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.

Continue to PART THREE



Finding Carl, Part One…



Last spring when I visited the Bitterroot area in Montana, I had a couple of items on my agenda not related to the search per se, but interesting and related to the white settlement of the west.

Some of you may be familiar with the term “inholders”. Inholders are folks who own property inside federal lands. Their properties are called “inholdings” and can be found inside National Forests, National Parks, Wild and Scenic Areas and even Wilderness Areas throughout this country.

Typically these privately owned parcels were purchased, homesteaded or deeded to an individual before the government decided to make the area into a national forest or park or wilderness area. The owners didn’t want to sell or trade their property to the government so they became surrounded by federal land.

The largest clan of inholders are the railroads. In order to sweeten the deal for the railroads who faced some tough and expensive line building in the rugged, mountainous west, the government gave them alternating, one mile squares of property to do with as they pleased. (Long before the government bailed out banks and automobile manufacturers they were giving away our public lands to railroads)

It was a huge bonus for the railroads who could sell off this property immediately, if there were any buyers, or hold onto it until it was more valuable, or try to do something else with it. Buyers were scarce. In the west, where populations of humans were less dense and land was less valuable, the railroads claimed that the thick forest’s were crying to be turned into timber for millions of new homes and townsites on the east and west coasts. The coveted timber forests of the south and north were nearly depleted. The timber barons were looking westward for new resources.


In some regions the railroads received as much as a forty mile wide swath of land on either side of their railroad in alternating mile square sections. One to the railroad, the next stayed with the government. From the air this arrangement of land ownership resembled a large checkerboard. All this standing timber only required loggers and a route to market and the railroads were supremely poised to take advantage of this give-away.

Over the next one hundred fifty years the already existing timber companies along with the railroad formed timber companies, logged-off much of their parcels. Big lumber outfits like Weyerhouser, Boise Cascade, Plum Creek and others in the northwest ended up with huge tracts of land which they still log today. Similar incentives were offered to other railroad companies in the east, south and north parts of the country. So the railroads and their timber company descendants are unquestionably the largest inholders. They make up some 95% of all inholdings in the USA. Most of the remaining inholders are private citizens like you and me who happen to own a few acres of land that our descendants claimed or settled in the years before the surrounding land became a National Park.

Imagine what a five acre parcel inside Grand Teton National Park would be worth today, as recreational property, on a lake or stream, surrounded by magnificent mountains teeming with wildlife and away from the brouhaha of middle class family camping vacationers. A government maintained road right to your property line and perhaps a meadow turned into a landing field.

Over the years I have done a few stories about inholders and the government. Property rights of private owners vs public property for the common good. Inholders are often organized and represented by an inholder’s alliance. It is rarely average Joe against the government. It is more often a battle of well fattened attorneys on both sides presenting drama filled  stories of persecution and neglect, an unbalance of wild and tamed boiled down to access, mineral rights, water rights and 5th amendment interpretation. The concerns and values twist and turn, bump and grind and finally boil down into who has the most intimidating army of least compassionate yet theatrically loud attorneys.

But very little of this has anything to do with my inholder story. It’s just background.

I was looking for an interview with a trapper. A real trapper. A fellow who made his living by trapping and snaring animals then skinning, curing and selling furs. Not a seasonal trapper who lived in town and drove out to the wood a few times a year to set traps, mend his line and harvest his  animals. Instead I wanted to find someone who lived the lifestyle of a trapper all year long and who, for what ever reason, shunned as much of society and its accutraments, as was possible.

I have always been interested in the stories of those who choose to embrace self sufficiency, inconvenience and discomfort over the power grid, central heating and the supermarket. For those of us who relish the aroma of crafted coffee or micro-brewed beer or fine, artisanal pizza on a daily basis, the lure of irregular bathing in lukewarm water and spending below zero winters splitting wood and using an outhouse is not that strong. I didn’t want yet another answer to the question, Why are you here?, but rather I wanted to know what the payout was, for the rest of us. Was there some degree of social good that could be rationed out to society in general by the way these few, serious, “small footprint” types were choosing and even battling to live. What I finally learned surprised even the jaundiced me.


I had heard about Carl from multiple sources over the previous three or so years. He lives back in the Bridger-Teton National Forrest. He is an inholder. His “place” consists of a hand-built cabin, a couple of out buildings and a mule or two. He has a small hayfield a smaller vegetable garden and he traps and fishes. He is completely self-sufficient and does not come into town at all. In fact, he doesn’t drive, doesn’t have a license or a vehicle that anyone has ever seen and much to the chagrin of the government he does not have a license to fish or hunt or trap. He is in his early 50s and has lived back there his whole life. He lives alone except for his mules and whatever wildlife comes around. He has no mail service and no post office box in town. His place has no electric and rarely gets visitors. The Forest Service road goes to within a mile of his place but you have to take a trail from the road back to his cabin.

About ten years ago Carl was in town for about a month. He was staying over at the county jail and he was locked up and awaiting trial for hunting, fishing and trapping without any license. That’s the last time anyone saw him in town.

Somehow he managed to walk away without a fine or charges or even a requirement to get a license to hunt. I wondered how he did that. Needless to say, Carl interested me. I wanted to see if he would talk to me, if he could answer my burning question. I longed to know if he was some sort of backwoods troglodyte living as best he could without being a danger to society or, was Carl a renaissance man of many skills, fed up to his armpits with corporate America and had a cabin full of Popular Mechanics and Mother Earth magazines and a roof full of home made solar panels? I didn’t leave room for any in-betweens.

At a bar in Jackson I was told that there was a fellow over in Wilson who brought things out to Carl and probably knew him better than anyone. I hunted around for a couple days and finally found out that this guy, Jason, worked as a seasonal for the park in summer and for the ski resort in winter. He would be between jobs now and I might find him at home. His number was in the local phone book so I called and introduced myself. Jason said he could meet me at a bar in Wilson in about a half hour.

A couple of things were burning up my brain cells about Carl and I hoped Jason could set me straight and also provide useful first hand advice about about meeting up with Carl.

There was next to no one in the bar when I arrived. I took a worn, red leather booth about half way down the dark wall and sat where I could watch the door. Before my seat was even warmed up a slender waitress wearing smooth black yoga pants and a white, long tailed, dress shirt made me forget how cold it was inside. She was also wearing a pair of brown over-furry boots that were probably needed to keep her toes frostbite-free in the frigid bar, and a big fuzzy hat with earflaps that suggested the boss might have mandated the yoga pants but footwear and hats were up to the wait staff. Her hat was embroidered with large red letters that spelled “Crazy Russian” in the fur.

She asked me what I wanted to drink. When she spoke I could see her breath and her ear flaps bounced up and down. I told her I needed something to warm me up. She suggested a hot toddy. I said a hot chocolate would suit me better. She asked if I wanted a shot of peppermint schnapps in my chocolate. As good as it sounded I declined. Then she wanted to know if I wanted whipped cream on my drink.
“Of Course”, I said.
“Do you want a cherry on top” she asked.
“Sure” I said.
“Red or green” she inquired.
“ummmm, I don’t know. What do you suggest?, I asked.
“Red”, she said.
“Sounds good”, I said.

As she sped away to the bar I watched to make sure her shirt was covering her Yoga pants properly. The shirt seemed a bit short but maybe not. I didn’t have a yard stick with me so I couldn’t be certain.  What would Sister Linus think? I decided to watch closer next time she walked away before I made a judgement. It might take three looks before I could be certain. It’s important not to jump to conclusions.

