be in water!!!!

I grabbed my camera and took a set of pictures.

I put the camera down and leaped into the water straddling the object. I bent down and touched it gently…rough, not smooth…I dug at the gravel around it with my fingers…deeper than five inches…much deeper…

Not the chest…

A concrete pier.

But it gave me an exciting moment..twenty seconds of HOLY COW!!!


CBS Sunday Morning….

JULY 2015
by dal…



In early June I went out to search around Yellowstone National Park with a CBS News crew from New York. They were creating a story on the treasure hunt for CBS Sunday Morning. When I met up with them they had already followed a family from Colorado who were searching and had also been down in Santa Fe and talked with Forrest…and I believe a few other folks in the area who know Forrest.

The Producer of the story, Dustin Stephens, contacted me about a month earlier and we decided on a date and location I would be searching where they would be able to meet up with me. What follows is a Behind The Scenes look at the shoot I experienced with the CBS News crew.

The location was to be near Fountain Flats in Yellowstone National Park. The date was to be June 5th.


A lovely warm creek on the edge of Fountain Flats in Yellowstone National Park

Getting permission to film professionally in YNP is typically a simple process…unless the Chief Ranger is Tim Reid and unless you are going there to film a “searcher”. So when Dustin filled out the necessary forms and sent them in, the whole “permission” process became convoluted. The administration didn’t really want to allow a story about searchers in their our park. They tried to prevent it but could’t quite pull it off.

To begin, Ranger Reid would not allow himself to be interviewed by CBS because apparently “treasure hunting” is beneath him. The administration would only allow the crew into the park to film me if the crew, and I, agreed to a number of restrictions. For instance, I was not allowed to carry any kind of “searching tool”. So I agreed to leave my ice axe in Esmerelda. The crew had to stay within a quarter mile of any road, which meant that I could not search beyond a quarter mile of any road. There were other rules too and many were unusual restrictions for a news crew. The most interesting was that we had to have a “guide” with us. The guide would be a ranger and the ranger would only be available for half a day so we had to get all filming inside the park accomplished during that time. Of course this meant that there would be someone official from the park with us if we were to actually find the chest. No sneaking it out of the park since the guide was watching us. It also meant we would not be able to postpone due to weather or equipment problems. We had a one half-day window and that was firm, not negotiable. I am pretty certain the administration used this requirement to absolutely limit the filming to something unreasonable in the hope that CBS would cave and film somewhere else. But CBS agreed to everything and we all met on June 5th at the appointed hour in the parking lot at Madison Junction to run off and start filming.


Near Fountain Flats

But the gods were not with us. The crew had been pulled off the Searcher story and were ready to pile into their vehicles and head for Billings to do a breaking news story on Dennis Hastert. So there we were, ranger guide, searcher guy, correspondent and news crew all ready to go but CBS News wanted the team to go do another story. Of course that meant they lost all opportunity to film in the park after their hard fought battle with the administration to do so. Hung by their own brand new rope.

So that gave me a day to think about where else we could film. Film crews are used to working hard to get all the footage and sounds they need to tell a story, but no one wants to scrabble up hill, over uneven terrain carrying cameras, tripods and microphones a great distance and I didn’t want to spend hours driving up some dusty service road before we could get out and hike to a good spot.

Wild strawberries

Wild strawberries



I checked my list of 17 possible locations to check out on this trip. These are all places the clues in the poem take me right up to the blaze. My sense is that I will have to find the blaze when I get to any spot and then, if found, move on from that point in the poem. Whit’s Lake seemed like a great possibility. Short drive, unlikely to be any other humans nearby, 20 minute hike from the vehicles and possibly picturesque. The clues to that area seemed strong. But since I had not been there I wondered if there was a blaze. Certainly we could film up there as long as we wanted.


Since Whit’s Lake is on Forest Service land I wanted to check in with the USFS about filming there. The Forest Service has regulations about professional filming on their our land as well as the Park Service. The folks at the Gallatin Nat’l Forest Ranger Station on the north side of West Yellowstone were very helpful and very gracious. They were curious about the treasure hunt because they had heard about it and were interested in more detail. I shared what I could before they got busy with phone calls and daily business. They were courteous and welcoming and even offered up a suggestion for a place I might want to look. A lot different than the Park Service. They never even mentioned the legal hassles if the chest were found on Forest Service land. “Go forth and search.” the district ranger told me.

Approaching Whit's Lake

Approaching Whit’s Lake

Whit's Lake

Whit’s Lake

We did. Dustin, Mike, Barry, Andre and I proceeded up to the lake the next day. We filmed an interview followed by my search of the area around the lake looking for a lovely blaze.


Mike and Dustin talk about the filming on the tree shrouded trail to the lake


Barry, Andre and Mike setting up for my interview as a string of dudes on pony’s ambles by.

I found a potential blaze in a solitary rock on the side of the lake and another potential blaze in a waterfall from  the feeder stream heading into the lake…Neither very strong blazes but I would be foolish to walk away without checking them out…

Once again I found no chest. But I had a great walk, the day was beautiful. The company was great. The wildflowers were lovely…



My search along with all the other elements of this CBS News story aired on July 12th…

You can watch the story HERE. Look around on that page and you should find some additional footage including a clip of Forrest reading his poem..

