On the first of July I retired from my job running a community TV station. No more decisions to make about television programming. No more fretting over hosts, sets, time sheets, editing time, graphics, program schedules, financials, technical reports, meetings, equipment repairs, planning, purchases or returning phone calls. By the second of July I had run amuck. I was in a melt down. Nothing to do…
Just 24hrs into my retirement and I was driving Kathy mad. She told me to “get out of the house”. “Go visit Forrest and take in Fennboree. Then go search for the treasure. Enjoy yourself”, she said. “Take all the time you need. No hurry”, she added.
So I did.
Tuesday July 2nd
At 3pm on July 2nd Ezy and I were on the ferry headed to the mainland. 1,600 miles to Forrest’s place from the island. Three days of driving.
I was still jumpity as my brain tried desperately to think of something to worry about, some reason to call a meeting …but there wasn’t anything to do except point Ezy east and south toward Santa Fe.
I had an errand to run first. So instead of heading south and east I headed north and east on the North Cascades Scenic Highway. Last winter Jenny Kile had sent me one of her Forrest Fenn Gold Medallions to hide for folks in the northwest to look for.
Well…actually, I would hide a stone with a code written on it somewhere in the Cascade Mountains. Whoever found that stone could claim the gold medallion that would be safely tucked away in my cabin and not exposed to the elements..
I had marked my stone and I knew where I wanted to hide it, at the entrance to the North Cascades National Park between Marblemount and Newhalem.
The welcome sign is pretty dramatic and I thought it would be a good place to write a poem with clues to the stone’s where-abouts. I left the stone there, documented its location and pointed Ezy east.
By 11pm Ezy and I were camped on the Columbia River near Peshastin, WA.
Wednesday, July 3rd
Not a good night. My mind was working me over about retirement. Hard time sleeping. Restless all night.
At first light I was down the road. Heading toward Pendleton, OR and further south.
What struck me about this particular July was the satisfying lack of forest fires…so far.
For the past five summers it seems like the West has been terrifyingly ablaze by July. The forest’s I’m driving by show the scars. Miles of black leafless columns crowd the landscape in every direction. What were once lovely, leafy forests are now nothing but burned out remnants reminding me of the smoke choked air that was so difficult to breathe. But this year is different. The air is remarkably clear. There are no wildfire detours, fire trucks speeding down the highway or helitack choppers heading to smoke enveloped hills.
I pass by green orchards with a bajillion pears, apples and apricots ripening up. Further south the orchards turn to vineyards and then hop fields interspersed with ranches and grazing black cattle by the tens of thousands. Later in the day Ezy and I climb up into Oregon’s Blue Mountains and our first opportunity to stretch dal’s legs and look for wildflowers.
In the lowlands, by July, spring wildflower season is past but at about 5,000 ft elevation, this far north, it’s still spring and wildflowers are in abundance. I pull off onto a side road near the highway, park, and walk through the orange trunks of fragrant Ponderosa trees scanning for patches of open meadow.
It doesn’t take long before I find my first gold…
This is a delicate Orange Honeysuckle. They are a forest understory vine that crawls upward on taller plants to try and reach the sun. As kids we all knew to pull the filaments out of the flower and suck the sweet nectar drop off the bottom…hence the name Honeysuckle.
Walked around for a half hour admiring the pines and the meadow then jumped back in Ezy and headed further south and east toward Wells, NV.
I’ll spend the night in the brush south of Wells, Where I can’t hear the trucks exploding past at unlimited speed. I still can’t sleep. My mind is trying to understand retirement. Will I starve to death? That’s ridiculous…I’ll get a retirement check and a social security check monthly. I’m fine. So much to worry about, so little time.
Thursday, July 4th
Before first light I am down the road. There isn’t much for me to appreciate in the stretch of Nevada between Wells and Ely on the Great Basin Highway. I guess because I don’t know enough about gray rocks and lizards. The landscape is dry, monotone and tedious. If Ezy was a 4 wheeler I guess I could explore more out in that area but I’ve been stuck twice too many times so now I stay on the hard top through there. I’ll make good time because there is nothing to stop for and the speed limit is faster than I care to drive.
The Pony Express memorial at the Shellbourne Rest Area. It’s part of the Pony Express National Historic Trail. I complain too much. Those guys had it a lot tougher than Ezy and me.
I always stop at the Great Basin National Park. They do a magnificent job of trying to impress me with the 300 miles of monotony I just drove through and the 150 miles of uniform tedium I am about to drive through.
John McPhee is the best science writer in my known universe of science writers. I love the guy. He makes the impossible, conceivable. He interprets science the way Cormac McCarthy interprets the west. Science is an adventure with John at your side.
One of McPhee’s enlightening books is titled “Basin and Range” and it examines the geologic underpinnings in this part of the universe. McPhee does such a good job of science storytelling that when I finished Basin and Range I couldn’t wait to be out here in the Nevada wasteland again.
