This post will vary from our usual travel blogs. In addition to traveling the world we have been active in the search for Forrest Fenn’s Treasure Chest. The chest has now been found, but unfortunately, it wasn’t found by us. We believe that we had the correct solution, but due to the border closure, we were unable to make our final Boots on the Ground search. This post will tell our story, detailing our solution. We don’t expect our regular readers to read the post.
We are deeply saddened by the death of Forrest Fenn. He passed on Sept 7, 2020 at 90 years of age. Our heart felt condolences to his family.
Forrest created one of the best treasure hunts of our lifetime. We were a part of the thousands hunting for his treasure for over 3 years. Here is our story.
Our hearts sank on the 6th of June, 2020, after a routine check of one of the online blog sites dedicated to Forrest Fenn’s treasure hunt. We read Forrest’s announcement that his treasure chest has been found.
We first heard of the treasure four year ago. In August 2016 we watched an episode of Josh Gates’ show, Expedition Unknown. Josh told the story of a bronze chest that was filled with gold and jewels and hidden somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. A poem included in Mr. Fenn’s book, The Thrill of the Chase, carried the clues to find the treasure. It seemed like we were made for such an adventure.
Without having the book, we found the poem on-line and started our four-year quest. After spending about 2 weeks working on Mr. Fenn’s poem, Richard came up with a rough solution. We already had plans that summer to go to Yosemite to celebrate Maggie’s birthday with some rock climbing. After a prolonged discussion Maggie caved and agreed to take the 1000 mile detour to check Richard’s solution. Looking back, this first solution was very basic and somewhat simplistic.
The first stanza of Forrest’s poem:
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.
To solve the poem, our idea was to use Google Earth to find secluded areas in US National Forests. We began in Santa Fe and moved progressively north. The first two National Forests that drew our attention were Santa Fe National Forest and Carson National Forest. We couldn’t find a large enough, secluded area with access to back-country roads in Santa Fe National Forest. Carson National Forest looked more promising though. We were struck by an observation that New Mexico State Road 111 (NM111), cuts straight through Carson National Forest. During our study of the poem, we noticed the first stanza of has three ones: I, gone, alone. This matches NM111. As well we interpreted the phrase ‘riches new and old’ to be Old and New Mexico, although this is a description and not a clue.
The second stanza of Forrest’s poem:
Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.
We were flabbergasted after we noticed that we could match ‘canyon down’ from stanza two with our location. A small settlement at the end of NM111 is called Cañon Plaza. Plaza can also mean downs or greens, therefore ‘canyon down’ fits.
The line ‘where warm waters halt’ refers to the town of La Madera (wood in Spanish). We interpreted ‘where warm waters halt’ to read ‘where warm waters alt’. Since La Madera is the place where Rio Tusas and Rio Vallocitos merge to create Rio Ojo Caliente, it is a place where warm waters alternate (alt). Our solution was starting to look good.
After Cañon Plaza, NM111 ends as a paved road and continues as two gravel roads through the National Forest. One is Forest Road 42 (FR42). If you take the words from stanza two, ‘far to’ as homonyms, you get 42, which we believe is FR42. It gets even better! Above Cañon Plaza is Cañada del Oso (Canyon of a Brown Bear) or the ‘home of Brown’.
FR42 begins right below Cañada del Oso, so this is where you ‘Put in below the home of Brown“.
The third stanza of Forrest’s poem:
From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is drawing ever nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.
Once you get on FR42 it starts climbing switchbacks, gaining quite a bit of elevation.
It made sense that ‘it’s no place for the meek’ could mean ‘it’s snow place for the meek’. During winter this altitude gets a lot of snow. But this was more of a description than a clue.
Our solution past this point on our first trip was too simplistic. We ended up in an area that was too easy to access and realized our solution needed work. We felt it was a successful first trip though as it gave us a better understanding of the area.
After arriving home from Yosemite and browsing through some of the treasure hunt websites, we found out that a few people had already solved the first couple of clues and had driven FR42. We traced the person with the first posted solution to the first two clues, to a blogger on Reddit (it appears that he never went BOTG). After solving the first two clues his solution went astray. He considered Burnt Mountain as the blaze. Later, other people followed this solution.
We decided that to be successful, we needed Forrest’s book, The Thrill of the Chase. After reading the book, we returned to working on our solution.