Check out their Facebook page and Twitter feed too..


Dal – Almost Live from MT/WY…


June 2015


Around Yellowstone for the next few day. Decided to add this post so Goofy doesn’t nuke me for being off topic 🙂

I’ll keep you aware of how often I do not find the chest.

BTW: When I was in Tacoma visiting the middle school treasure hunt club, they had created a cardboard mimic of the chest in it’s exact dimensions. Then they measured off 200feet and put it down on the floor of a long school hallway in front of me.

Yikes!! I could barely, barely see it. If I had not known it was there I would have never noticed…and that was in a lit hallway on a flat floor.

If that chest is 200ft or more from me, outside in the sage and bentgrass…I’ll never see it. Just saying…It will take some scouting around.

Thanks for making that clear Treasure Hunt Club.. 🙂

Travel to Montana Pics


Stopped at Mission State Park east of Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. This is the oldest standing building in Idaho. Built in 1850..The west is very young. It was a Jusuit mission. Attempting to convince the Coeur d’ Alene Indians to take up farming instead of weapons..

Looks like this on the inside. Idaho's oldest building is only 55 years older than my house.

Looks like this on the inside. It’s a National Historic Structure.


Also stopped here. Montana Valley Bookstore..over 100,000 used and out of print books…my kinda place…They were closed!!



My new paddleless stream complete with snorting Bison and a steaming geyser.

My new paddleless stream complete with snorting Bison and a steaming geyser.

It's spring in the caldera. Lupine and buckwheat.

It’s spring in the caldera. Lupine and buckwheat.



A shooting-star

A shooting-star

The new cache. Some verified wood, obsidian, marbles, caribeaner, an old bead, some hand tied flies, an apache tear, a quartz crystal and a pyrite crystal..or and a miniature book... Take something and leave something from where you live..sign the book. Send me a picture of you and the chest and I'll post it.. But I'm having trouble finding a spot to hide it. The old spot was the best but the Park didn't like  a cache in their park.

The new cache. Some petrified wood, obsidian, marbles, caribeaner, an old bead, some hand tied flies, an apache tear, a quartz crystal and a pyrite crystal, several fetishes and a miniature book…
Take something and leave something from where you live..sign the book. Send me a picture of you and the cache and I’ll post it..
But I’m having trouble finding a spot to hide it. The old spot was the best but the Park didn’t like a cache there so they took it..


I have to find a place to hide the cache today. Unfortunately I don’t think I can find a place in town. I may have to try a spot out in the Gallatin NF. Town is good because folks can look for it in the evening after dinner..a fun diversion..

Maybe I’ll put it back in the same area..different spot and chance loosing it again..
Just so more people will look..
Maybe I can convince someone to take it home at the end of summer and put it back out for the summer..

Meeting up with Austin today for a late lunch and dinner tonight with a film crew..
Filming Friday and Saturday..

IMG_9960 I saw a moose today. I didn’t know they were pink! I don’t know what’s going on here exactly but it looks kind of nefarious. Poor Moose may be going to dinner with the bears. I shouldn’t speculate. Maybe the Moose agreed to ride on the hood.

I found a great spot for the cache today..more on that in a bit..

Had lunch with Austin and his wonderful family. What really nice folks!!!

I would have said that even if they hadn’t bought my lunch!! Honest!!

I had dinner with Dustin from CBS News. Nice guy. Tough job getting all the logistics together for a story that spans the Rocky Mountains. Takes a special temperament, the patience of Job, the flexibility of a Ukraine gymnast and the logistical skill of supply sergeant.


Last night the broadband was so slow that I could not collect my mail or get on the blog. So I couldn’t post anything.

I met with the CBS crew at Madison Junction this morning along with our Park Service escort but Dustin had some bad news. The crew got called off the shoot and were now leaving for Billings for a “hard” news story. So we will try to meet up again tomorrow and carry-on.

That gives me some time today to post the directions to the new hidden catch in West Yellowstone. I’ll do that in a bit.

In the mean time, Ramona sent me this. It was posted on a Facebook page. I believe Iron Will is going to be out here next week..Maybe others too. If you’re interested..that’s a good show..Might be fun to be involved. I will not be here then.

My name is Jennifer, I am an associate producer for the Travel Channel original series EXPEDITION UNKNOWN. The show is hosted by Josh Gates who is a life adventurer with a degree in archeology. The show follows Gates as he investigates iconic mysteries around the world. 
Our team is preparing to film a story on Fenn’s Treasure very soon. We are trying to locate someone who believes that Fenn’s Treasure could potentially be hidden in MT, WY, or Yellowstone. If… you or anyone you know would be interested in participating in our program please feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience at
I look forward to hearing from you soon. 
Thank you, 

I will put this up on Nine Clues too..

I spent the day searching outside the park in two places I wanted to check out a creek I can’t paddle. Here is Whits Lake. It drains…when it drains…down into Hebgen Lake via a seasonal..and nameless creek..