However, my fervor quickly dissolved once I was again face to face with 7 hours of leaden landscape, 105 degree heat and pitiless unbending road. If I had my way I would sleep the whole way between Jackpot, NV and Delta, UT. I pity the jackrabbits and snakes that somehow survive in this butt-sore topography. Sign me up for an autonomous vehicle lease through Nevada…Maybe Uber next time…
But then Utah comes roaring into view like a John Ford movie in spectacular Vistavision. It’s dramatic, huge, colorful and entertaining. The road is twisty the towns are quaint and the drive becomes spectacular. I head with renewed energy toward Loa and Capital Reef National Park.
Hwy72 gains about 9,000ft of elevation and from my perch I can look down into the washed and tortured canyon lands below. Once again, at 9,000ft, even though I am quite far south, its still lush and springlike up here.
The meadows are dotted with wildflowers from Beggerticks to Sunflowers to Paintbrush to Lupine, Daisies and Larkspur.
From here it’s all downhill to Loa and Fruita.
The problem is that I am always fighting the clock in my head. This time I am trying to get to Santa Fe before Fennboree begins. So I drive right by the park, without stopping…again!!
I have never had enough time to get out and explore Capital Reef. I’ve driven by it a few times on the Bicentennial Highway but never stopped. This September I plan to spend a few walking days at the park on my way to Santa Fe. I’m looking forward to it. If anyone has suggestions for good day hikes in/around the park…I’m all ears.
It’s getting late in the afternoon, 4th of July and I can see town picnics and food fairs in the squares of small burgs as I drive through. Kids are waving sparklers and I pass cars with the stars and stripes flapping from their antennas. Celebrations are everywhere.
I am keenly aware of the existence of leaping deer and elk as I drive between Cortez, Durango and Pagosa Springs at dusk. My eyes are peeled for anything attempting to run out in front of me. I make it all the way to Pagosa Springs before I smack a deer at 45mph. Ezy is crunched. The deer is totaled.
I get out and drag the deer carcass to the side and clean off the broken plastic and glass from Ezy’s front. I briefly consider dressing the deer…but pass since I really don’t want to stick around. Thankfully the radiator is smooshed but not punctured. I pull the right fender away from the wheel. The grill and parking lights are a loss.The hood is a little catywonkers. My right headlight is working but pointed low and inside. I decide to push on to Tesuque.
At Tesugue I spend the night in a cheap casino hotel room so I can shower and shave and smell presentable at Forrest’s. You’re welcome!
Friday, July 5th
The next day I head over To Forrest’s place. We gab a bit about deer tragedies and retirement possibilities. Then we meet up with Geoffrey Gray who has come to interview Forrest for a story he is writing for Alta Journal, a magazine out of California. After the interview Forrest and I hop in Ezy and drive up the hill to see if we can find Cynthia at Hyde Memorial State Park where she is holding an evening get-together the night before Fennboree. We find her campsite but she isn’t around so we raid her pantry and help ourselves to a few crackers and refreshments while we wait…In a short while she drives in and others start arriving for an afternoon gathering of friendship, marshmallows and beer.
Forrest hangs out for awhile admiring Cynthia’s camp and gabbing with searchers that stroll in. He hands out a few clues and talks about the place he hid the chest…(just checking to see if you are reading). He did not hand out any clues…
After a couple hours or so we roll downhill back to Santa Fe where I leave Forrest and head back to the park to see if I can find a place to sleep for the night. As I’m driving around the campground loop Jason Dent signals me in to the site where he and Sacha are camped.
They have a fire going. SeanNM and family are there, as are Illinois Gho$t and a few other souls. I discover that Iron Will has held a place for me at his campsite next door. Thanks Will!
That evening we all walk over to Cynthia’s campsite for her campfire and gathering where the camaraderie is as comforting as home made chicken noodle soup.
I spend all of Saturday at Fennboree. I am given these great rocks by JDiggins…Everybody got a couple…probably priceless gems…We all feel rich!!!…Very Cool!!
Unfortunately now that I posted this photo Kathy will want the rocks…bye, bye rocks…
Sunday morning I get up, say goodbye and point Ezy’s broken front end north for a thousand mile drive to Gallatin County, MT and my search area.
For my pics and story about Fennboree 2019 look HERE
I love this part of the drive. From Santa Fe north on 191 along the great rivers of the west, gold country, dinosaur land, Indian territory and up into rendezvous country is always an adventure. With plenty of fascinating places to stop for history, geology, botany, archeology, paleontology, souvenirs…you name it this region has it, from extraordinary landscapes to fantastic learning opportunities…so much to see and touch and experience…it’s always fun, fun, fun!!!
I arrive at Baker’s Hole on the Madison River a couple days later.