We continued to follow the solution as explained above on FR42. Eventually FR42 crosses Rio Tusas after which it terminates at highway NM64. We believe ‘The end is drawing ever nigh’ means that FR42 ends. Forrest provided great confirmation of FR42 in one of his vignettes. Kiowa Mountain is featured in Anabella’s Hat Vignette. The mountain is located on the right side of FR42 when driving toward NM64 road.
We reached the end of ‘too far to walk’, so now we got out of the car and walked along the banks of Rio Tusas. ‘There’ll be no paddle up your creek’ tells us the creek is too shallow to paddle on and that we must walk down stream not up. Also, according to our solution, Forrest was having fun telling us ‘up your’s’ or ‘tus ass’ in Spanish, thus naming the creek. We also believe that the Asphalt Art Vignette points to Tusas creek.
The last line ‘heavy loads and water high’ is a description of the area where only trucks can drive. There are also water tanks high up on the surrounding plateaus.
The fourth stanza of the poem:
If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.
The first line ‘If you’ve been wise and found the blaze’ applies to Rio Tusas. In one section, Rio Tusas flows exactly from North to South. This creates a geographic feature that you can call ‘wise’. Therefore ‘wise’ is the line where ‘west is east’. Basically, one side of the creek is west, the other side is east and the middle is wise. So, if you are wise you will follow the creek where ‘west is east’ and eventually you will find the blaze. That is exactly what we did. On Google Earth there is a perfect demarcation feature on the ridge above this wise-line section of Rio Tusas. It is a 90° rock feature that consists of boulders in the shape of trail markers or diamonds. (see. 36°36’15.52″N, 106° 4’27.33″W). We had found the blaze!
Standing on the blaze, we are told to ‘Look quickly down, your quest to cease’. We looked down to see ‘tarry scant with marvel gaze‘. Below and to the right of the blaze, are two boulders that look like a small man (scant) with tarry butt and a large man with smile (marvel gaze). As a matter of fact, you can see them clearly on Google Earth. Scrapbook 82 (Marvel Comics – Submariner with Captain America) confirms this clue.
East of these two men, is a partially buried rock that looks exactly like a treasure chest. This is the chest from ‘Just take the chest and go in peace’. Since piece is a homonym of ‘peace’, this clue refers to a piece of music. This phrase therefore tells us to walk from the rock-chest down to the Tusas River following the rhythm of music.
The fifth stanza of the poem:
So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answer I already know
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.
Up to here the poem has been descriptive. This stanza is different as it defines and sets some of the parameters for the rest of the poem. Remember, Forrest ends the previous stanza telling you to proceed further in the rhythm of music. We believe ‘So why is it that I must go’ means that once you arrive at the wise line (wise is a homonym of ‘why is‘), follow it until you reach the note ‘so’ (as in: do, re, me, fa, so…). ‘So’ is the most important word in the poem and is also the word that is ‘key’!
After you walk to the note ‘so’, the next line tells you to ‘leave my trove for all to seek?’ (36°36’23.69″N, 106° 4’16.37″W) . Trough (creek) is a homonym of ‘trove’ and ‘for all to seek’ becomes 4, 4, 2 seconds. ‘For all’ equals two 4s; ‘to’ is a homonym for two; and ‘seek’ is a homonym for second, which we determined was arcsecond. An arcsecond is a unit of angular measurement used in navigation. On Earth an arcsecond translates to about 101 feet (or 31 m).
Now the poem gets a bit complicated. You have three numbers (4, 4, 2) and don’t know how to apply to them. After number of tries we came up with the following assignments. There must be 2 arcseconds between notes on his music staff. This gives a total of 8 arcseconds from the notes ‘do’ to ‘so’. The 3 numbers (4, 4, 2) must also be arranged in a certain way. After BOTG experiments we came up with 4 and 42. Therefore, you are to leave the trough (creek) for 4×42=168 arcseconds.
The last line in this stanza is especially important. ‘I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak’ tells you two things. Firstly, you must tie (‘tired’) everything to the ‘do’ (‘done’) note. Secondly, after you leave the trough (creek) from ‘so’ you must follow the staff and go in the direction of 1 am (‘I’m’) from west to east (‘weak’). Therefore, the staff angle is 120° true. The 1 am line begins at the ‘so’ note on the staff line. This is very important as it will be used throughout the rest of the poem.
