I hope that this post finds all you seekers well. I am sending this into the group with humility and hope. I hope to show a different way of riding a bicycle, even if the end result for me has been the same for all of you. I hope that this will lead to someone finding the chest by looking at a different, but not too outside-of-the-box, way of thinking about the solve.
I come to you as a geography and travel enthusiast. I have been lucky enough to have been able to drive through all of the lower 48 states and have been able to witness the majestic views of our National Parks and true beauty of the United States. Up until spring of 2018 (yes, I know I am a newbie, but stick with me here), I had never heard of Mr. Fenn. Then, I came across an article published on CNBC on April 18, 2018. Little did I know that this little article would lead to a head scratching door of discovery and wonder.
“Read the clues in my poem over and over and study maps of the Rocky Mountains,” Fenn recently told Business Insider. “Try to marry the two. The treasure is out there waiting for the person who can make all the lines cross in the right spot.”
With this little article I was off. As many people do, I immediately came up with different solves by looking at the poem systematically based on different geologic features and names of places. I looked at Yellowstone and the Hebgen Lake area, I looked around Lander, WY and Sinks Canyon. Many similar methods that have been worked over the last 8 years and I was afraid many similar results by going down that rabbit hole.
So, I took a small step back. Forrest has stated (paraphrasing), that only a few people had a tight focus on a word that was key. So, to me, this is where the rubber meets the road. What key word would unlock the clues so that you could marry a map to specific locations to make the lines cross at the right spot? Forrest states that you need a good map and a comprehensive knowledge of geography. No specialized knowledge is needed. Google defines geography as “the study of the physical features of the earth and its atmosphere, and of human activity as it affects and is affected by these, including the distribution of populations and resources, land use, and industries.”
So how do we unlock the keyword? The answer, I believe, is in the first stanza. Before I get there, let me give you a little background on myself. Like Forrest, I grew up in a small town in the rural US. Temple, Texas is actually quite a bit bigger than the town I grew up in a podunk town in Minnesota. We had a K-12 school, with about 20 kids in each class. In analyzing the poem, I was reminded of a geography contest in 5th grade that I won. Honestly, it isn’t difficult to win contests in a small school when you only have about 20 competitors. The competition was cryptic lines in which you had to decipher and match to different geography features. If my mind serves me, it was rivers; but that is unimportant. What sparked my interest was that they were different clues about one type of feature. In a way, this is how ciphers worked with regards to Thomas Jefferson communicating with Lewis and Clark. However, no ciphers needed here.
So again, what single geographic term, place, location, etc. could reference all nine clues in which you were able to put 9 x’s on a map and make them cross to find a spot to search? The answer has to be specific, you aren’t able to put an ‘x’ on a map by using locations that can’t be to a single set of coordinates. For example, lakes, rivers, canyons, won’t work. Mountain peaks would, which was my first guess. So looking at lists of mountain peaks in the four states, and spending a few days analyzing the poem I came up with…. Nothing. Ghost towns? Nothing. Bridges. Nothing. Now, realize when I say nothing. I don’t mean that there aren’t any clues that match up. Some do. By coincidence, it is likely that some will. But to get nine in a relatively small area to match up. Nothing.
“As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.”
Then I came across something: Sante Fe mountain in Colorado. Back to mountain peaks. So I started diving into topographical maps of the Clear Creek and Gilpin county areas in Colorado. What I found wasn’t mountain peaks that sparked my interest, it was the names of a couple of mines in the area. Before I go further, yes, I know the chest is not in a mine. Please, just stick with me. A few of the names were solid matches to mines in the area. But still, I know I needed to find the first clue. Mines fit the description of the first stanza and the heavy loads clue, so it could be it.
Clue 1: Begin it where warm waters halt
At first, I started with the mine at Indian Hot Springs in the town of Idaho Springs. Not a great match, but supposedly the hot springs stopped for a time because of the mining next to it. I didn’t like it as a solid match, but I will come back to that.
Clue 2: And take it in the canyon down
Downie Mine. Up by Central City.
Clue 3: Not far, but too far to walk
Four mile gulch mine. Four miles isn’t far, but it is a decent amount to walk.
Clue 4: From there, it’s no place for the meek
Meeker Mine. Did I really just skip over home of Brown? Yes. However, home of brown in this case could mean the general area (Central City) is the home of Aunt Clara Brown in which a hill is named after her. It formerly had a different name that needed to change. See historical maps. Home of brown could also refer to a second layer that I don’t have unlocked.
Clue 5: There’ll be no paddle up your creek
Reider Mine. Who’s creek. Yours. The reader of the poem. Out of all the clues, I feel that this is the one that is the most sketchy. But it’s a kind of riddle within the riddle.
Clue 6: If you’ve been wise
Druid Mine. A druid is a type of wise Celtic priest by definition.
Clue 7: and found the blaze
Blazing Star Mine or Fireman and Conductors Mine. These two mines are in the same general vicinity, so I will use an X on each of them for my map for two different possibilities.
Clue 8: Look quickly down
Scandia Mine. Pretty straight forward, looking quickly means to scan.
Clue 9: Go in Peace
Pease Mine. Also pretty straightforward.
Some of the other lines in the poem also can be interpreted into mines in the area. This is what I believe Forrest made more difficult in his revisions. He added different words to add in more choices or options in the map.
Before I map this out and show you what it looks like, let me fast-forward you to two searches and 6 months later. I hadn’t gotten my final WWWH yet, and I decided to go up and check the area out. Laugh now. Take the chest and go in peace. It must be around, but not in, the Pease mine, right? After days of searching at 9000+ feet, which for a flatlander who now lives in Texas, I was tired and disappointed. These two searches definitely helped me get a lay of the land and scope things out. It also made me realize I needed to be more precise.