When Jason came in I was a couple sips into my chocolate and trying to look cool while keeping the whipped cream out of my mustache. He glanced around briefly then landed on me and waved. I motioned him over. He was wearing a brown and beige Pendleton wool shirt with razor sharp creases in the sleeves and a blue REI down vest. His pants were fashionably faded beige chinos with creases that matched his shirt. His suede pigskin boots made no noise against the floor as he walked toward me.

I stood to greet him and we shook hands. I am guessing Jason was about 35, six feet tall and athletic looking, He was not wearing any rings and would certainly be very popular with the women of Wilson.

When the waitress came over we sat and Jason asked me what I was drinking. I told him it was a hot chocolate. He looked at the waitress and smiled and told her that he really liked her hat.

“Thanks,” she smiled. “And what will you have?”

“I’ll take a hot chocolate too, with a shot of schnapps, whipped cream and a green cherry and do you have any of those chocolate sprinkles?” he asked.

“I’ll find some.” she said. “Do you want some chopped nuts on top?
“Great” he said.
She gave Jason a lovely smile and turned away to head to the bar.

We both watched her walk away.

“She didn’t offer me the nuts”, I said.
“Probably just forgot”, Jason replied.
“What do you think?” I asked, “Is that shirt a little too short?”
“I think her legs are just about perfect.” Jason said as he continued to watch.
“Yeah, thats what I was thinking too.” I said, as I continued to watch.

We talked a little about the weather and got down to business. Jason told me that he had been Carl’s runner for about ten years now. That he worked for the Park in the summer and the road that went by Carl’s place was on his circuit and he drove that stretch about once a week in summer. When Carl had something he wanted, he’d hang a metal sign on a tree near his trail. Carl left a message or whatever he had in a varmit proof box under the tree and Jason would take care of it. Mostly he left freshly tanned rabbit and coyote pelts that Carl took into town and sold. In the past there were other pelts too, Bobcat, Cougar, Lynx, Elk, Fox and more, but not anymore. Along with the pelts would be a list of things Carl wanted. Things like honing oil, grease, a book, lamp oil, 20ft of hemp rope, door hinges, a blanket, boots he wanted resoled, a pound of nails, sugar or salt or flour. Jason took the beautiful pelts into town and sold them to artists or souvenir shops. They were always easy to sell. Jason took the cash and got the items Carl wanted. Next time he went by Carl’s he’d leave them in the box for him. It was a simple trade deal and no cash ever crossed Carl’s hands. Therefore no IRS involvement. In ten years of providing this service he actually met up with Carl twice. They exchanged pleasantries and went their own ways.

Jason figured that over ten years he actually spent less than 10 minutes talking to Carl. “He seemed quite nice and very open. I felt like if I wanted too, I could invite myself up to Carls place and visit with him and I did that once but Carl wasn’t around when I got there. Haven’t tried since. I know Carl likes his solace so I wouldn’t bother him unless it’s important.”

After about a half hour of explaining what he knew of Carl’s customs I asked Jason if he thought Carl would talk to me about his lifestyle. Jason considered the question for a few seconds and said, “I think he would, but you’ll have to be very careful and very precise in how you approach him. A few folks have wandered back there from time to time and apparently Carl has been quite welcoming to some and not so welcoming to others. I don’t think it’s a matter of luck. I believe Carl has expectations and I believe I know how you can get him to welcome you. But we should not give him advance notice nor ask his permission to come back. I’ve watched that fail every time. Carl just says No!”.

“Mystery upon mystery”, I thought.

To Be Continued…




Row, Row, Row Your Boat…




At the beginning of autumn, 2014 I decided to make one final trip for the year into my favorite place to search for the chest. I wanted to be there before the snow.

The Firehole River under a darkening sky

The Firehole River under a darkening sky

I think most folks on the blog are familiar with my “best” starting spot. The place I believe Forrest meant when he wrote “Begin it where warm waters halt”. This place is inside Yellowstone National Park at Madison Junction. Many searchers disagree. So be it. They haven’t found the chest either.

For me, it does not necessarily follow that the chest is actually hidden inside the park simply because my WWWH is inside the park. That possibility depends on where, following the rest of the clues in the poem takes me. So far I’ve followed clues far and wide. I have at times, followed the clues and remained completely inside the park. At other times I have followed the clues right past the park boundary and out onto Forrest Service land, and even out to private ranch land.

Looking for hiding places beneath a blaze

Looking for hiding places beneath a blaze

Now I know what you’re thinking, one would believe that after 44 trips to find the chest with at least 20 trips beginning at Madison Junction, without success, I should have pretty much figured out that I might have the wrong starting place. Of course I believe no such thing. Why?, you ask. Because in a mere 22 trips starting at that spot I have not even begun to explore all the choices offered to me from that spot as I follow the other clues in the poem. And besides, I’m having a big bag full of fun.


Crossing the Madison

Most of us know that Forrest has indicated that some people have gotten the first two clues correct…but then missed the other 7. This is how that can happen so easily. It’s like a maze. Assuming for a minute that I begin at the correct WWWH location, there at Madison Junction. I would have the “Begin it” correct. Next I have to “take it in the canyon down”. From Madison Junction I believe there are three possible choices to follow it in the canyon down. If I choose the right one I would have gotten two clues correct. The first two directions correct. However. It is only a 33% chance that I would have gotten the second clue correct because there are (by my accounting) three choices.

Everyone who has searched Yellowstone is probably familiar with this cave

Everyone who has searched Yellowstone is probably familiar with this cave

Now things begin to get more complicated because depending on which “canyon down” I take there are a multiplicity of choices for the home of Brown. In one direction I have one choice. In the second direction I have three choices and if I follow the third canyon I have at least five more choices for the home of Brown.

The bummer is that it keeps getting more and more convoluted with each direction. By the time I get to the creek I cannot paddle up I have about thirteen more choices to make depending on the route taken. Then from each of those thirteen choices there is another large selection to explore before I get to the next direction.

So, to solve this maze of directions (assuming I started at the correct WWWH, will take many more days of trying, and failing as I go about searching for the treasure.

A hiding place? Looks like a wood rat already moved in. A hiding place? Looks like a wood rat already moved in.

A hiding place? Looks like a wood rat already moved in.

Finally, I have to be able to recognize the actual hiding spot when I trip over it. There is always the possibility that I will miss it (or already have) just like the others who have walked past it within a breath…but missed it.

So, by my calculations, I have another 28 trips and about 168 possible choices to make before I can say I have thoroughly explored all the possibilities, before I need a new WWWH. But the thing is, I don’t get tired of looking. I get exhausted from walking up and down and up again all day. I get tired of singing the same old song out loud all the time to let the bears and cats know I’m coming. I get thirsty and hungry and stuck in dead end gullies and annoyed by all the federal rules and trying to figure out where in the heck I am at any one moment in time but I never do get tired of looking and soaking-in the history and enjoying the scenery.


Another guardian of the hiding places

So if you hear somebody singing Row, row, row your boat, over and over again up there in Montana and Wyoming where the country is sweet, the water runs free and the nights are bold. It’s probably just me.



The Tewa Connection…


POSTED IN may 2014

For quite awhile now I have been looking at various Native American legends that might contain allusions to Forrest’s poem. What I was particularly focused on was finding a legend that would give me a place to start…some Native American story based upon “where warm waters halt”. I have read legends from Blackfeet, Shoshone, Ute, Apache, Navajo, Sioux and several others looking for ideas. I came up empty. I couldn’t really find anything with a specific reference to “where warm waters halt”. Perhaps because I missed it or perhaps because it’s not there.

But it didn’t occur to me until much later that I left out at least one important group of Native Americans who could have occupied land where Forrest might have hidden his chest.

