A Search in New Mexico…

Jeremy Parnell


I just got back from New Mexico and since I’m unlikely to return any time soon I thought I’d share the solve I came up with. It has an unusual search area at the end, but I do think it follows from the clues and is reachable by an elderly man. This, I say, despite skeptical looks from people when I tell them where I’ve been, without explaining the solve, and with my own party members (my dad and two brothers) being very close to mutiny on the path itself. I’m pretty sure that I was one crazy idea from being thrown off a cliff.

Shall we begin?

As I have gone alone in there

This is skipping ahead, but I went rather deep into the Colin Neblett Wildlife Management Area.

And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.

Like many others, including Forrest Fenn, we start with this line:

Begin it where warm waters halt

A number of different “warm waters halt” will get you there, but the one I liked most was Agua Fria in Moreno Valley, way up high in the Sangre de Cristos Mountains beyond the Taos Pueblo. Agua Fria, of course, is Spanish for “cold water”. There are a couple of reasons why I chose this location. Primarily, it fits lockstep with the other clues. Almost as nice, it is located at the intersection between the Vietnam War Memorial and the Angel Fire Airport, both locations being places that Forrest Fenn is likely familiar with, intimately. As everyone knows, he was a fighter pilot in Vietnam and flew private planes throughout the area later in life. Both chapters of his life were important to him. I don’t think it’s a small thing, either, that there’s another Agua Fria in New Mexico, in Santa Fe near where Forrest Fenn lives. I believe it’s fair to think Agua Fria was on his mind when crafting the clues. None of this is new. Others have started here as well. It’s been a popular starting location since the story broke.

And take it in the canyon down,

Which canyon?

Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.

Oh, that canyon. There’s only one that matches this description. Cimarron Canyon east of Moreno Valley. It is “not far, but too far to walk” from Agua Fria. In the poem “Brown” is capitalized as a proper noun, so it’s natural to look for a named place. Moreno is Spanish for “brown”. Moreno Valley is “Brown Valley”. Anyone who looks at the valley can see that Eagle Nest Lake is the anchor feature around which the valley thrives. When you arrive in the valley in person, it’s very clear. Eagle Nest Lake is the home of Moreno Valley. When you enter the canyon, you drive beneath the dam that forms Eagle Nest Lake. Entering the canyon, you are “below the home of Brown”, Eagle Nest Lake. Again, this isn’t new. Others have gone this way, some of them thinking in entirely different ways, for example saying that Eagle Nest Lake is filled with brown trout. I think it’s a lot easier than that. Eagle Nest Lake is the home of Moreno Valley and Moreno is “brown”. When you enter Cimarron Canyon, you are below the home of Brown.

From there it’s no place for the meek,

Down Cimarron Canyon there are a few places of interest. There’s Cimarron River, The Palisades, several creeks that empty into the river, and a few hiking trails that disappear into the surrounding wilderness. If we’re right in our solve thus far, there should be one that matches a place that is “no place for the meek”. I’ve seen in the blogs that people have explored each of Cimarron Canyon’s features, but I don’t know why they didn’t all simply start with Maverick Creek. Forrest Fenn has been described as, and certainly identifies with, being a “maverick”. Seriously, I don’t think Sarah Palin described herself as a maverick more times than Forrest Fenn has. If it were a drinking game, you’d get drunker faster taking a shot when Forrest Fenn is described as a maverick. And then there’s this: Forrest Fenn has said in interviews that he often Google’s a word to find its meaning. When you Google “meek”, you get “quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on; submissive”. When you Google “maverick”, you get “an unorthodox or independent-minded person”. Maverick is the opposite of “meek”. Further, we’re looking at a creek, and that fits lockstep with the next clues. They closely fit with this particular creek.

The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.

