SUBMITTED JULY 2015
I’ve been out 3 times in 3 states, twice this year to Wyoming. I link things I probably shouldn’t. F might consider me someone who has over-complicated the approach. You might, too. You might be right. I’ve started looking for reasons to think outside the box, the big picture, and the big picture to me, at the moment, might be a painting.
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This is for a discussion about Where Warm Waters Halt. We’ve all got ideas that didn’t work out or we are willing to share…I think we can give folks just starting out some ideas for the kinds of places that might just be the place Where Warm Waters Halt…or not!
Let the discussion begin…
I am writing this to you in letter form, instead of email, as I believe that letter writing has become an endangered species and I’m doing my part to keep it alive…I also think it is more personal.
First, let me preface the rest of this letter with this statement: I am not “fishing” for clues or leads to the chest…I just wanted to share a few stories with you, if you have the time.
My husband, Jake, and I learned of your treasure story late last spring. We read your poem and both of your books until the ink was embedded into our finger prints. Both Jake and I already read the Journal of a Trapper several times. We conducted more research and settled in on an area near the Madison River and Hebgen Lake to begin our expedition. Neither of us had been there before, so we decided to approach the first trip as a “scouting” effort. We packed up our dogs, Jasper – Border Collie/Red Heeler mix; Hope – Australian Shepard who was a pound rescue and Rowdy – Toy Fox Terrier who was a puppy mill rescue, and headed out. That trip we camped in our wall tent. (Won’t do it in that country again…As we live in a mountainous region of Western Wyoming we should have known better…More on that later.)
The first day we hiked around the Madison River where it makes its deposit into Hebgen Lake. Jake collected a couple of treasures – a Bison skull and some wild Bison hair – he had to be sneaky and move real fast to get the hair. ☺) I have enclosed a sample to share with you.
We spent most of that day fly fishing the Madison, both prior to Hebgen Lake and below the dam. We managed to land a few fish, but the flies lost outnumbered the fish caught. I have heard about a small creature, which lives in trees and bushes, and snatches fly fishermen’s lures just to wrap them around branches out of our reach. It’s called it a Pharnox. (Pronounced Far-Nocks) No one has ever actually seen one, but I have plenty of evidence and experience to prove their existence. I must confess to not being a “good” fly fisherperson, but I sure have a good time doing it.
On our second trip we took our old horse trailer and camped in that. I felt much safer in a tin can than surrounded only by a piece of canvas. We did not go home empty handed. Jake stumbled upon a set of elk ivory from a winter-killed cow elk. Lucky for him. Not so lucky for the cow.
Our third trip was in June. On one particular outing we had several encounters of interest:
We hiked up the Cabin Creek trail and ran across a tree with the initials FF carved into it. Below is a picture. It looks like someone tried to hack it up. We wondered if this might be a tree you marked in your youth, or if someone was just “Fenning” with us. (Sincerely, I’m still not looking for clues. – I just thought you’d like to see these pics and it gave me a chance to utilize my new, made up verb, “Fenning”.)
It’s a little tough to make out on the left pic, but in person you can see the “FF”.
The one on the right just had an “F”.
After a few miles we ran out of trail at the confluence of Cub Creek and Cabin Creek. It appeared that, at some time in the not too distant past, Cub Creek washed out the trail. The water still was running fast and deep and I knew my little terrier, Rowdy, would have difficulty crossing. Jake was determined to see what was on the other side. He left his pack with me. Which by the way contained his bear spray and .45 cal pistol. (You probably see where this is going.) Our Aussie, Hope, crossed over with him while Rowdy and I sat on the bank on the other side of the creek.
Pretty soon Hope came splashing back to me. I glanced up and saw that Jake was upright and mobile in the willows, so I knew she wasn’t channeling her inner Lassie to tell me that “Jake had fallen in a well.” She waited until her arrival at my side to shake off the muddy river water. I stood up and turned around to face the sun, and the trail we had hike to get to this spot, and began brushing off the water. About that time Hope and Rowdy took off barking like their tails were afire. They got about twenty feet ahead of me towards the trail when I called them back. I knew something was amiss when they each flanked me. Hope was three feet ahead of me and five feet to my left. Rowdy stationed himself similarly to my right. They quit barking, hairs on their backs standing straight as soldiers, and eyes fixed toward the trail. I looked up and saw a brown patch of hair. Immediately, my subconscious tried to defuse my panic and told me it was probably just a moose, as we had encountered moose tracks on the way in. Then, I saw a shoulder roll. It was a bear. Since the river was to my back, there would be no fleeing that direction, so my mind tried to convince my eyes that it was just a brown-phased black bear. Nope. It peered around the side of a tree. There was a classic grizzly bear face staring back at me. It then stepped out from behind the trees. Yep. Full grown boar grizzly. Close enough to see its eyelashes and determine his gender.