As you know, Forrest owns land that is the site of an ancient Tewa Indian pueblo called San Lazaro. He has been excavating it for some time and made several “new” discoveries that have contributed to the culture of the Tewa people. It occurred to me much later that perhaps the Tewa people have a history or legend that would point to “where warm waters halt”. This past winter I read dozens and dozens of manuscripts, books, essays and theses about and by the Tewa people. I reread Forrest’s San Lazaro book. I could find nothing and was considering the distinct possibility that I was barking up the wrong pinyon when a friend mentioned a collection of oral histories that live at the UNM and were recorded in the 1950’s. It took me awhile but I tracked down the curator of these recordings and inquired if I could listen to them. I was told they were not catalogued nor digitized at this time but I would be allowed to listen to the original recordings if I made an appointment. I did, and I was excited to begin.



A reel of 1/4″ audio tape

The recordings are on reels of audio tape. There are literally scores of reels. Handwritten notes on the boxes tell the interviewee, interviewer, date, location, etc. I had no idea where to begin. So I just began at the top. Most of the tapes I listened to were family stories…genealogical in nature more than my definition. The recordings were fine but I had a difficult time understanding much of what the interviewees were saying and little to none of it had anything to do with my own interest in legends.

Hours into my appointment, barely able to stay awake, I was scanning through a tape at double speed when I heard something that sounded like “In the beginning where warm waters halt…” My mind stirred..I became alert…I stopped the tape, rewound and played that section back.

It was an older male voice and he was retelling a legend of the Tewa winter and summer people who were living at Posi Ouinge, a prehistoric pueblo ruin just above the hot springs at what is now Ojo Caliente (hot eye) in New Mexico. There were several lines in the old mans’s telling of the legend that sounded very close to the lines in Forrest’s poem. The similarity was stimulating.

He told of the creation of the Tewa and started at the Ojo Caliente spring but talked about how the people visited a place of high water in a dry canyon too far for the elders to walk. He referred to the place he called “the rocks” as an area that is now known as Tres Piedras, which is about 30 miles from Ojo Caliente by road. 30 miles certainly seemed to far for me to walk.

I decided that someday, when visiting NM I would examine this place. That opportunity became reality last week when I drove Esmerelda to NM and met with Nick Lazaredes from Dateline, on the SBS TV Network in Australia. Nick had just flown in from the Ukraine where he was filming a story about the insurrection along the Russian border. I looked at his report. Bold filming…

Now he was producing a story on Forrest’s treasure hunt. He followed Diggin Gypsy around in the Montana snow for a few days and then came down to NM to follow me around, interview Forrest and visit Desertphile’s Fennboree (more on the Fennboree with pictures in my next post). This seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore the Tewa legend.


The Ojo Caliente Resort which is near the ruins of the Tewa pueblo of Posi Ouinge

I downloaded the Posi Ouinge brochure printed by the Bureau of Land Management and decided I would take Nick to two sites. First the pueblo site at Ojo where, according to the legend the winter and summer people began “where warm waters halt” and second to the place at Tres Piedras where “high water ended in a dry canyon atop the brown rocks striped with white”.

Now everyone who has listened to me spout off knows I don’t believe that a hot spring could possibly be a place where warm waters halt simply because the water does not halt. Instead it reaches the surface and spills out into a river or rivulet and continues on it’s journey to the sea. But here it was in a Native American’s own voice…the warm water’s halting at Ojo Caliente…possible??

Pottery shards are scattered all over the ancient pueblos site

Pottery shards are scattered all over the ancient pueblos site

The pueblo above the spring at Ojo is a fascinating place. Broken pieces of 500 year old pottery and other prehistoric artifacts of civilization are scattered throughput the area. I am sure someone with a better understanding of the land could have painted a clearer picture of exactly how the pueblo was once arranged on the wind eroded hills. But even without that knowledge it was great fun to stand among the fallen walls and imagine the day to day life in a community of 5,000 people who lived there for 500 or so years before the Spanish arrived in New Mexico.


The landscape near the ancient ruins of Posi Ouinge

Here they prepared arrows, told stories, collected water from the stream below, grew crops, butchered animals and created thousands of pots whose painted shards were now scattered in every direction around me. Walking this rolling, juniper dappled landscape was thought provoking. The small wildflowers in the arroyos were in full bloom and since it was May the temperature was still tolerable for a guy from Washington State.

Wildflowers on the mesa at Posi Ouinge

Wildflowers on the mesa at Posi Ouinge

A Collared lizard eyes my carnivorous self suspiciously

A Collared lizard eyes my carnivorous self suspiciously

Nick spent about two hours filming up there. I saw thousands of pot shards and a single arrowhead. I left everything at the site just as I found it since the government’s merciless rules forbid removing artifacts.

Next we drove over to Tres Piedras (three stones) and took a red dirt road nearly two miles past the ranger station back into the piñon and juniper and ponderosa. We parked and walked about a mile to the westernmost hummock of smoothed sandstone jutting out of the ground maybe 50 feet in height. The area reminded me of an old TV western.

Nick in a cleft in the rocks at Tres Piedras

Nick in a cleft in the rocks at Tres Piedras

I imagined the Apache preparing to attack us at any moment. Gene Autry or Jay Silverheels or Ward Bond taking up a position behind the safety of these hoodoo rocks. But we never saw anyone else back there. The brown rounded sandstone is indeed striped with ribbons of thick coarse quartz that stand out vividly like white blazes. So many to choose from…

From the tops of the hoodoo rocks at Tres Piedras

From the tops of the hoodoo rocks at Tres Piedras

We followed several white blazes to the ground. We explored inside small dry caves and under dark ledges and had a grand old time. Although no chest was found, Nick discovered a perfect, small white arrowhead resting upright in a clear pool of high water atop the rounded sandstone.

We knew we were not the first civilization to play on these rocks but are we the last?


You can download the BLM’s brochure about the Posi Ouinge ruins at Ojo Caliente here.

You can watch Nick’s Frontline Ukraine report here.
We will post his Forrest Fenn report as soon as it is available.

My Garmin tells me our location at Tres Piedras was here:
36°39.729N 105°59.374W

It’s a cool spot with views and shade and rocks to run around on and blazes abound.
Just because I didn’t find the chest does not mean you will not…

Bring water and have fun!!

When you find the treasure in this spot…please don’t tell me..


The Shaft…



Last fall I received a registered snail mail envelope from a fellow with an unusual name, Harley Dodge Dart. Harley lives up in the Bitterroot Valley in Montana. The Bitterroot is about a hundred miles long and most of it is due south of Missoula, Montana.  Harley wrote to tell me he knew exactly where the treasure was hidden and needed some help to get it out.


No Paddle Up Your Creek..

I’m shy to partner-up with people when it comes to hunting for the treasure for a couple of reasons. The most logical being that partnerships tend to go sour and once they do…well accusations, slander and really hard feelings are likely to follow. I’m not a “businessman” and I can’t just shrug those things away. It’s easier for me to simply go searching on my own.

But Harley’s note was a bit different. First of all he didn’t want help “finding” the treasure. According to his letter he already knew where it was. Apparently I was the only person he trusted to help him free it from it’s resting place. I would later discover that I was probably the only person who would help him do anything. Harley’s neighbors give him a wide margin. Most don’t talk to him at all. Maybe it’s his tree-hugging politics. Maybe it’s the lawsuits he has pending against many of them and the State of Montana in General. Harley leans a bit toward ornery…a bit further toward peculiar…and a whole lot toward stubborn. But I didn’t know all this about him when I got the letter. I might have been suspicious though. The envelope had a lot of scuff marks and fingerprints from greasy hands on it. The letter itself was hand written printed scrawled in blue pencil by a guy who probably did not take handwriting in third grade from Sister Mary Linus. It was grammatically correct as far as I could tell and his spelling was better than mine would have been without the luxury of a spell checker but the clincher was that, in addition to the letter, he enclosed a single $5, 1953, silver certificate. He said it would pay for my gas to Montana.  It took me a few minutes to see that it was a silver certificate so I was wondering how I would get to Montana on $5 in gas. When I looked that certificate up it was valued at about $65. So it might not get me all the way to Montana but it was a fair start.