Wednesday July 10th
I wake up pretty early and decide to canvass the area around the full campground. I run into the campground host and we start talking about the hot weather. His accent is familiar but clearly not local. I am stunned to discover he is from Temple,TX. He says that he took classes from Marvin in Junior High and he knows all about Forrest and the chest and he too figures it’s probably stashed up here somewhere. But that’s about all he’ll say about any solution he might be harboring. What a great summer gig for a searcher.
Today was a good day to do some walking around and stretch some tissue that only had the gas pedal and less frequently, the brake pedal to exercise with for the past few days. So I went into the park around my favorite spot on Fountain Flats and checked the location out for wildflowers and wildlife.
To my personal satisfaction…little had changed.
There are a few folks buried in Yellowstone. Mattie is one. She has a headstone, usually decorated with flowers, over on Nez Perce Creek.
You can read about Mattie’s sad death, HERE.
I met up with Mark and Brenda on the Nez Perce. Really nice folks. They were searching further north and east. We talked Forrest and solutions and headed over to the Happy Hour Bar on Hebgen lake for a crab dinner…that was DELICIOUS!
Thursday July 11th
As you know, the solution I’ve been working on for a few years has me begin at Madison Junction, about 17 miles upstream on the river from Bakers Hole.
From there I take it down through the Madison Canyon which is directly below the junction. From there I’ve been going to Baker’s Hole, which is my HOB…There are numerous other elements that fit the clues in the poem but the one element I cannot identify is the Blaze. It’s probably because I am in the entirely wrong place but if nothing else, I am persistent. So I’ve been examining this area, with slight modifications for a few years trying to locate Forrest’s blaze…with no luck, I might add.
This year I decided to see what would happen if I changed my HOB upstream a couple miles to the Beaver Meadows. I think 13-14 miles is still further than I want to walk, so it still works as TFTW from Madison Junction.
Beaver is an Anglicized word from the old High German “bibar”, which means brown.
These days locating the Beaver Meadows is not difficult. Albeit I did not see any signs of beaver.
Just head upstream from Baker’s Hole and when you get into a couple mile long willow brush area that’s hard to travel through…you’re there.
In spite of it’s romantic name…I saw no beaver and it is hardly a meadow. Tromping through the Beaver Meadows is not a pleasant experience. The only trails are game trails. In addition to the 7ft willow brush, it’s a maze of shallow ponds and swampy pools, most of which have leeches. Mosquitos and other bothersome flying insects are a constant nuisance. Additionally the tall willow is a hiding place for elk, moose and bison…which you do not want to annoy or stumble upon. On the day I spent plumbing around in that underbrush it was also hot and muggy.
I decided to stand still for a moment in a dry patch I bumbled into. It wasn’t long before I could feel something biting my legs. I looked at the stump next to me where I had set my camera and all I could see were ants…biting ants!!! I dislike those things and by now I could feel the buggers all through my pants so I moved away from the stump and stripped…shook out all my clothes, redressed and went on my bit and itchy way…You may have noticed that I can’t think of much to recommend Beaver Meadows as a pleasant hike. Needless to say I found very little in that maze of water traps that seemed clue-like or rewarding in any way…but please, be my guest. Just don’t trample me on your way out!
I also explored a bit upstream from The Barns on the Madison. I could see a small building a mile or so upstream and was curious about it.
Turned out to be a river gauging station. But the walk was beautiful and the lodgepole and sage smelled great in the thin mountain air…and I saw this:
A nice bright orange blaze up in that tree…
Didn’t strike me as a Forrest type blaze and after I saw another I figured out that I was on a winter ski trail and those blazes help the first cross-country skiers, after a fresh snowfall, find the trail.
That marked my last day of searching…I had to head home the next morning…take what was left of Ezy’s front end apart and replace everything…
I can drive the 700 miles from Yellowstone to my place on the island in a day if I push. But I didn’t feel like pushing…
I wanted to stay off the freeway. Drive the two lane.
The Clark Fork is a favorite river of mine…
I stopped along the way at a few places to tease the fish…imagine what it was like when Lewis and Clark came this way…
I was walking a gravel bench above the Clark Fork one day and when I kicked a rock I saw something shine blue beneath the rock…
You can see what I saw in front of the toe of my boot. It’s round and blue…
Turns out it was a glass bead…and there were two more under the rocks…
They might be old trading beads. They are a beautiful color. I have an arrow point I found awhile back. I think I’ll have the three beads and the arrowhead turned into a necklace for Kathy. She would like that.
So to review…
I am unemployed and trying to wrap my head around it…I smashed up Ezy but walked away unscathed… I missed out on some good venison…I have swollen ankles from ant bites…I scored two cool rocks at Fennboree… I didn’t find a suitable blaze or any sign of a chest…I found three nice beads that stand a pretty good chance of being old trade beads and I can use them to have a nice necklace made for Kathy…successful trip!!!