By this time I had my bear spray in my left hand (safety off) and Jake’s 45 in my right (cock and locked.) Knowing he had no protection on the other side of the river, I began to holler, “Bear! Bear! Grizzly Bear!” Unbeknownst to me, he was yelling, “Where?” (For some reason he could hear my voice over the roar of the river, but I could not hear his. I know there’s a joke in there somewhere about the acoustics of women’s voices over men’s…But I won’t go there.) During this time, the bear continued to stare, unblinking, at the dogs and me. He kept rocking forward on his massive front legs as though he was trying to decide whether or not to come through us. About that time I saw Jake, in the river, out of the corner of my left eye. I yelled, “There’s a grizzly bear over here!” He hollered back, “I know! I see it!” My husband is not a man small in stature. When the bear heard him, he took one look and I guess decided that Jake, added to the equation, was just too much to tackle and left the scene. I maintained my cool until Jake was back at my side…At which time my gun hand began to tremble and I turned into Barney Fife.
We headed back down the trail toward the truck finding tracks where that bear had trailed us the entire way. From one of the trees along the trail we did collect some of his hair. I’ve included a bit for you with this letter.
About half way out, Hope commenced barking again. We said, “Oh no!” (Okay, those are not the exact words we said…) But this time she was barking towards a mountain goat crossing the river. Awesome! I managed to obtain some of the goat’s hair from a bush where it snagged. (Perhaps a Pharnox grabbed that too?) There is a little baggie of his hair for you too.
We live in Wyoming and have long, cold winters with little else to do but shovel snow and conduct more “Fennian” Research. This is Jasper at the task. He is 16 yrs old with bad hips and canine lupus so he does not get to go on our hikes anymore. For Jasper, it’s just “too far to walk.”
P.S. – For fun, I tied a fly with some of the grizzly bear hair. Spoiler alert – trout don’t bite on grizz hair. I’d send you a picture of the fly, but a Pharnox got it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Scott and my flight was this morning at 6 am and we had to get up at 3:30. And yes that sucks. We flew in from Texas n arrived at West Yellowstone at noon. We got our rental car and ate lunch at the Geyser Grill. Then we drove to the Firehole and stopped along the way twice by the Madison, once for 2 male elks on this small island on the Madison, we took pictures. The second time was for bison, which I like to call buffalo. There were probably 4 or 5 adults and a couple babies. We got out and took more pictures. I also found some buffalo hair or fur on several trees and yes, I kept it and then I found a Buffalo backbone disc and yes I kept it too until our last day and then I put it back out in the wood. It’s what I do. Then we turned and went down the Firehole River. We got out at the canyon and checked it out and I took pictures then we went further down the Firehole and saw more buffalo and I took pictures. We stopped at the Grand Prismatic Geyser and took pictures, but we couldn’t see it very good because there was a lot of wind and the temperature was cooler. We saw an osprey and swallows and a bluebird. Beautiful. Then we went to Old Faithful and it was and we filmed it and also took a picture of a little ground squirrel (chipmunk). I also saw a regular squirrel earlier and I took pictures of it too because it was different than our squirrels. After Old Faithful we went back to our hotel at the Pine Shadows Hotel. Scott jumped in the shower and then we went to get some dinner at Pete’s Pizza, delicious. Afterward we walked around the square to see the old buildings then went back to the hotel to get to bed early for a long day the next day.