You’d have to read Harley’s letter to get a true sense of how unlikely it seemed that Forrest’s chest could possibly be hidden in the spot he’d decided it must be. But Harley was convinced it was “the spot”, and for whatever reason, he decided I would be the one to help him secure it. Harley didn’t want me to put his letter up where everyone could read it. His verbatim remarks follow – “To much good information. To many solid facts. Whole freakin valley’ll look like a Jones family reunion if you show my letter up on your blog..and I wouldn’t want to have to shoot ya to keep ya from showin it  round. Are ya with me?”

Harley’s letter didn’t demand any correspondence from me. He told me where to meet him, date and time, in Missoula. He’d know me by my truck he said and told me he’d be driving a ’68 Ford pick-up, “mostly baby blue under the mud with some miles on it. A good Warn winch mounted on the front”. If I wasn’t there, he’d know I stole his money and wasn’t coming.

I can only think of one other treasure hunter since this chase began that has made me laugh as much as Harley. He doesn’t try to be funny. He is as serious as a bible in a Baptist pulpit. Humor comes from unintended consequences. His manner is direct and serious, but something about him is just off enough to be funny without being threatening.


The Korean War…winter…

Couple things you should know about Harley. Since he wouldn’t let me take his picture I think it might help you form a better image of him. He’s a Korean War, combat Marine vet. He was at the Inchon landing, helped liberate Seoul and fought his way out of the Frozen Chosin against seven Chinese infantry divisions. Harley almost met his maker at the Chosin Reservoir. He suffered severe frostbite and ended up losing all ten toes, a couple of fingers and some nose. He walks a little funny but when you think about the damage his feet endured and take into consideration that Harley is a year older than Forrest, there is no doubt that he has had a lot of practice overcoming adversity. Skinny as a rusty nail. Tall as his truck cab. Wild, thick, colorless hair that goes about equally in all directions from under his hat like Lee Marvin’s in Cat Ballou. Pale, squinty eyes with deep crows feet from the summer sun. His nose is unnaturally crooked and there’s some scarring on the tissue under his eyes. Most of his face was hidden behind a few days worth of four-o’clock shadow. In spite of the rugged cowboy look there is also a sense of mischief and humor in his face. You’d like him immediately. I think it’s not til you get to know him that you get suspicious of him. Harley’s a loner. Never married. No relatives. Refers to himself as “end of the line Harley”.

He’s not a whiner. I had to pump him full of bourbon to get some history out of him. He drinks whatever is standing around. He doesn’t sip it either. He knocks one and a half ounce shots back with a handful of salted peanuts for a chaser. He had either twelve or thirteen shots in a two hour session at an empty, dark saloon that smelled like sawdust three miles down the two track jeep road from his place. The shots were $9.50 each. The bottle didn’t have a label but I don’t think it was Pappy Van Winkle. The peanuts were free. The music was mostly Grand Ol’e Opry tunes…Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Bill Monroe, the Carter Family…Might have been a Willie Nelson song in there somewhere. At 10am we were the only folks in the place.


We sat on old backless stools at the bar. After about an hour of watching Harley dispose of whisky like it was tap water he asked if he could buy me lunch. I said “Sure, what do they have?” Harley didn’t say anything he just pushed a big, uncovered jar of peeled, pickled eggs down the sticky bar toward me. The jar was covered in greasy fingerprints. It smelled like bad breath and there were little round black things floating on the top. A handwritten label on the bottle said they were “seventy-five cents each, three for two dollars, use tongs”. There weren’t any tongs. I don’t have a death wish. I passed.

About an hour later Harley let me pick-up the tab while he hit the restroom. I admired the well-worn table shuffleboard for a few minutes before I walked out into the sweet scented spring-like air. At Harley’s suggestion I left my truck in front of the saloon for the ride up the jeep trail in Harley’s Ford to where he called home and the start of his solution to the poem.

The ride up was remarkably rough. If we’d been grocery shopping I have no idea where we could possibly have put a dozen eggs to keep them safe. Harley says the County won’t take care of the road because it only goes to his place so he’s “suing their britches off.”

Mr. Dart is honest Montana stock. Born’n raised around Missoula. Only other places he’s been are Camp Pendleton and Korea. He cowboyed plenty on ranches up and down the Bitterroot and around Chouteau. He’s lived on the place he has now for over 55 years. He maintains his ranch is “about the most worthless land in the whole Bitterroot…maybe all of Montana.” It’s so bad, he claims, he’s leaving the place when he dies, to his worst enemy. I doubt this is true. I suspect it’s just advertising, because he also told me he was suing the county assessor.

I had to ask him about his name. He said it’s all an accident. There were no Dodge Darts when he was born and there might of been Harleys but he was named after his grandfather, Harley Berwyn Dart from Butte and Wales. Dodge was his mother’s maiden name. He said he never owned or even drove a Dodge Dart. “I wouldn’t know a Dart if one ran me over twice.”, he muttered as we bolted up the road trail

Harley’s final spot was in an abandoned vertical mine shaft on Forrest Service land not far up the side of the valley. Lord help me. I was not looking forward to exploring that hole. I had no faith in his solution or his spot but in spite of everything,  I genuinely like Harley. He’s a character worth knowing in a world where change is the enemy and neutral is everyone’s favorite color.

But it gets better. His starting place was one of the best I’d seen…maybe not heard…but certainly seen. We stopped there first.


Harley claims this sink came from the Fenn Haven Motor Court…

Harley lives in a 700sq foot cabin he built himself from pines he cut by hand himself and crosscut into boards by hand himself. Everything in his cabin and on his property he hauled up that jeep trail. There are no power lines on Harley’s property. “I hate the power company”, he adds. “They take all your money to give you something you don’t need but can’t live without. Anyway they want a fortune to bring a line up here and I’ve been living just fine for the past 50 years without their help. Sons-o-guns wanted to put up a series of those big electrical towers across my property back in the 60’s and pay me $150 a year for the privilege. I told em to go to hell in a handcart. That’s when all the trouble started.” According to Harley, the County along with the power company and an organization called Power for People in the Bitterroot, almost had his land condemned so they could get the towers across his ranch. It apparently nearly turned to trenched warfare and started all the trouble between Mr. Dart and his rancher neighbors who thought the towers were a good idea. “I’m not a guy who necessarily listens to reason.” Harley told me. “Sometimes you just gotta fight for what you believe, and I believe those towers are one of the most hideous examples of human progress ever plunked upon the countryside. Ya know, if I had wanted to live under one of those things I would have moved to Paris and built my cabin under the Eiffel Tower.”

Harley heard about Forrest’s hidden treasure on a trip to Missoula to meet with “old friends”. What got his attention was not so much the story of the treasure, but the person who hid it, Forrest. Harley claims he knew Forrest’s dad and that Harley’s dad and Forrest’s dad fished on the Madison and the South Fork together. “I was thinking about this old sink I got next to the cabin. I got that sink from my dad, who in turn, got it from Forrest’s dad. It came out of one of the Fenn Haven Motor Court cabins in the 60s when they were remodeling.  I was thinking that Forrest probably knows that old sink is up here. This is where warm water halts. And no wonder no one could figure out where to start. I mean who else knows about this sink? So don’t you tell anyone where exactly it’s at cuz I don’t want a herd of treasure hunters up here messin around on my property.”