There’s a couple of clues here, but I’m grouping them together to demonstrate why Maverick Creek uniquely matches them, especially a certain spot. “No paddle up your creek”. It’s a small creek that flows down from the mountains into the Cimarron River. You can’t paddle up it. This isn’t really unique, as the other creeks in the canyon do the same. “Just heavy loads and water high”. Here we have something that is unique to Maverick Creek. There are really only two things up Maverick Creek. One is a 30-foot waterfall somewhat off the beaten path, and the other is old logging roads. I first thought that “heavy loads” might be the treasure you are carrying, but later realized that you aren’t carrying a treasure. Forrest Fenn is. You’re looking for treasure. You don’t have it yet. The “heavy loads” have to be in the location, not your hands. Maverick Creek’s distinguishing features are the waterfall, “water high” and the old logging roads “heavy loads”. Nothing else in Cimarron Canyon matches the clues so closely. At this point, many of you may be thinking, but the waterfall has been scoured over good, and many have traveled the old logging roads. Some really observant people may be thinking, why did I include the “end is ever drawing nigh part” in this grouping? This is the point that I diverge from where others have looked and take my own maverick path.

If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,

In this solve, the “blaze” is a very large campfire “drawing” on the side of Touch-Me-Not Mountain, at the end of Maverick Creek. Go on, look up Maverick Creek in Google Earth, go to the end, look just above the creek onto the side of the mountain. It’s pretty clear. The formation of the trees and bald spot (drawing) is right near (nigh) the end of Maverick Creek. It’s viewable from the air, as Forrest Fenn would have seen flying over the area. When I visited, I found you couldn’t see it from the ground, unless you’re on nearby higher ground, but I think Forrest Fenn would have you look from the air as he did. To my knowledge, no one has done a hard-search of this area. Sure, people have walked the trail, maybe looked really closely around the falls and the start of the trail, but I don’t think anyone has seriously considered the end of Maverick Creek and up the mountain to where I think is clearly a campfire “blaze” as a good hard-search area. I looked and looked online, but if others had seen it, they weren’t talking. I think it’s next to obvious.

Look quickly down, your quest to cease,

The “blaze” is slightly higher than 10,200 ft. It’s at the end of a gully that topographical maps indicate is the worn-into-the-mountain beginning of Maverick Creek. Quickly down from it, around 10,200 ft is really where the creek starts. When I visited, I found that the creek forms out of the mountain slightly to the west. Yet, directly down from the “blaze” is near the end of the creek, and is actually the end on topographical maps. The important thing to note, as I’ll explain later, is that the creek forms out of Touch-Me-Not mountain. This is where the creek touches it.

But tarry scant with marvel gaze,

You have some magical views from here. Did you think there wouldn’t be?

Just take the chest and go in peace.

So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.

So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.

OK, so I’ve explained how the target area I chose fits the clues, but I haven’t yet explained the real reason I chose to visit that end of Maverick Creek. It’s hard to get to. It’s debatable whether an elderly man of 79-80 years could. I think he could, and I’ll explain how, but for now let me explain why I had to go and see if he could.

I found a blaze that was in close match to the clues. I hadn’t yet figured out why the place would matter to Forrest Fenn himself. It’s the Colin Neblett Wildlife Management Area. It’s kind of the go to place for hunting, fishing, wildlife photography, and all things outdoors in New Mexico. It’s not a stretch by any means to imagine he’s very familiar with it. Still, I didn’t know why it might matter to him, as his final resting place. That is, until I re-read the book.

There might be other clues in the book. I suspect a few, but really I don’t know. There is, however, one story that stuck out and that is “Teachers With Ropes”. In the story, Forrest Fenn describes how when he first opened his gallery he would visit other galleries and see what they did that worked, and what didn’t. He goes on to say how every gallery had the words “DO NOT TOUCH”. It was offensive, and it affected him so much that when he opened his gallery, he encouraged people to touch everything (even an original painting of George Washington, to the gasps of teachers who brought their children to the gallery). DO NOT TOUCH, in bold red letters in the book, is the only colored type in the book. Forrest Fenn, the maverick, scoffs at this and tells everyone, please touch.