We ate breakfast at the 3 Bears restaurant then went to the Madison Junction where Scott fished and caught his first brown trout and it was really pretty. I walked down the Firehole from the Junction to see if I could find a place worthy of the Fenn chest but couldn’t. I was also looking for other treasures that I found some of. I saw and took pictures of a squirrel, a ground squirrel and I saw a small brown bird that wouldn’t or couldn’t fly and I was gonna pick him up to give to the ranger but I couldn’t get him. He went around this tree and disappeared. He had gone into this little tunnel made of pine needles so I figured it was his home and left him there. I saw several different pretty flowers. I have also been taking pictures of the painted buffalo in town made of ceramic or cement or something. After the Firehole we went to Nez Perce Creek and went on the best hike we had yet. We saw our own geyser and I saw a rock in it and got it out and kept it. I have also quite a collection of Buffalo’s hair now so I am done collecting it. We saw several places with very old trash, they were old campsites. I found an old glass bottle and kept it. We then went to Old Faithful to eat lunch then to Ojo Caliente and I had my swimsuit on and got in the Firehole and went to where Ojo came out. Scott was fishing so I got out and walked on the meadow trail and came back then down the Firehole towards Madison and back to the parking lot and took off my shoes cause my feet were hurting. Scott came to the car and his feet were hurting too so we decided to go on down to the West Thumb area and stopped at the Continental Divide and took pictures and took pictures of me and the snow that was melting. The Continental Divide was a cool place. Then went around Yellowstone Lake and stopped and took pictures of the Tetons and we saw 2 Bald Eagles and a family of beavers. We also found another geyser and close to it was a sound coming from the ground and I dug up a geyser and set it free. Then we went on to Canyon then Norris then Madison taking pictures all along the way of the elk and bison. The valleys were so beautiful then we finally saw 2 herds of buffalo, which was awesome and one walked right in front of our car. They make a sound when they walk, a grunting snorting sound. We looked for bears and moose but couldn’t find any. When we were between Norris and Madison we saw a pine marten on the side of the road and Scott took the picture but it was blurry. It was so cute. Then we went on and made it back to West Yellowstone by 8 pm and ate dinner at the Canyon Grill Cafe. It was like a 1950s diner. I asked the lady checking us out if bears ever come into town. She said a ranger told her today that a mother bear and her two cubs have been coming into town at night looking for food, poor things. A park ranger at the Madison Junction told us today that there have been a lot of bear sightings all over because they are hungry. I feel really sorry for them.
We headed to Yellowstone Lake after breakfast so Scott could fish. He has caught fish everywhere we have gone but most are small. I filmed a small geyser and then we headed over to Lamar valley to see all of the animals. The Hayden and Lamar valleys are beautiful! We saw our first grizzly bear, but you couldn’t see her very well because she was lying down and in the woods so you couldn’t get too close. Then we moved on. We came across a mother black bear with her 2 cubs. They were adorable! One of the babies climbed a tree and the other one stood on his hind legs while mom was eating and looking for food. We saw beautiful rock formations and waterfalls. We came across Mount Washburn and decided to climb it and after we came down and drove on the other side at the bottom we saw that there was a road to drive up. Then we came across some pronghorns and while we were watching the pronghorns 3 wolves came out of the woods and were walking around. A little further down the road I saw a rainbow against a mountain. Then we saw buffalo crossing the road in front of us.
We decided to go to Mammoth then Gardiner. When we arrived at Mammoth we found out that there had been a bad accident between there and Gardiner and they had the road closed. A car had flipped upside down and fell in the river. There were 4 young elk playing by our car so I filmed them. We decided we would eat lunch to use some time wisely. When we finished lunch the road was opened so we went to Gardiner. We were trying to get to Bear Creek to look for gold where Uncle Jim Brown had found it long ago. We didn’t make it there because we found the side of the hill we parked on filled with beautiful quartz and crystals and people had done a lot of work on cutting open huge boulders and there were parts with crystals all over the ground. After rock collecting we headed to the Tom Miner Creek and campground to go to the petrified wood place. It was a long way on a bad road. We arrived and went out to explore. According to the sign the petrified wood was up and over a mountain. I wanted to see the caves so I pushed on. We were so high up and the trail got narrower and narrower and I got more afraid and more afraid till I told Scott I couldn’t continue. He went on ahead while I waited on the side of the mountain. He looked in the caves that were more like indentions so we went back down. When we were low enough, I walked the creek bed and found a huge piece of banded agate. We then went back to the hotel and ate dinner and went to bed.
We headed to Gardiner again after breakfast to get to get to the place that Scott and I thought the Fenn Chest was located. We crossed over Yellowstone River at Corwin Springs and headed down Old Yellowstone Trail, which was really cool. We came to a trail by Yankee Jim Canyon and went up it and it happened to be where Yankee Jim’s tollbooth was. We explored it extensively for 4 hours. We found ice in a cave with icicles. It was the coolest thing ever! We thought that this might be the place where the treasure was. We still think it might be. We went and ate a very late dinner and I wanted to go to my other special place to look, but Scott wanted to fish the Gibbon river and it was getting late so I didn’t get to check my spot which is very disappointing. On our way back after fishing we saw another grizzly walking near the road and stopped to get pictures. Scott fished the Gibbon briefly while I walked around and explored.