From the old enameled metal sink Harley pointed to the creek about twenty feet away that goes down the canyon to the Bitterroot River and then on down the Bitterroot several miles to the home of Brown. Now his Brown is a connection between the painter C.M. Russell and the Bitterroot and a painting of Charley’s that is hung in the CM Russell Museum in Grand Falls. Harley explains, “A pretty special painting that came to that Museum in the 80s and I am not positive but I think it came from Peggy and Forrest. You can mention it but don’t name it. That would be a dead give-away.” At this point on the river there was a significant battle between the Blackfeet and a group of explorers that Harley feels is Forrest’s connection to “no place for the meek”. This place is also the confluence of the Bitterroot and another creek that has changed names a few times throughout history. It is a fast moving, cascade laden stream where you certainly could not paddle. Above it a ways is an old mining claim that Harley feels is also connected by name to the poem. “Just to many things line up.” he told me, with a mischievous grin and raised eyebrows.

About three o’clock in the afternoon we arrived at Harley’s old hole. A vertical mining shaft that went down about thirty feet through hard rock to a relatively flat floor below. As I lay on my belly shining a flashlight into the shaft I could see timbers scattered on the floor below and what appeared to be a single horizontal shaft heading off to the east. But what got my attention was a wooden box about two feet square sitting just off center of the hole. Why was it there and what was in it? “In the wood”, was all that Harley said. The hole was about twelve feet across and at one time had a wooden platform and a tipple over it. Miners probably descended into the shaft the same way their diggings came out, via a large bucket attached to a steel cable and winch. All that was gone now. But Harley brought along the makings of a tripod, two hundred feet of strong poly rope an old pulley and a climbers harness. One of us was going down into that hole to see what was in that wooden crate.

We assembled the tripod and dragged it over the shaft with the pulley attached and rope thru. We positioned it so that the rope went straight down the wall opposite the tunnel shaft at the bottom. The other end of the poly was attached to the wire rope on Harley’s winch on the front of his Ford. The Ford was as close as we could get it, about a hundred feet away from the hole. After the rig was assembled Harley handed me the harness and a radio and simply said “You’re younger than me”, and walked away toward the truck. “The radio is set to channel 3. I’ll be at the truck. Just let me know when you’re ready to go.” I kept thinking about all those shots Harley had swilled not more than a few hours earlier.

I didn’t really like this one little bit, but complaining is not my style and it seemed sane enough. The hole was in solid rock. Nothing could really fall on me unless the tripod failed but it was pretty solid. The rope was new. The Warn was old but not likely to fail. I stepped into the harness. Tied myself in. Stepped over near the hole gave everything a tug. Nothing fell apart. My heart was beating hard but steady. I turned on the radio. It said “channel three” back at me as it powered up. I pressed the “talk” button and asked Harley if he could hear me. “Loud and clear buddy”, is all he said. I heard the truck start up. I stepped to the edge. Turned and faced the truck. Gave everything one more tug. No reason to chicken out. Hit the talk button again and told Harley to take up about two feet of slack. The rope slowly reeled back toward the truck about two feet. I still had nearly half a foot of slack but I figured that would do.  I felt for the flashlight on a d-clip on my left hip. It was there. I lowered my body till the rope was relatively tight. Grabbed it between the winch and my head with my left hand and leaned fully backward with the radio in my right hand until all the weight was off my legs. I was completely dependent on Harley now. I spread my legs apart, held the radio to my mouth and said “down slow”.

Down I went. Nice and slow. I had no problem walking the smooth vertical wall as Harley lowered me to the floor. At the bottom I just stepped off the wall and onto the littered floor between a mess of fallen timbers and planks and bolts and steel plates. My foot landed near the skeleton of a rat or packrat that had probably fallen in one night when he wasn’t paying attention. Everything looked like it had been there for at least dozens of years. Nothing looked like it had been placed here in 2009 or 2010. A couple of seconds later the winch stopped. Harley must have figured out about how much line it would take to get to the bottom. I hit the talk key and said. “Good”. I took the flashlight from my hip, switched it on and turned around to look east down the horizontal tunnel to see if there were any monsters coming after me. I didn’t see any. Cold air rushed at me and up the shaft. I relaxed a little and turned my attention to the wooden box. It had some printing on one side but I couldn’t tell what the letters spelled. I was confident they did not spell “DuPont” and that made me a little more comfortable.

A few seconds later Harley was peering down at me. “What’s in the box” he yelled.

I don’t know yet”, I yelled back.

“Well what the hell are ya doin down there? This ain’t no Hawaii vacation.” he said.

“What kind of mine was this?” I yelled up at him.

“Probably silver was what they were looking for. Probably rock was all they got.

“Maybe the box is full of silver nuggets.”, I said, hopefully.

“Silver don’t form nuggets around here.”, Harley responded.

I thought I heard something in the tunnel. I pointed the light at it again and peered carefully into the nothingness.

“What’s up?”

“I thought I heard something.”

“Might be bats. Shining that light at em might rile em up. Can you open that box?”

There was a rusted steel latch on the front and two rusted strap hinges on the back. The box was very light. I could move it pretty easily. It certainly didn’t have a 42lb treasure inside it.

“I think it’s empty”, I said.

“Open it!” yelled Harley.

So I grabbed the latch and lifted it up and used it to pry the lid open on it’s stubborn hinges. It wasn’t empty.

“What’s that?” yelled Harley.

Down at the bottom of the box were crumpled up newspapers. They were torn and mushed into balls like someone had used them to act as padding around something fragile. But whatever the fragile item might have been, it was gone. I pushed the rotted newspapers aside, to see if there was anything at the bottom. Just more newspaper and something slick and flat. I pulled at it. An old oilcloth. Like the kind my kindergarten teacher would have made me use when I played with clay. Under it was a magazine. I carefully took it out from the bottom. It seemed intact. To my surprise it was in very good shape.

“What is it?” yelled Harley.

“A magazine. The Saturday Evening Post.”

“Anything else?”

“Nope. I’ll bring it up.”

“Okay, I guess I’m headed back to the winch. Let me know when to start reeling you up.”

I unbuttoned my jacket and put the magazine inside, flat against my chest. Put the flashlight back on it’s clip. Pulled the radio out of my pocket. Grabbed the rope with my left hand. Walked over the jumbled debris on the floor to the wall. Hit the “talk” button and said “up, slow”.

It felt good to be headed away from that dark, cold tunnel and the noises it was making. Getting out was a little harder than getting in but not by much.

We reeled in all the winch cable. Coiled the poly and opened a couple of Cokes that Harley brought along. I took the harness off and the magazine out from my jacket. We studied it like it was a million dollar treasure. We had worked hard for it.


It was in amazing condition.

“June 29th, 1929”, I said.

“What? Let me look at that. Where’s the date?”, said Harley.

I pointed at the date, nearly obscured by the cover art.

Harley stared at it with a look of confusion on his face. He didn’t say anything. He reached behind to his back pocket and yanked out his wallet. Flipped it open so his driver’s license was displayed and said, “What’s my birthdate?”

I pulled his wallet closer to my face and read his birthdate out loud.

“What are the chances of that?” asked Harley.


Grayling Creek – Part Two…


This is part two of a two part story. If you’d like to read part one first, CLICK HERE.



Note From Forrest-July 2013 To Amber, Chip, Porochista and Dal

Thanks Amber….
….This will be Porochista’s first time into God’s country. Please don’t let those guys find the treasure up Grayling Canyon. f


Note From Chip-July 2013 To Dal, Forrest and Amber
Hi Dal…
…My plan is to walk straight to the treasure with you sometime Sunday…



The sweet Gallatin River as it winds it’s way along the highway

Ezzey, Porochista Khakpour and I are moving fast down the highway from Bozeman toward West Yellowstone. The light is fading quickly. We are supposed to have met with Forrest’s nephew, Chip, a few minutes ago. I can’t use the time warp machine right now so instead I am late for our meeting. I hate that. I check my cell for signal strength. I’d like to tell Chip we’ll be late, by a good hour, but no bars on the phone.