This is the idea that led me here, and kept me fixed: How amazing would it be for Forrest Fenn to place his bones, and his treasure, where the Maverick literally touches the big huge rock that screams Do Not Touch! It doesn’t take a poet to see how this would be his one, last eternal jab at the world. It’s a nice discreet location, quiet and solitary, but boldly says, “I’ll do what I want. I will touch that, thank you.” The Maverick touching Touch-Me-Not. I think Forrest Fenn would approve (and maybe did).

But could he get there? That’s the question.

Maybe. That’s all I can say. The first day, my dad and two brothers and I tried hiking up the creek itself. We got a late start because there was some confusion over whether the trail was closed due to elk calving, and we had to get GAIN permits to hike in Colin Neblett. We didn’t get started until around one o’clock in the afternoon. It took us three and a half hours to get halfway up the creek. To be fair, we took our time, and was looking for treasure. It’s a tough trail, though, and I think it could be said it is very, very unlikely that an elderly man made that trip twice from his vehicle in a single day, carrying 20 lbs. of weight each trip. I say unlikely, but I really mean impossible. I just don’t like that word.

There is a way, though, and I don’t think it’s that far-fetched. It would require him to take a 4WD up the switch-backs on Green Mountain and come in from behind, down the saddle between Green Mountain and Touch-Me-Not. To test this idea, on day two, I rented a Nissan Frontier (we had driven from Kentucky in a little car that got good gas mileage, but was completely inadequate for the mountains). We left pretty early in the morning and began the slow ascent up Green Mountain and parked a little ways from the top where we could take the old logging roads over the saddle. There’s descriptions of this route if you query the Touch-Me-Not trail in Google.

This route, completely doable by a 79-80 year old man, puts you just above the “blaze”. The old logging roads are a little rough, and the inclines are somewhat steep, but a man of determination could do them, especially if he was beelining to already decided location. It’s debatable. We certainly got tired, and spent a considerable time up there, but we were looking all over the place, even as far down as the creek itself. One of our party, my dad, is a sixty-three year old smoker, though, and we had just hiked half the creek the day before, and he took the trek in stride. A lot of people consider 79-80 year olds as next to invalid. I think there’s a wide variety in endurance at that age. It’s debatable, but again, I have him going to a singular location and not trying to cover the whole mountain. I think most people would be surprised at what a healthy, determined, elderly man is capable of, especially if he knows he only has to do it and then it’s done.

There’s other questions. He’s said on several occasions that he took two trips to his car. In one interview he slipped and said “truck”. You almost certainly have to go this route in a 4WD. It’s a pretty dangerous mountain road. Could he have taken a truck? Often I hear people say “car” when referring to their SUV. It’s unknown, at least to me.

I’ll admit, it’s a somewhat extreme place for Forrest Fenn’s treasure, more extreme than some of the other solves I have seen, but I do think it’s doable. And, seriously, what’s better than the Maverick touching that which says Do Not Touch? In fairness, all of Maverick Creek technically matches the clues, and we found evidence of other searches further down the creek, but The End of the Creek, is poetic and legendary. It’s worth the extra steps, and (I believe) fortune favors the bold. It’s the reason I went looking in the first place.

We looked pretty hard, but we had limited time and it’s a large search area. There are tons of boulders out there, and they all look like square chests. It would take much longer than we had to completely rule it out. Anyone who says it’s not at Maverick Creek isn’t being honest with you or themselves. It’s a huge area, and no one has completely searched it, all of it. Most of the time, I believed that I could have been within feet of it, and completely missed it, despite Forrest’s encouragement that if you get within twelve feet you’re likely to find it… unless it’s buried… unless it’s under a field of boulders… unless the creek algae has hidden it…. unless it’s been muggled… unless it’s under a mudslide… unless a tree has fallen on it… unless…

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 10.42.31 PM

So, that’s the solve I was operating under. If you follow up on it and find the thing, please let me know. It’s fortune and glory, kid. You take the fortune, let me share the glory.

Photos of the adventure

Please feel free to contact me: jeremysdropbox@gmail.com

Jeremy Parnell