We slept later today because we knew that we would be leaving today and we couldn’t go too far. We packed our bags and got ready for the day and left to eat breakfast and checked out of our hotel. There is a place called Ernie’s that became our breakfast place. Doc and Donna own it. After breakfast we walked around town. We visited the old railroad depot (now the museum), the place where the train riders ate, and different areas. The 3 Bears Hotel was the first one built and it was right across the street from the depot. It had 3 different owners I believe and burned 3 times. It now has sprinklers. We then went to get a few souvenirs. Afterward, we went to Hebgen Lake Dam, just downstream from it, but before you get to the Ghost Village Rd. Scott fished and caught a rainbow trout while I looked at rocks and in front of us was a high cliff and along the cliff with the Madison River between us were 9 white Mountain Goats including 2 babies. They were adorable! I was hoping that they would come down to the river to get some water, but they had some patches of snow up there still that they could use for water so I was doubtful that they would come. I took pictures, but they were so far up the pictures didn’t come out that well. A little further down the river there were 2 male mountain goats. After an hour or so we had to leave to get back, get some lunch, and get to the airport in West Yellowstone to return the car and get on the plane. Our 5-year-old grandson was sad that we didn’t find the treasure, but when he sees his presents, he’ll feel a little better about it and we will tell him all of the adventures that we had. We got him 2 bear t-shirts, bear feet slippers, and a coon skin cap (not real fur). There’s so much to see and do around Yellowstone that you will definitely need more than a week to do and see it all. We never did see a moose, but there’s always next time.
Late February I figured out what seemed to be the perfect interpretation of the poem. The solve aligns nicely with the clues in a rather straightforward way and led me to a Yellowstone waterfall. No messing with the poem, no hidden numbers and no cryptic hidden codes. I hope you will enjoy reading my interpretation and search story.
Begin it by Yellowstone lake. The water from numerous hot springs, some along the beach, some submerged, halt here. I even got confirmation from a nine year old that warm waters halt here. Then take it in the Grand Canyon down. It is possible to walk into the Grand Canyon to the Sevenmile Hole. It might be possible to crawl, tumble, wriggle or abseil further down the canyon, but you certainly cannot walk due to the steep and often unstable canyon sides. A little downstream from the Sevenmile Hole is the confluence of Glade Creek and the Yellowstone River. The Authors of the book “The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and Their Discovery” calls the side canyon containing Glade Creek for Valhalla. Valhalla is a giant hall which is the home of the Norse god Odin. This Norse god was referred to by over 200 names, one of which were Bruní, which means Brown. Most of Odin’s 200 names would point searchers in the direction of Valhalla after a quick google search. Brown, however, would be difficult, but not impossible, to associate with this place. A man with an alligator named Beowulf could certainly use North European mythology at other instances as well. So put in below Valhalla, the home of Brown.
In Norse mythology, the bravest warriors would be selected by female figures called valkyries and taken to Valhalla after falling in combat. This was the only way for humans to get there. Valhalla is no place for the meek.
The end is ever drawing nigh, so turn left and head up along Glade Creek into Valhalla. The first feature to be met along the creek is the Realms of the Dead Falls. This gives the statement about the end drawing nigh a second, confidence building meaning. As we move through Valhalla, Glade Creek splits into several Forks, some of them unmapped. The poem tells us that there are heavy loads and water high up our creek. Heavier loads than those of a citadel are rarely found, with respect to both walls and ammunition. The Citadel of Asgard Falls combines these heavy loads with water high. According to the aforementioned book, this world class waterfall was first documented in the late nineties. In my hypothesis, a Texan fighter pilot might have discovered it earlier…
The introduction to the poem says it will lead us to the end of Forrest’s rainbow. Again according to Norse mythology, the rainbow ends in Asgard. I laughed when this last piece of the puzzle fell in to place. I also laughed when I parked by the Glacial Boulder/Inspiration Point to walk alone in there.
It’s a 5.5 mile hike from the trailhead to the Citadel of Asgard Falls. Most of it is along the Washburn Spur Trail, but the last half mile is off-trail. Bringing a map, compass, GPS and a sandwich was obvious. Accidentally there was also a flashlight in my backpack. It had been there since last time I went on a multi-day hike and the batteries were flat, but I kept it in the backpack as an amulet. After all, Forrest told us to bring one. I also packed some warm clothes and a rain jacket – although the sun was shining – and a can of bear spray was put in a holster attached to my belt. I’d love to see a bear on the hike, but I wouldn’t like to meet one.