It’s really a shame we’re nearly in the dark because the highway along the Gallatin River and down into the park via Bighorn Pass is one of the most beautiful stretches of highway this country has to offer. I’d like Porochista to see it.

The road was built piece-meal fashion about the time that folks started demanding automobile access to Yellowstone. Originally considered by the citizens of Bozeman in 1904, It was not fully completed for many years later as the park and the county road commissioners haggled over loss of wildlife habitat and uncontrolled park access. Today, urban sprawl is the new enemy along the 75 or so miles of highway outside the park. Cul-de-sacs with three to a half dozen houses each pop-up like blisters on a tenderfoot’s heel as the prosperous ranching towns spread south and west into the beautiful valley of the Gallatin.

Fireweed in bloom along the Gallatin Highway

Fireweed in bloom along the Gallatin Highway

It is along this highway that Forrest and Donnie made a 91 mile trek to Bozeman one summer in the 1940s. I have to respect that adventure. I am sorry I never had the foresight to walk 91 miles down such a beautiful river as the Gallatin. I can imagine them each pulling a trout or two every day from the Gallatin for dinner as they camped along this rip-roaring river every night for the five or so days it must have taken to walk to Bozeman. In spite of the encroaching developments and growing traffic since Forrest spent his summers in this neighborhood, the roadway is still picturesque…but get here before it’s gone.

It’s about 9pm by the time we roll into Chip and Amber’s property above Hebgen Lake.  Chip’s daughter Emily is there to meet with us as well. After “hellos” and “introductions” all around, the conversation turns pretty quickly to the location of Forrest’s chest and his intoxicating note that snidely suggests he hid it in Grayling Canyon. We are all confident that the chest is NOT along Grayling Creek. We chuckle as we recall the playful note Forrest sent us. Yet, we also know that we MUST look along Grayling Creek because if we don’t and that turns out to be the spot…won’t we be the fools…

Forrest’s sense of humor and command of the English language is family lore. Everyone in the room knows that Forrest wrote a sentence that says nothing about where the chest is, or isn’t located, and at the same time planted a seed we cannot ignore. We also predict he is sitting at home in Santa Fe warmed by his little piñon fire smiling because he knows exactly what his note is going to drive us to do. He’s as clever as the day is long…

We laugh and trade stories about Forrest. Chip says that as a kid he remembers occasions when an Air Force jet would buzz the town of West Yellowstone from south to north. The plane would come in from a long distance off, low and level. The growing sound of a big jet engine screaming right toward town. The whole town would stop and watch. Shopkeepers out on the street. Kids holding fingers in their ears. That plane would head right up Canyon Road, waggle it’s wings and then nose up straight for the high sky, spinning like a top. Everyone knew it was Forrest. Forrest, of course, denies that he would have done anything like that. “That sounds dangerous and probably illegal”, he says with a perfect poker face.

Everyone in Chips front room that evening knows with certainty that there is no treasure on Grayling Creek. We also know that Forrest does not hand out clues to individuals…only to the public at large. We know that the last place on earth we should bother to look is Grayling Creek and we also know that the first place we will all look tomorrow will be Grayling Creek. We are doomed.

I am a little surprised by Chip’s immersion into the poem. He shares a three ring binder with Porochista and me that holds his notes about the poem and his ideas about the location of the treasure. He is a serious searcher with an unshakeable belief that Forrest’s chest is somewhere around Yellowstone.

We make plans to meet with Emily and her brother Aubrey for breakfast in the morning and the four of us will head on over to Grayling Creek for a look/see. Like addicts…we are about to embark on something we know we shouldn’t because we cannot avoid doing exactly what we’ve been told NOT to do…Forrest is a fun loving puppet master…

Before midnight, Porochista and I head off toward West Yellowstone and accommodations provided by Chip and Amber at one of their rental properties. Although we have simple and explicit directions to the building where we will have rooms, we go back and forth and up and down the streets of West Yellowstone hunting for the address. How on earth can I ever expect to find the treasure chest when I can’t even find a two story apartment building in West Yellowstone. I really am doomed.

The gate at Parade Rest Guest Ranch

The gate at Parade Rest Guest Ranch

The next morning Emily and her brother Aubrey meet us at Parade Rest Guest Ranch where we will have breakfast. I really didn’t know about this place before this morning. I may have seen a sign for it along Lake Hebgen but I had no idea the lodge was open to the public for meals. It was a perfect place to enjoy a hearty Montana style breakfast in a western, ranch house setting. Emily has brought along her infant daughter Aliyah. She is curious and perfectly mannered and just about the cutest kid in Montana. She draws a lot of waving and ohhs and ahhs from the other customers at the ranch.


The conversation today is much more relaxed. I suppose because we have the big issue settled. We know where we are headed to search. So around the breakfast table we just talk like normal people rather than treasure addicted searchers. We talk about the vicious otter that has showed up on the Madison River near the 191 bridge. It has attacked and bitten more than one swimmer. I learn that Emily is a trail runner, biker, marathoner and outdoors woman of the most Montana kind. Aubrey is recovering from some broken limbs but looks absolutely fit to me. He busts broncs and rides on the backs of angry bulls on the rodeo circuit but is spending his healing time as a rodeo clown this summer. Have you ever seen what a rodeo clown does? That’s tougher than being a bull rider as far as I am concerned. The whole purpose of a clown in the rodeo ring is to get those behemoth, outraged bulls to chase and try to kill him. His goal of course, is to survive. It quickly adds up to me that Chip has raised a couple of kids not afraid to take on serious challenges.

Aubrey, Porochista, Emily and Aliyah as we start into the Grayling Creek Canyon

Aubrey, Porochista, Emily and Aliyah as we start into the Grayling Creek Canyon


Crossing Grayling Creek

Right after breakfast we head over to nearby Grayling Creek and begin our search. There really is no trail along the creek. The water is clear and cold as it comes out of the Park onto Forrest Service land. The canyon is sometimes narrow and sometimes broad. The water is in a hurry and the walk is enchanting through wooded riverine and past cliffs of local yellow, scrabbly rock. We are on the watch for bears. They have been in the area recently. Aubrey brings his dog Tater, who will spot a bear long before we do. Once the canyon narrows down to no wider than the stream itself we have to clamber from rock to rock and ledge to ledge to follow along the creek.

Where I come from creeks are a few feet across. The Grayling is much more like a river than a creek at this point. Thirty feet across with lots of charming bends and hiding places for dinner sized trout. Emily is carrying Aliyah on her back as she easily traverses the slippery rocks and narrow ledges. She looks like a dancer moving on her stage. Her feet cling to slimy river rocks like snails. Every step is honest and unchallenged. And Aubrey…If there is anything at all about Aubry that is broken I fail to recognize it. He moves among these rocks like they are library shelves. Meanwhile Porochista and I are slipping and sliding and plunging off rocks and narrow ledges with regularity. Clearly, we are the novices in this country. Porochista’s magenta sneakers light the way in front of me in the darkened canyon. She is a trooper. She never stops. Determined to follow the treasure hunters no matter what ridiculous place Forrest has told them not to find the treasure.


Little Aliyah falls fast asleep on her mother’s back in record time. I am amazed. The creek is noisy. The air is cool. The walk is bumpy. Just another trek in the woods with mom for Aliyah.