There were some interesting developments in the neighborhood of this lake. I plan to return tomorrow for a better look/see.

Pretty, clear and COLD!

Wits Lake

Whits Lake

The wildflowers were boisterous today. Bitterroot, Balsamroot, Sunflower, Bistort, Larkspur, Violets, Fairy Slippers, Wild Geranium, Glacier Lily and more that I can’t name..


This is my last day to search. I am taking the CBS crew to Whits Lake to help me search. They better not find it before me!!!! Fog this morning. Griz reported in the area yesterday.

The lake is fed by snowmelt. The actual size of the lake depends on the amount of snow..So, it’s large in the spring and dwindles down a great deal during the summer. It’s actual outlet only works when the lake is high. The rest of the time it evaporates..and disappears into the ground…I guess..but it gets smaller all summer long…

Back from the search and shoot at Whits Lake. Photos below:

About 10am on the road up to the trailhead.  We run into a party riding the trail, just for the fun of it. Reminded me of Forrest and Donnie riding around here and imagining Lewis and Clark.

About 10am on the road up to the trailhead. We run into a party riding the trail, just for the fun of it. Reminded me of Forrest and Donnie riding around here and imagining Lewis and Clark. Fog is hovering above.

Whits Lake. Could be Dal down at the edge..or wait...maybe that's Sasquatch!

Whits Lake. Could be Dal down at the edge..or wait…maybe that’s Sasquatch!

Mike getting the shot most people forget. This is the lake's intake. A very pleasant little stream cascading down into the lake and making a very pleasant and soothing sound as it comes down from above.

Mike getting the shot most people forget. This is the lake’s intake. A very pleasant little, crystal clear stream cascading down into the lake and making a very soothing sound on its way.

Barry Petersen, CBS Senior Correspondent getting ready to ask me something I don't know the answer to.

Barry Petersen, CBS Senior Correspondent getting ready to ask me something I don’t know the answer to.

Mike shooting while Dustin the Producer looks on. At least I know that I didn't simply miss the chest. I had lots of eyes helping me look.

Mike shooting while Dustin the Producer looks on. At least I know that I didn’t simply miss the chest. I had lots of eyes helping me look.

When the story airs I think they should add into the credits, the following line:

No Holes Were Dug in the Making of This Story.

By the way, the rangers over at the Gallatin Ranger Station were very helpful and very nice to all of us.

By the more way..I hear that Ranger Tim Reid of “we dislike treasure hunters” fame has left Yellowstone National Park and is now top dog over at Devil’s Tower. So be careful if you go out there. Tell them you are a serial murderer, or a bank robber…but don’t tell them you are a treasure hunter when you visit Devil’s Tower…just saying!

Empty hands today. No chest found. Another checkbox checked and I move on to the next place the nine clues lead me…

This search is finished. I will be heading out again later in the summer. A good time was had by all. I am certain Dustin will let me know when CBS plans to air the segment.




Finding Carl, Part Three…



This is a three part story. If you missed the other parts:

It’s May of 2015 and I am in a sleek black Robinson helicopter cruising along at about a hundred knots following the frozen, boulder strewn creek below us on the front range of the Rocky Mountains. The sun is bright and light explodes in the air as it bounces off the green forest and pale blue stream a couple hundred feet below. We dangle from the rotor blades swaying gently as we follow the twisty curves of the picturesque mountain creek. I love traveling this way. It really saves on hiking boots. A gray granite wall appears to be closing in on us from my side of the helicopter while on the other side the trees are thinning out into a broad welcoming valley that I recognize as the home of Carl. I can see his green metal roof and the spot where we met at his picnic table just a few months ago.


Last fall, when I was finished telling Carl who I was and what I hoped to find out, he just stared at me for a few seconds and pushed his cup slowly toward me while looking straight in my eyes. I poured him another shot.

“For sipping”, he said. “I want to go get something. I’ll be right back. Stick around.” And then he turned and walked quickly back into the cabin.

I wasn’t sure if, by, “stick around” he meant don’t leave the picnic table or if he meant you’re okay you don’t have to get the heck off my land. I decided to stay where I was and scope the place out.

Was Carl living off the land and off the grid or was Carl a rich guy living back away from his source of money and away from pesky neighbors?

Who was Carl and what the heck was his story?

I was curious…propelled by the constant message that Carl was not who folks in town thought he was.

Earlier, while I was walking down the valley toward his cabin a few things struck me as potential mis-fittings for a guy living off the land. A few more as I got closer.

From about the time I was within a hundred meters of his cabin I could see clearly around it on three sides. I could see two sides of his barn. Those were the only two buildings and that didn’t seem right. Unless Carl was some sort of alien creature, he would have to pee and poop…yet I couldn’t see an outhouse. If you don’t have electricity or running water, you generally have an outhouse. Many folks who live out in the sticks for any length of time also build a sun shower so they don’t have to bathe in ice-cold water from a stream or collection system. You might start out tough enough for ice cold showers but that kind of treatment wears you down and a sun shower is easy to make. Everybody tries to make things better.