So I took a respite of a couple months to let the disappointment wear off. What did I do wrong? So back to clue #1. WWWH. You will never get the chest without knowing WWWH. In reviewing a list of all the historical mines in the counties, I finally found it. Something that I overlooked the first few months.
Clue 1: Begin it where warm waters halt
Thirty second mine. Water freezes at 32 degrees, could this really be it?
So this is where the magic happens. I did this without looking at every scrapbook. I hadn’t seen a lot of the confirmation bias areas that I mention below. I left Idaho Springs in as a potential second option, but when you map this out, you get this pattern:
Zooming in on the search area:
The red line signifies the main outline of drawing a line from Clue #1 through to Clue #9. When I first drew this, I had never seen Scrapbook 126 or Forrest’s hat, ‘mildew’. When I did see that, I saw some major confirmation bias. Speaking of confirmation bias: here are the references in which Forrest mentions names of mines that are in the Central City, Colorado area.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science – Has a Colorado Mining history permanent exhibit. Also launches tours from the museum of the area.
Santa Fe (it’s the name of a mine too)
Glory (is where you find it) Hole
Sketchy confirmation bias:
3 jars of Cloves – clovis. If you look at a historical topographical map of this area, you will see that the hill is called Quartz Hill. I believe that this is a reference to the 3 quartz clovis points of Fenn’s collection.
Prize Mine- He mentions prize so many times, could he be referring to Prize mine or is it just a coincidence? Probably a coincidence.
Dimensions – He mentions dimensions alot. Many dimensions that he mentions are also dimensions of boring equipment for mines. Coincidence? Maybe.
Forrest never mentions this area in the book. But is definitely a potential pass by spot on the way to Yellowstone from Central Texas. The hole in the hat is about where the richest square mile on earth is. It would have been a good area to explore as a Principal of a school with kids
The two main search areas in focus are the two on the red line on the left. This is the line that runs from the Thirty Second Mine to the Downie Mine and intersects with Blazing Star/Firemans mines and Scandia Mine. These two areas are close to the top of Quartz Hill, but not at the top and about 200 feet or so off the main road, which if dry, you can drive.
Getting there. To get there, you start below the home of brown and drive through the old ghost town of Nevadaville. Not only do you see the old run down buildings (see Google Earth), but you also see the Nevadaville gulch which has signs that the one below: “Impassable during high water”.
Quartz Hill is made up of a mix of private land mine claims, BLM Lands, and USFS lands. Some areas are posted and you could be convicted for trespassing, and some areas are open and you can travel across. I took a lot of time researching who owned what parcels so that I could be very cautious about where I traveled and what property I was on and when. At the end of Nevadaville road is the junction of Roy Smith Rd. This road goes over Quartz Hill and Alps Hill, splitting the two. I parked here and walked the short distance to both spots. There is a small elevation change of a couple hundred feet, and you could easily drive up if you wanted to. There is a horse stable that does tours on this road once or twice a day, but really that is the only traffic that I have seen in my multiple trips to the area.
Spot 1: Blazing Star to Scandia/Thirty Second to Downie
This area is on BLM land, as you are walking up Roy Smith you are in a mix of Aspen and Pine trees. A little way up the road, I came across this:
When I got to the spot where I needed to enter the woods, I saw a series of markers on the ground, approximately 25-50’ apart leading into the woods towards my spot.
My spot just happened to be located about 200’ off of the main road, and looked like this.
I looked around the area with a metal detector and searched in the nooks and crannies, however nothing was found. I wasn’t too keen on this area as this was an old mining area and I felt that it went against Forrest’s “not in a mine” quote, even if technically it wouldn’t have been in a mine. Too close.
Fireman’s Mine to Scandia/ Thirty Second to Downie
This area has a mix of BLM/USFS/Private Land, so you need to be very careful and intentional where you go. When I got to the GPS location of the spot, I started by searching in a 25 foot radius of the GPS location. I then found this:
Looks like an arrow pointing in a direction, right? Pretty neat, if you ask me, even if not by Forrest. This ‘arrow’ pointed to a tree, and on the other side of the tree was this:
It is a marker of a cow (or similar) pelvis. It isn’t wildlife that is native to the area, so it’s definitely something that someone brought to the area and planted. I can also tell you that there is a great deal of decay of the bones so its been there for many years. It is next to a marker that looks like a gravestone. Obviously, it’s been marked with trail marking tape. This area, I extensively searched. I had my shovel with me along with my metal detector. As this is the forest floor, there are years of pine needles covering the ground. Hold the pelvic bone up and you find that it looks like a particular symbol:
Maybe it was here and someone found it? Maybe. Could it be a plant of someone who had the same idea? Possibly. Could it be just a coincidence. Of course.
Spots #3 & #4:
Blazing Star to Scandia/Idaho Falls to Downie
Firemans to Scandia/Idaho Falls to Downie
These two spots weren’t fruitful, except for the views, which were remarkable. They are both relatively close to one another, a little more difficult of a walk to get to, but still accessible for someone in shape in their 70s. No signs of anything, but here are a couple pictures of the remarkable views; they don’t really do it justice.
I am not a statistician, but I do know that it isn’t very likely (not impossible) that all of these spots line up as well as they do. While a couple of the mines may be a stretch to fit the clues, many fit well. I was able to access a mining database with all the historical mines in the Rockies. Through this, I can safely say that there is not another area within the Rockies that this methodology works. At least, none that I found. Does it mean its on the right path? Of course not, there is no way to know that unless I had the chest. And while I didn’t find a chest full of riches, I did find a way to exercise my brain and my legs. My heart is full of love for this area and my mind is full of imagination and wonder of the possibilities of things to come.