Aliyah at rest. Don't you wish you could sleep like that?

Aliyah at rest. Don’t you wish you could sleep like that?

At a place in the canyon where we really can’t go much further without walking in chest deep water there is a fall. A beautiful multi-teared fall about thirty feet across and with about a 15 foot total drop. A blaze? Surely Forrest has seen this fall in his exploration for good fishing holes. We cannot avoid the inevitable. Aubrey tells me that the water in the creek is at it’s lowest this time of year. Snow and Ice will keep everyone out in winter. If we are going to examine that fall…now would be the best time.

Approaching the fall on Grayling Creek

Approaching the fall on Grayling Creek

We wade out and examine every crevice and hole. We look under, around, in and through the fall. Aubrey has the certain feet that allow him to walk across the lip of the fall to look at the other side. Tater gingerly follows. Clearly the dog has concerns. She looks one way, then another. Gets halfway across then begins to turn back . Tater knows this is the wrong place to be walking. I start on this side of the fall and work toward the center at its foot. Emily stays on the side with Aliyah safely on her back. She will wade in if anyone gets in trouble. Porochista stays out of the fall as well. I am convinced she thinks we are all lunatics. Perhaps we all are. The water wants to push me downstream. The current is so fierce in spots that I dare not lift a foot off the bottom without a handhold for fear I will be pushed over. I pry and poke with my ice ax. The water is sternum deep in spots. It’s uncomfortably cold. Staying upright is a constant chore. If I fall I’ll end up about thirty feet downstream after banging into some boulders on the way. Finding a place between boulders to cram my feet is challenging. The rocks move threateningly under pressure from the current. I wonder why I am here. Would Forrest be here? I think not. He’s smarter than I am. We spend most of an hour at the fall. Sadly, there is no treasure chest in our immediate future.

Checking out one more spot on the way back

Checking out one more spot on the way back

As we are walking out Chip approaches on an ATV to help us carry the heavy chest. Unfortunately, there is no chest to be carried. And of course, I am reminded that it is highly unlikely that Forrest would have hefted the chest through that difficult canyon. Not a likely spot. But certainly a lovely place to waste valuable exploring time with good company.


Porochista, Emily, Aliyah, Chip, Aubrey and Tater…treasureless again!

When we get back to their house, Amber has laid out a fantastic lunch spread. We all make sandwiches and talk about the adventure. The conclusion is unanimous. That fall is  not the location of the chest for more than one reason.

1. Too difficult to get at while carrying 21lbs…twice..

2. It’s too remote. We all believe the chest is hidden near an area that the public visits.

3. Why would that place be special to Forrest?

4. I try and try but I cannot make the clues in the poem lead me into that canyon.


A splendid lunch with Amber

The next day Porochista and I head into the park to visit Forrest’s favorite bathing spot on the Firehole river at Ojo Caliente. It’s a murky day. Overcast and threatening storms. The dark clouds add to the ominous sensation as we walk around in the caldera of a super volcano. We explore the lower geyser basin and fountain flats on foot just for the sheer pleasure of looking at the gems of spouting hot geysers, thumping mudpots, multicolored springs and alkaline water holes. We admire long legged birds and the remains of winter and wolves on the open savannah in the center of the Yellowstone crater. The scene is vast and wild and prehistoric. Great steam plumes rise in every direction. Grasses dotted with wildflowers at our feet. Sun-bleached bones scattered around the water holes. The air smells of sulphur and something else…like rye.

The Firehole River near Ojo Caliente, looking at Forrest's favorite bathing spot

The Firehole River near Ojo Caliente, looking at Forrest’s favorite bathing spot

Porochistas sneakers remind me of survey tape

Porochistas sneakers remind me of survey tape

Porochista finds a buffalo skull

Porochista finds a buffalo skull

The flats seem like a vast windswept grassy plain with small copses of pine here and there to break the monotony. We can conjure up remarkable dinosaurs plodding through the scene just in front of us. Porochista finds a buffalo skull. She is not squeamish. She picks it up to admire it’s earthly story and I snap a picture. We talk about life and death on this plain. We try to understand Forrest’s remarkable childhood experiences. We find a comfortable log and summon up Forrest and Donnie and Skippy and the rest…We imagine the place in 1940…In our fantasizing it is windswept, grassy and steaming, beautifully the same as it is today. We cherish the idea that this protected place is a landscape in only a handful of such landscapes in the world of modern man that have not changed in 70 years…perhaps not even in a thousand years…

The lower geyser basin

The lower geyser basin



Grayling Creek – Part One…


Porochista Khakpour is the kind of person that makes you wonder where you went wrong. She is attractive, of course. She is brilliant, of course. But there is something more, a breath of worldly sophistication accompanies her. Sort of like… I am the chicken and find myself sitting in a restaurant, talking with Colonel Saunders about side dish recipies. She can make a guy nervous. We are riding in Esmerelda heading south along the picturesque Gallatin Highway toward Yellowstone. She asks me who I will tell when I find Forrest’s treasure.

Gallatin River

Gallatin River

But let’s move back a little in time. It’s the first week in August, 2013 and I am around the West Yellowstone neighborhood. Things are moving briskly. I came out here this time of year, in spite of my intense desire to avoid Yellowstone during peak visitor season, just to be with the BBC. They are here filming a story about Forrest’s treasure hunt and my searching experience in the Red Canyon is part of their story.

A few days earlier, before I leave my island home for the mountains north of Santa Fe, Forrest writes that a lovely and charming, dark haired journalist by the name of Porochista Khakpour is penning a story about him for a national magazine. She has spent several days interviewing him in Santa Fe and even visited his friends in Temple, Texas. He further writes that the poor deprived woman has never had the opportunity to visit Yellowstone and since I am headed there perhaps I could meet her at the airport in Bozeman and take her to all the important places in the most important park in the country. “You’ll like her,” he adds.

Forrest also puts me in touch with a member of his family who lives in Montana and happens to have rental accommodations near the park. His relative, Chip, agrees to put Prochista and me up for a couple of days. So, now I have an appointment to be a guide for someone who needs to know everything there is to know about Forrest. I have free accommodations arranged by Forrest and I am going to meet a relative of Forrest’s who clearly must have some idea where the treasure is hidden. Sounds like a plan made in heaven.

Except…what kind of name is Porochista Khakpour? Who is this dark haired siren about which Forrest has told me little? If I were not curious I wouldn’t be looking for the treasure in the first place. Hand me that computer.

Porochista Kakpour by Melissa Hom

Porochista Khakpour as she appears on the web. Photo by Melissa Hom

I know for certain that she’s not from the eastern European neighborhood in Detroit where I grew up. Too many vowels in her name. Kids there had last names like Wojciechowski and Czarnecki. She’s not Polish, Slav, Romanian or German. Maybe Italian…I try pronouncing her first name aloud as if she were a fine goat cheese from southern Italy…”poor-ohh-cheeeees’-ta”. It sounds’s also fun to say. I decide she is Italian.

Not long after I consign Porochista, along with Muscato wine and hard salami, to the Italian corner of my brain I get cc’d on a note from Forrest to Porochista and Chip that reads something to the effect of-

“Chip, whatever you do don’t let anyone find the treasure up on Grayling Creek.”

I stared at that line for awhile. I cocked my head one way and then another…like a black lab watching a squirrel. I read it a few hundred times to make sure I had all 14 words in proper order in my brain. I took a short walk out in the woods. I ran into a beautiful Sphinx moth and took a few mindless pics.