From where I was standing at the picnic table I could see the fourth side of Carl’s cabin…no outhouse…no sun shower…only two buildings. His cabin roof appeared to be green sheet metal. There were no solar panels up there. No rain water collection system that I could see and no hand dug well standing out anywhere. If there is no outhouse and no outdoor shower…there must be indoor plumbing but that requires a pump and a pump requires electricity. There were no poles to bring power in from anywhere and there were no underground services that came up around the house that I could see…of course I suppose electric service might come up under the house. But still…a person would have to be a gazaillionaire to get underground power out where Carl lived.  There were no poles along the Forrest Service road that I followed getting to the trail and no signs of electric, or any other services once I got on government property..many, many miles back down that road.

From the picnic table other anomalies became noticeable. The cabin foundation looked as if it was made of large, rounded river stone…which made sense given the proximity to the stream nearby. But his foundation was beautiful…call it perfect. It was built by a mason…not a trapper/hunter/fisher who needed a shelter. Then there were the vinyl windows. They were beautiful and gleaming white, but not handmade by a rough DIY kind of guy..

I was admiring the cabin when I saw it. Right next to the porch and coming out from the river rock foundation that wrapped around the cabin on three sides, there was a nice brass hose bibb. I started scanning the area and noticed a dark green farm hydrant by his barn. Another out by his large garden. Wasn’t this evidence that there was a pump somewhere? Electric somewhere? I suppose a gravity fed tank could be nearby. I had to stop myself from jumping to conclusions.

The only roof face that escaped my vision was the far side of his barn. It clearly faced south. It was broad. A likely place for solar panels. And inside his barn, I was guessing there would be a battery farm…Welcome to the 21st century of self-sustainability?

And what about firewood? There should be several cords of firewood stacked up for the looming winter. Instead there was a small, neat pile on his porch.. about 40 sticks. Maybe the rest was in the barn too.


Fawn Lily

Home-made was beginning to pale.The logs used to construct his cabin were notched by an expert. The finish was modern, professional and showed no signs of wear or age even though the cabin itself had a brass plaque naming the place Xanadu and giving it the year 1979 as the build date. It was immaculately kept up. Not something a guy who was living off the land would likely have time to do.

Carl’s lifestyle wasn’t anything like Joe Meek’s or any of the trappers who stomped these parts a hundred-fifty years ago. Carl, in spite of his “self-sustaining” reputation was very much connected to the home building contractors well outside his perfect and remote valley. This was not an owner-built homestead.

There were some other curious elements around Carl’s place too. His barn had a large flagstone covered area out in front of the main doors. Usually a barn has a worn area out in front from the constant traipsing. But Carl’s was clean and beautiful and covered in these giant multicolored slate slabs as if it were a parking area for a fleet of luxury cars. What was that for?

A trapper/hunter/fisher/skinner/butcher would need tools to make things work. The barn would be a workshop, not a cute accent building. A guy who had to make hay while the sun shines at seven thousand feet where there are barely four months of growing season would not find time to make his place look like a prize winning hobby farm.

And I couldn’t help wondering how he got all this material up here? It must have taken years. Everything was beautiful and perfect and wonderfully maintained. None of it looked hand-made or patched together or thought out by someone who had a lot to get done before a cold, hard winter came roaring in. This place looked like it could be one of Martha Stewart’s half dozen homes. Big purple hydrangeas circled the cabin. The whole place was expertly landscaped and manicured. He even had a broad green lawn surrounding the barn.

And what role did Jason play in all this? If Carl could build an idyllic mountain homestead like this he surely didn’t need Jason to bring him a few bucks and sell rabbit skins for him. Curiouser and curiouser.


Wood Violet

Carl himself was clean and neat. He seemed to be about my age. He was however, all-together, much better taken care of than I am. A recent haircut decorated his tanned, bald head and his teeth were sparkling white and even. Either good dentistry or good dentures. One way or the other, money was involved. Carl looked lean and healthy and when he shook my hand I could tell his hands were not the toughened paws of someone who worked with callus forming tools. No jewelry. No watch. No visible scars…and he was wearing cologne of some sort. Smelled like cedar…but stronger. I couldn’t name the brand of his clothing but it was clean, neat and fit him well. His boots I did recognize as Danner mountain boots. When I was in my lean 20’s I wanted a pair of those. His were worn but well greased and plenty of walking left in their Vibram soles.

Evidence was building up that Carl was not the guy either Jason or I assumed he was. Which was curious only because he apparently wanted to be thought of as just a guy living off the grid, 50 miles from the nearest cell tower and making things work the old fashioned way…beating civilization and progress at their own game. But it all appeared to be a rouse and not one he was trying very hard to hide. Why?

He was gone a couple of minutes when the frightening thought hit me that maybe he was loading up that fifty caliber. I made myself calm down and then I chuckled, quietly, carefully while I eyeballed the cabin door and windows.