Comfortable temperatures and partially clouded skies made the first part of the hike a pleasant experience. But as I approached the Washburn Hot Springs a drizzle of rain made its appearance, forcing me to put on the rain jacket. This evolved into violent showers of sleet and snow when I crossed the Washburn Meadows. “Your effort will
be worth the cold”, I said to myself as ice cold water soaked my feet, immediately laughing at this treasure hunt cliché. I guess any treasure hunter with the slightest feeling of something not warm gets exactly the same thought.
After leaving the Washburn spur trail I followed a narrow meadow leading to a small waterfall called the Fall of the Valkyries. The meadow was welcome, because it provided an easy walk to this waterfall which I wanted to see. I also liked the symbolism in going there before I proceeded to Valhalla. The valkyries should take me there. This turned out to be a good route choice because I could follow some animal trails from here towards and along the brink of the Valhalla side canyon.
The valkyries used flying horses to bring the brave warriors to their afterlife in Valhalla. One of the things I’ve learned after following blogs and discussion forums is that “in the wood” is old western slang for being in the saddle. “If you are brave and in the wood”, yep, another strong confirmation of my solve. This must be it!
To explain how confidence in my solve grew I’d also like to mention the quote from the bible stating that the meek shall inherit the earth. After putting in below the home of Brown, the poem leads you past the Realms of the Dead and through Asgard (The hall Valhalla is situated in the world Asgard). These are two of the nine worlds found in Norse mythology, but neither of the two are earthly worlds, and thus no place for the meek.
The first glimpse of the Citadel of Asgard falls was a creek abruptly disappearing as the water threw itself over the brink of the canyon. Moving over to the brink you get an astonishing view over the Grand Canyon at its widest point. The bottom of the waterfall can’t be seen from the brink, you only see the water elegantly dancing through the air and hear the roaring sound when it hits the rocks below. It’s a marvel
gaze absolutely worth a detour for hikers walking the Washburn Spur Trail.
Since the chase potentially can last for hundreds of years, the blaze better be something lasting that can withstand the test of time. My guess was some sort of symbol carved into a rock. Not “FF”, that would be too obvious and people familiar with the chase could stumble upon it. Something more neutral would be more likely. All rocks in the vicinity of the falls where quickly examined, but there was no blaze
to be found. So I started checking all the trees surrounding the falls. Nothing resembled a blaze.
How could this not be Forrest Fenn’s secret where? Desperation started to fill my mind. What would be a better place to rest eternally for a brave fighter pilot than in Valhalla, next to a beautiful waterfall in the heart of his beloved Yellowstone that he discovered before any other man and kept a secret? How could the treasure not be in this spot where the similarities to the waterfall in “My war for me” can be seen so clearly? What about the fact that this spot is exactly west (270 degrees) of Toledo, Ontario? The chest had to be here. I just couldn’t find the blaze. The searching went on for more than an hour. A couple of logs were pulled carefully over and put back in place. The small pools in the creek were searched. Nothing to be found.
Finding yourself a two hour hike into the wilderness with soaked legs and feet, freezing your butt of, desperately looking for some treasure hidden by an old art dealer is something I warmly recommend. Provided you have a desire to feel stupid. Reluctantly I had to realize that there was no blaze to be found around the waterfall. The weather improved and I got a nice hike back to the trailhead, but the disappointment was a heavy load to carry.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find a better solve, so the chase is probably over for my part. Despite the disappointment it has been fun and educational. On my trip to Yellowstone I saw 14 bears and 3 wolves. That’s something I will never forget. After returning home I realize that I have some very nice photos of Citadel of Asgard Falls. This truly is a special place. I will probably publish one or two of them on Google Earth. Maybe more people will visit this astounding waterfall if they are aware of its existence. The pictures also remind me of the uprooted trees by the creek that had recently been tipped over by the wind. I wasn’t able to search under them, because there were too much debris and the logs were way too heavy to move. Now I can’t help wondering if the blaze is below those trees. It probably isn’t, but if someone else wants to go there and look for the blaze, let me know. I might have a few pictures to share with you. Not many have been to the Citadel of Asgard Falls and I can safely recommend this hike to anyone who wants to wants to escape the crowds and explore Yellowstone off the beaten path.
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This is for a discussion about Where Warm Waters Halt. We’ve all got ideas that didn’t work out or we are willing to share…I think we can give folks just starting out some ideas for the kinds of places that might just be the place Where Warm Waters Halt…or not!
Let the discussion begin…
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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…