Sphinx Moth from Lummi island

Sphinx Moth from Lummi island

Then I came back to the house, opened the laptop and looked at the message again. All 14 words were still there. That sneaky Forrest. He knows I won’t be able to look anywhere I’d planned now that Grayling Creek is stuck in my head. Of course it’s a red herring. Of course Forrest is having fun with us. I know this as clearly as I know my own name. I’ll bet he’s smiling right now! For some reason Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne in the film, The Witches of Eastwick comes to mind.

I need to stop thinking about Grayling Creek. I decide to look up Porochista and see what kind of journalist she really is. To my surprise, before I even get her entire first name punched into Google her full name pops up in two dozen different references. Not like mine does. Not at various state and federal criminal postings but at places like the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Village Voice…impressive stuff! She’s written for those three and more and her first novel, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, has garnered notable awards including the California Book Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize. The only thing I can see to hold against her is that she is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence. On the upside she has an MA from Johns Hopkins.


I was concerned. Porochista and I clearly have little in common. I was lucky to get into a state college and my accomplishments so far are pretty narrow compared to her own. What will we talk about? I have to spend 2.75 days with her. Esmerelda will be happy for someone intelligent to listen to. Do I resent her? Am I humbled by her? Am I frightened of her? Will this be a crummy 2.75 days? Based on her profile Porochista is probably vegan and can’t even savor a simple pizza with pepperoni. Will she show up in some highly fashionable but unhikeable shoes?  Maybe there is a good reason she has not been to Yellowstone. Maybe she doesn’t even like bear, buffalo and beaver…unthinkable, but possible…she’s from NYC.

But wait! This isn’t a date. This is an assignment. Show her the treats of Yellowstone. Show her the secular icon’s of Forrest’s youth in the wild and woolly west. I can do that as well as anyone. Forrest is what we have in common. She just spent several days with him. I can probably garner information that will help me think creatively about the treasure…I am beginning to see how only good can come from this. Just don’t stress the small stuff, I tell myself.

Confidence is in the ether.

A few more lines in Wikipedia and I discover Italy is not even close. Not even on the same continent where Porochista is from. She was born in Tehran, Persia…aka Iran. Her family fled during the revolution in the 80s. She speaks fluent Arabic and her book is about the aftermath of 9/11 and it’s effect on sons who in every culture try to find part of themselves in their fathers. Alice McDermott, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her wonderful book, After This, described Porochista’s novel:
“Sons and Other Flammable Objects is a marvelous novel: witty, wise, continually surprising, continually inventive, exuberant, heartbreaking. It resists the easy categories of immigrant lit, family saga, first novel—because it is, first and foremost, a delightful, generous work of literary art.”
—Alice McDermott, author of Charming Billy

Confidence evaporates in the ether.

Ding! An email from Chip. “My plan is to walk straight to the treasure with you sometime Sunday.”

Back out to the woods and find the Sphinx moth for more portraits.

So now it’s Saturday, day of reckoning and I am sitting in Esmerelda at the Bozeman airport, short-term parking lot. I am considering the next 65 hours with Porochista. She writes for national magazines, the biggest and baddest newspapers and has a wildly successful novel to her credit. I write posts on a blog. The gap is wide. The possibility for learning is vast.

I am an hour early, as is my lot in life. Lateness is one of the eight deadly sins…wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony and lateness. I like to have knowledge of a place…get there in advance…know where the exits are…the fire extinguishers…the restrooms. If someone told me that after this life I was going to have to come back as an airport I would prefer to come back as the Bozeman airport. It is efficient and friendly and the fire extinguishers are conveniently located.

I am thinking about how to greet Porochista. I have never met her. But we have exchanged email. She wanted to make certain I was going to meet her in Bozeman on time. A worrier. I liked that about her. But now, the issue at hand was “hug” or “shake”. Did one or two emails and a common friendship with Forrest constitute a socially acceptable welcoming “hug”…or should I retreat to the always acceptable yet somewhat off-putting handshake? What to do? It’s never an issue between guys. I can only remember actually hugging a few men in my life. Proper hugging was not part of “de rigueur” taught in Marine Boot Camp. I learned to salute. I learned the value of a solid, single pump handshake. I learned how to greet the enemy with a simple thrust and twist of my bayonet. Nothing about hugs. Sister Mary Linus never taught us about hugging in Catholic school either. In fact, I am pretty certain, had I actually hugged one of my female peers in 7th grade I would have been taken out and turned to salt on the spot. Touching, even handshaking was frowned upon between the genders in Sister Linus’ classes.

Not only was I never taught when a hug was appropriate. I also struggled with how. My right hand clearly needed to go to the back, in the upper area…perhaps near a shoulder blade. At any rate, above the hook and eye thingy. But the left hand…that was the devil. The allocated area for it to land was lower and smaller, below the bra but there would be hell to pay if it landed too low. And being too high and actually touching the bra was not considered polite either. It was always a gamble. You could get in a lot of trouble by hugging a woman you did not know well. Particularly if her husband was standing behind her. And how close do you place yourself to her? Sister Linus always maintained that a foot was plenty close enough in dancing. But I’d learned from experience that in hugging, a foot of space was not what women who didn’t wear a crucifix expected. It was embarrassing to be pulled closer to a woman than my already shaky stance could afford. My footing lost, I would crash into my hugee like a drunk and lose my balance, sometimes twirling around once or twice in a little uncoordinated ballet that made everyone giggle. To this very day that still happens as I try to maintain the good Sister’s one foot of clean, unromantic air between myself and my hugee. I watch other men smoothly pull off the mixed gender, socially acceptable, greeting hug with a great deal of admiration.

As I enter the luggage collection area in the airport I can see tired passengers from the flight trolling down the steps from the restricted area above. It suddenly occurs to me in a flash of blankness that I cannot remember what Porochista looks like. I am here to meet someone and I don’t know what to look for…a woman. I try to imagine up the photo I saw of her on the web. She looked sophisticated, powerful, … and….and… Jeese! It’s not working. I remember her age as around 30. I am certain she had dark hair. She was from Iran for goodness sake, of course she had dark hair. I think she wore glasses in a photo I saw. It seems like every other passenger is a woman in her 30s with dark hair. I choose a stranger wearing glasses who might be Porochista. I smile at her. Welcoming her to Bozeman. She gives me a look that clearly lets me know I should be handcuffed and removed from the airport.

Tone it down.

I fully expect Porochista to be in the leading group of discharged passengers. Her Sarah Lawrence seat would be in first class. First on and first off. But the line of satiated travelers in linen and silk carrying suit bags, matching brief cases and complimentary roses moves past me and Porochista is not among them. We are now clearly in the economy class group…backpacks and small duffels. More stressed from having perched for three hours in an ergonomically designed seat that offers a tad less comfort than a plank. Still, no Porochista. Next are the partiers…twenty-somethings…t-shirts, shorts and hiking boots. Still no Porohista. Off comes the smartly uniformed crew and then, finally a familiar face from Wikipedia, but wearing a cranberry hoody and magenta sneakers…Porochista has materialized.

I plaster the “welcome to Bozeman” smile on my face and she posts her “thanks for being here on time” smile on hers. She throws her arms comfortably around me and exclaims that we have to stop at a burger joint somewhere…anywhere and get something…anything to eat.

Porochista at the Happy Hour Bar on Lake Hebgen

Porochista at the Happy Hour Bar on Lake Hebgen, wating for her buffalo burger.

I don’t even remember where my hands land but she does not yell for TSA so I think the hugging part went well. We pick up her small, well worn travel bag and head out the door. As we approach Ezzey, Porochista points and says in an admiring voice that she has read all about Esmerelda and is looking forward to the ride back to Yellowstone in my trustworthy companion. She has read my blog!

“She’s not so bad”, I tell myself.

Part Two – Meeting Chip exploring YNP and searching Grayling Creek. CLICK HERE.