When Carl walked out his hands were loaded. In his left he was carrying two chilled beer bottles and his right was carrying a framed photo. He put everything down on the table, reached into his pants pocket and pulled out an opener and popped off the bottle caps…took a long pull off the one closest to him. “Pretty good beer.” he said as he pushed the other bottle toward me. I examined the label. Sweetgrass Pale American Ale from the Grand Teton Brewing Company. “Bunch of good brewers over there.” he said as he took his seat. The chilled bottle felt good in my hand. I took a sip and realized I know nothing about beers because it tasted just like any other beer I ever swilled, bitter and sour with a dose of alcohol. “Best I’ve had all day.”, I said while pretending to read the label. “Damn right.” said Carl. “Look at this picture.” as he turned the photo around on the table and inched it toward me. I moved my eyes from the beer bottle to the large photo. I was shocked. It was a like a time-warp. It was clearly a photo of Carl. Looked exactly like him but it was also clearly taken a hundred years ago. Not one of those modern day touristy tintype look alikes. This was the real deal. An old photo, hand colored in an oval frame of…Carl!!



“That’s my great grandfather, Fredrick”, said Carl. “He came from Wisconsin with the Northern Pacific….not on it…with it. He was a senior engineer and was basically the architect of every bridge and trestle they built between Duluth and Seattle. That’s over a thousand bridges. Most of them are still in service today. He was a smart man. He decided to defer most of his salary into land. So he ended up with thousands of acres of land in Montana, Idaho and Oregon. This piece we’re on right now was one. He held this valley in high regard. Right around the turn of the century he built a mill in town and started cutting timber on his land. Before he died he had built a logging empire with 35 mills and vast forest  holdings in five states. His son Arthur took over. We call him Mad Arthur. He had no respect for the land. It was all just money to him. He wanted to cut it all down before it burned or rotted. And much of it he did cut down. By 1960 about half our millions and millions of trees were gone and not a single new tree had ever been planted. My dad took over in 1950 and for the first 15 years he followed in his dad’s footsteps…Cut and Run Tommy they called him. By 1990, We barely had enough trees left to keep three mills running. I moved out to this valley in 1975, right after I got out of the Army. I didn’t want anything to do with the family business. I was living out here. I was hunting and fishing and doing a little trapping. I was a fishing guide in the summers for extra money. It was hard here in the winter but I really enjoyed it. My dad gave up trying to talk sense into me. When he died my sister and I inherited the whole thing…or what was left of it. Shelly and I have tried to manage the land back into shape. We still log but we do it intelligently. We know we are caretakers of this land. I guarantee you that when I die our lands will be some of the finest places to hike and enjoy in this country.”

When Carl was finished talking he took another pull from his beer bottle and followed up with the shot of bourbon that was left in his cup. He looked me in the eyes and said..”So what about that?” and smiled and squinted into the afternoon sun.

“How does Jason fit into all this?” I asked.

“Jason is a good kid. I’ve been using him for years to perpetuate a myth that grew up about me starting in the 70s when I came here. My great grandfather’s rundown shack was all that was here. He came out here to hunt in the 1890s. Hadn’t been used in a hundred years and …well you can imagine. I moved in. I was tired of people and needed a place to do some healing. I eeked out a living back here hunting, trapping and doing some guiding. When my dad died in 1977 everything changed. Mom was out of the picture. Remarried and living far away. He left everything to my sister and me. Shelly was much closer to the business than I was. She had shadowed my dad for years. She knew the board and knew the assets. She was in a much better position than I was to step in and run the operation…so she did. One of the first things she did was come out here and start a conversation about what should happen to the land…the beat-up and ruined land as well as the remainder of the untouched land. We’re talking about thousands and thousands of acres. Neither she nor I had any interest in building back up a mega-timber industry. She had a good plan but because of the way dad left things to both of us she needed my okay to put her plan in action. I wanted to hide from it. I just wanted the valley here and the rest could go to hell as far as I was concerned. Bless her soul, she insisted we do it together. She convinced me that since neither of us were going to have kids, we were the end of the line and we needed to fix things together.



Her plan has been in operation for forty years now. We have one modern mill that we feed with sustainably cut timber. We have planted a few million trees on the old timber lands. We’ve traded much away to the Forest Service and have been turning over the good stuff to land trusts, a couple of Indian tribes, the Park Service and the Conservancy. A fellow from there is supposed to be bringing in papers for me to sign today. That’s who I thought you were. Jason helps me keep the world away. Very few people know who I am or what’s back here. I don’t know if anyone has ever bothered to figure out what my holdings are…you might be the first…other than the IRS. But everything is changing…quickly now…as Shelly and I are in the last stages of putting all the land holdings in order. Shelly lives up north a bit. I live here and both of us want to just live out our remaining years in the knowledge that we did the right thing with the land.

So, to answer your question, Jason is a guy I use to perpetuate a myth to keep folks away from my valley and my family. He’s done a good job for me and he doesn’t know it but  he’ll be rewarded for the effort.”

In the few minutes that we had left before his invited company showed up Carl led me to his barn so I could see his solar farm installed on the south roof, the power plant inside his barn and most important of all..the reason for the curious flagstone area out in front of the barn. Resting on a dolly, just inside the barn doors was a gleaming, black Robinson R66 helicopter. The flagstone paving and the dolly allowed it to be pushed in and out of the barn/hanger/solar power plant for maintenance and protection. As soon as I saw it, I realized how all this stuff got back here.

This spring I met up with Carl in Choteau, MT for a ride back to his valley where I saw his “hot spring heating system”. The first I’ve seen. He’s the only person I know who inherited an empire and spent the better part of his life giving it back to the people who didn’t even know they’d lost it.

Note I:
I promised Carl that no identifying photos of his valley would be shared with this story.

Note II:
I asked Carl what he did in the Army. He was a Crew Chief/Door Gunner on a Huey.

Note III:
The quotes are pretty much exactly, more or less, what Carl said…nothing more.



Finding Carl, Part Two…



I figured I learned quite a bit about Carl from talking with Jason and the two of us hatched a plan that might get me meeting Carl…or might get me shot. Jason figured I had a fifty-fifty chance of meeting him. I asked him what he thought my chances were of getting shot.

“Somewhere south of fifty percent”, Jason said.
”Okay”, I said. “Just south of fifty percent isn’t that encouraging. How much south of fifty percent?
“I think you’ll be okay. I haven’t bought any ammo for him in the past 3 or so years.”
Being the inquisitive type I asked Jason what kind of ammo Carl used.
“Fifty calibre”, he replied.
I was stunned. “Fifty!!!” I repeated. What on earth does he have, an M2?”
“Maybe.” Jason offered. “They were BMG Ball rounds. He gave me 10 empties and I brought him back 10 readies.”

I pondered that for awhile.  10 individual rounds…probably not an automatic weapon. Lots of rifles…even some handguns use .50BMGs but I don’t know anyone that keeps a .50 around the house in case some strange fool steps on his lawn. And what about the hunting situation. Ten rounds in three years does not make Carl much of a hunter kinda guy. But what would he be taking with fifty cal anyway…moose at a thousand meters??

I asked Jason if there were any other odd items that Carl ordered up.”
“Like what?”, Jason asked.
“Like Claymores, detcord, sandbags, gasoline or busted cell phones.” I offered.

Jason looked at me like I had lice. “No…nothing like that.”. He said. “Look, I don’t think he’s dangerous. I may not be the world’s best judge of character and I’ve only had about ten minutes of face time with Carl but I like the guy and he seems very reasonable and not crazy at all.”

“He has a .50 calibre gun. How reasonable is that?” was all I said.
“There you go.” Jason said. “How many crazy people do you know who own a .50 calibre anything?”

We talked a little about strategy. Dangerous or not, it was clear Carl preferred not to have company. I was going to be a trespasser at best, an intruder at worst.

I like a challenge. I thought Carl would be interesting but I needed a way to coax him into talking with me and I needed to let him know that I posed no threat and that I was not from the government or peddling The Watchtower.

Jason was clearly no dummy and he had obviously been pondering Carl and his personality. He offered reasonable advice about how to approach Carl on his own property. He also offered one idea that I couldn’t make myself try. Jason thought I would look less threatening as I headed toward Carl’s place if I wore his niece’s pink Barbie daypack. I argued that I would look like a psycho and probably deserve to be shot. It was never even a remote possibility that I would head up Carl’s trail wearing a little girl’s pink daypack. The whole suggestion shook my confidence in Jason’s character assessment skills.

Before I left, Jason marked my topo at the place I should pull off the Forest Service road and look for Carl’s trail. I only had one day to make this whole thing work before I had to point Esmerelda west toward home and my office. Jason followed me out to Esmerelda, wished me good luck and held up the pink Barbie daypack. I drove away.

I spent most of that night thinking about Carl and convincing myself this was still a good idea. I keep personal armor in Esmerelda. I like to be prepared. I also have a fire blanket, waterproof matches, jumper cables, an ice axe, spare water, raisins and lots of Excedrin. None of this would provide any kind of defense against a fifty. In the end I remained convinced that I was in no danger. No one seemed to think that Carl had ever tried to shoot anyone, or even point a gun at anyone. There were no stories of hikers or hunters or fishers disappearing around there.

The next morning I headed over to the County Assessor’s office to see if Carl’s taxes were paid up. My theory was that if Carl had a beef with the government he was probably going to refuse to pay his taxes. as long as possible Paid-up assessments would indicate to me that Carl was unlikely to be a “fringe” character and therefore less likely to shoot at me or anyone else. What I discovered while there shocked me. County property records showed that Carl owned a lot more property than Jason thought. Jason seemed to think that Carls property was limited to about twenty acres where his cabin was located. Jason was wrong. Carl owned…and paid taxes on… twelve, 640 acre timbered parcels scattered along Clear Creek and most of his parcels were accessible from that same USFS road.  It looked like Carl had to come up with nearly $8K in taxes every year…and he did. That’s a lot of rabbit skins. Something was beginning to seem wrong about my understanding of Carl and his subsistence way of life.

From the limestone block courthouse I walked across the street past the 50’s storefronts of the bail bondsman and the empty barbershop to the even older liquor store where I purchased the main ingredient in the plan that Jason and I hatched. Then I started the two hour drive out of town and up the Forest Service road to the place where I would park and walk onto Carl’s property.

Along the way I was consumed with the new problem that Carl’s tax record had presented. Here, on one hand we had a guy who appeared to be living the life of a nearly self sustaining trapper/fisher in a fairly remote area of the Rocky Mountains with no need for cash, family or DirectTV.  But on the other hand owned over 7,500 acres of first class, wild, in-holdings surrounding  a blue ribbon native trout stream worth…what??? Six or seven million anyway…

I started out wanting to talk with Carl about his way of life and particularly explore whether or not the lifestyle of a self sustaining hunter/trapper/fisher offered something to society we didn’t take into account. Should society protect his way of life or discourage it? Certainly discouragement was what was generally offered now. These guys are often portrayed as kooks, hiding from the law, and the real hermit/kooks like Ted Kaczynski didn’t help their cause any. But only 180 years ago these rugged, freedom loving individuals were the guys that opened up the west. They, and the indians they lived along side were considered brave, independent, free and spirited…all qualities strongly identified with American values. Today, they are considered by many to be dicey, fringe sociopaths. It’s almost as if society is trying to rub them out, like red delicious apples and manual transmissions. Spread the word long enough and loud enough and we can turn good things into bad…make us afraid of them…require government help to protect us from them.

Some deserve it I guess. Just as there are white rhino poachers in Africa there are folks who kill and poach in this country way beyond sustenance. I’ve seen undercover footage of bear poachers in the east who allowed their dogs to tree a bear cub and then proceeded to torture it by shooting it in its paws and hind quarters until it fell out of the tree and then let their dogs terrify and finally tear it apart. They persecuted that bear for an hour before it was dead. That’s a lot of pain. Folks like that deserve no mercy as far as I am concerned. Their fate should rival their prey’s.

But this is not at all who I imagined Carl to be. I originally thought of him as a social misfit of the non-threatening kind. Someone who simply didn’t want to participate in the institutional “cookie-cutter” socialization that dominates North America. “Different” only seems to be acceptable if you are an entertainer or politician. I’ve told stories about folks who have successfully separated from society before. Folks who live in the middle of nowhere and exist by their own wits and back-breaking labor. Some were combat veterans who no longer wanted, or were unable to participate in a social structure. Others were self actualized “back-to-nature types who simply did not want to compete in the marketplace that has become today’s culture. Does it make a difference if the guy who want’s to be left to his own devices was independently wealthy? Wealthy enough to live any lifestyle he chooses? Maybe the question was even more interesting if you could toss wealth into the mixture. Just who is Carl anyway?

By the time I got to the place i was supposed to park, the road had turned into a single lane, packed gravel affair with turnouts. It was well maintained but clearly didn’t have traffic enough to maintain a standard 22ft, two lane road. From the map I could see that the road went up another 12 or so miles past this spot and stopped at about 9,500feet in the sub-alpine regions. It would be fun to drive to the end and walk around…but not today. The parking place was no more than a broad shoulder next to a warning sign informing log truck drivers that a tight curve and grade were ahead on the road. I pulled over, shut down Esmerelda and listened to the quiet. I wondered if Carl knew I was here. If he somehow watched this spot. It didn’t really look like a parking spot as much as a place someone might pull-over to let a ltruck full of logs, headed to a mill in town, move past.

It was chilly at about 7,500 feet. I grabbed my fleece jacket and put two foldable paper cups and a newly purchased pint of Jack Daniels in my daypack. Locked up Ezzy and walked over to the trail that I assumed led to Carl’s place. A few feet onto the trail I passed the steel, bear proof box that Carl and Jason used to transfer goods. The trail was easy to find and in decent shape and certainly not worn to within an inch of it’s life like so many well loved trails in the area. In fact, if I had not known of it’s existence I would probably have missed it.

It was a lovely woodland trail with a thick layer of duff that indicated it had not burned here in awhile. Straight, thin Lodgepole and larger fir were the dominant canopy and the trail was an uphill, meandering sort of affair, easy to walk with a few giant erratic boulders that the path curved to miss. I didn’t see any “no trespassing” signs, not one. About a half-mile in I crested a ridge and could begin to hear the sound of rushing water below. The thick woods soon gave way to a less dense aspen and grassy landscape.  I was now headed down into a stunning, broad open valley dotted with greening copses of aspen and cottonwood. There was a faint drumming ahead of me. Ruffed Grouse! I hear many more of them than I ever see. This one was a male, looking for a female. They like to stand up on a log and beat their wings to make the drumming sound. I guess the females find it attractive. It always reminds me of my high school summers in Detroit when a bunch of guys would jump into someone’s car to go cruising on Friday nights. If we saw a good looking girl walking downtown we might slow down and one of us would stick his arm out the window and slap the side of the car a few times to get her to notice us and then we would yell something clever like, “Hey babe, ya wanna ride?” It never worked…not once. I have no idea why we kept trying. Hope springs eternal I guess.


The grouse was somewhere ahead of me but off the trail. In the tall grass..on a boulder perhaps. I veered away from the trace and over toward the drumming to see if I could catch sight of Mr. R. Grouse. But the moment I got close to the drumming he broke off and never started up again. I could not see him. I moved closer anyway but found no grouse. Outwitted once again, I retreated back to the trail and continued down toward the noisy creek I could see at the bottom of the basin ahead of me. It seemed like everything in view was either pale green, dark green, deep blue or pure white.The whole effect was picture perfect. Not like an explosively grand Moran landscape but more like a lovely Kodak moment. The brown trail rambled downward thru the wavy green grass to where it crossed the creek at a hidden spot concealing a quaint wooden footbridge.

In a couple of minutes I was at the footbridge and then past it and turning into the wide valley. The trail was picking it’s way along the small creek. I wondered if elk browsed here. If I were an elk I certainly would. The creek was slowing and meandering as the valley widened and flattened. A mile or more down the valley I could see granite spires raising, but before that was a cabin and barn about a thousand feet ahead of me. Anyone in that cabin would have a clear view of my approach and with a .50 calibre and a scope would have no trouble at all picking me off.

I kept walking. No shot rang out. I continued on.

The cabin was neat. Brownish pine logs squared up and saddle notched into each other with precision. There was a large garden fenced off to one side and a small barn behind and to the left. It was very charming and the setting could have been an illustration in the children’s book about Heidi and her grandfather. It would not have surprised me if I had met a goatherd named Peter.

As I approached the cabin I could see the picnic table in front as Jason promised. I looked at the large front window of the cabin, smiled my most disarming smile and waved a friendly wave, removed my non-pink daypack, took out the two folding cups, set them on the table, one in front of me and the other across the table. I was reaching into my pack for the  pint when the cabin door pushed open and a clean cut fellow practically ran down the steps saying, “Your early, but that’s okay!”. Suddenly the children’s book changed from Heidi to Alice in Wonderland and I was Alice and this must be the Mad Hatter, but he wasn’t wearing a hat.

I had no idea what to say to him. How was I early? Was he expecting me? How could he possibly have known I was coming? Was this Carl? He fit the description, looked older than Jason’s “fifty” guess, maybe 65, under six feet.

He hurried around to my side of the table stuck out his hand and said, “I’m Carl.”
I pumped his hand and said, “Nice to meet you. I’m Dal.”
“Dal?” He stopped pumping my hand. “What happened to Craig?”
“I don’t know.” I said
Carl looked at me suspiciously. “Are you from the Nature Conservancy?”
“No.” I said. “I’m not.”
Carl just looked at me for a moment as if he might be able to conjure up my reason for appearing in front of his cabin if he stared hard enough. I didn’t have a chance to say anything because his next question came right on top of his last one.
“Well, you know you’re on private property right?”
“Yes.” I said. “But I came for a purpose.”
“Well if you’re not from the Conservancy you certainly are not invited and probably not welcome. What’s your purpose? I’m expecting company.”

Carl did not appear agitated. He was clean shaven. He looked lean and fit. Broad-shouldered. He was bald on the top but had short cropped white hair in back and on the sides. The top of his head was smooth and well tanned. His hands were large and strong and also sun darkened. From his handshake I knew they were calloused and his grip was firm. If he got hold of me I’d be in trouble. I kept a few feet between us.

Carl pointed at the table and sat down on the same side straddling the bench. He reached over and grabbed one of the cups.
“What’s this for?” he said.
I reached into my pack, pulled out the pint and held it up to him.
That’ll do.” he said. “Just a short one I’ve got someone coming here in an hour.”
I sat down, poured a shot into his cup and the same into mine.

This was Jason’s idea..the Jack Daniels on the picnic table. Jason said he typically got a couple pints a year for Carl. It was the only liquor Carl ever requested and at two pints a year Jason didn’t figure Carl had an alcohol problem. So Carl and I sat there in the sunshine at 7,500 feet in a spectacular meadow surrounded by high peaks and sparkling glaciers at the tail end of spring. In no time at all a snoopy Clark’s Nutcracker was on the table with us hopping around and investigating my cup for snacks. A few moments later a blue and black Stellar’s Jay landed at the other end of the table near Carl. Without stopping our conversation Carl reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a few dark black, pumpkin shaped seeds and fed them to the Jay, one at a time. I tried not to be impressed. The Nutcracker made a bee-line for the other end of the table next to the Jay and waited for his/her share of the handout. When the seeds were gone the Jay marched up Carls arm to his shoulder and started pulling at his earlobe. Carl calmly reached into his breast pocket again and pulled out a few more seeds. The Jay walked back down Carl’s arm and waited for the feeding to restart along with the Nutcracker. I felt like I was in that deliriously sweet old Disney film, “Song of the South”. I thought maybe I should start singing “Zip-ee-do-dah” but I maintained my self control. In fact, it was clear to me that this was an often repeated ritual between Carl and the Jay. They were old friends.

I explained to Carl why I was there and what I was hoping to learn. He watched me carefully. He maintained meticulous eye contact …maybe he was searching my soul. I did not reveal what I had discovered at the county courthouse earlier. But when I mentioned that I understood him to be a fellow who survived without any help from Wallmart or Martha Stewart I could see his eyes twinkle a bit. Something about that made him smile inside. But it would be awhile before I learned why.

To Be Continued…