We found a physical mark left by Forrest exactly on the ‘do’ note on the edge of Rio Tusas. It was a wooden cross (36°36’15.70″N, 106° 4’16.37″W). The arms of the cross point in the direction of the ‘wise’ line. This cross is referenced in the Reliquary Vignette.
The last stanza of the poem:
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.
‘So hear me all and listen good’ says that once you’ve traveled 168 arcseconds from the trough, staying on the ‘so’ line, you need to go to the next note. We determined the next note to be the lower octave ‘me’ (‘me all’ is two ‘me’ notes) minus or less 10 (less 10 is a homonym of ‘listen’). This operation will bring you to the note ‘do’.
‘Your effort will be worth the cold’ was interpreted as your ‘F forte note will be orth (orthogonal or perpendicular) to the ‘col’ (pass). There is a col in the depression between two hills at 36°34’52.31″N, 106° 1’20.11″W. The line from the ‘do’ note to the F note crosses the F staff line at 36°34’23.13″N, 106° 0’31.52″W. We found another marking that we believe was left by Forrest. A vertical ‘X’ made from two logs inside a rock crack was placed exactly at that location. The col is described in the Olmec Jadeite Mask Vignette (jadeite feels colder..). Notice the resemblance of Olmec Jadeite mask to the Google Earth image below (at the So-to-MeMe mark). We also found a cairn on the line between ‘do’ and ‘X’ that we believe was a marker left by Forrest.
The next line is the 9th clue (at least that’s what we think) and it is the most difficult clue.
Imagine this, with just 8 words ‘If you are brave and in the wood’, Forrest takes you on crazy journey for more than 10 miles!! This solution required multiple BOTG trips.
We are certain that this line in the poem pertains to sheet music from the original Peter Pan musical. The songs used were sung by 4 characters in the old play: the three ‘braves’ (often called Indians) and Tiger Lily (she’s also called ‘brave’). The three male braves are named Pine, Oak and Shrub which are all wood!
We figured out that the notes from the sheet music move you down the staff at 210° true. This angle is perpendicular to the staff lines which are aligned at 120°. This is not all though. When you play music you not only move down the staff, but you also move to the right. On the surface it might seem simple, but if you dig deep down, the method has a significant number of different options. Do you count only the singing notes or do you also count the ghost notes? How do you count double notes? How do you account for the tempo? On top of it, the distance involved is enormous. From the ‘X’ these songs take you to a spot over 10 miles away.
In total we had 4 different solutions for this clue using a different combination of notes and bars. Each solution took us further and further away from Forrest’s ‘X’ (the end of the clue 8). But, on each trip we learned something new about how Forrest counted the notes from the songs. In the end, we determined that for downward movement he only counted notes that change in range. Lateral movement was determined by the number of musical bars in the songs and this changes with the tempo. In our two BOTGs for this clue, we found many marks such as cairns that we believe were left by Forrest. Some of the cairns had a wooden post in the centre like the bell pole from SB172. These cairns form two lines that intersect on the highest point, just above where the treasure was hidden.
We weren’t able to search for our last two solutions. We are quite sure that we just needed one more BOTG to get the chest but unfortunately Covid-19 didn’t allow us to cross the Canada/US border to make this trip. The final solutions took us back to La Madera across from Rio Vallecitos at: (36°26’14.95″N, 106° 4’56.19″W) and 36°26’12.65″N, 106° 4’51.20″W). This is 528 arcseconds across the staff and between 59.5 and 66.25 arcseconds along the staff from the X. We think SB166, Grave Yard Logic, matches the area where the treasure chest was hidden. Notice the arrow feature on Google Earth and compare it with SB166.
You see now why Forrest told everyone that you won’t know if you have correct solution until you find the treasure. The last clue also explains why the poem hasn’t been solved for such a long time!
We also want to add a bit of the history of our search. As we mentioned, we started our search in 2016. We had 8 BOTG throughout 2016 and 2017. In October 2017 we left for 2 year long, pre-planned trip to SE Asia. At the time we had already found Forrest’s ‘X’ (end of clue 8). We were hoping it would take one more trip to finish it off, not realizing the difficulty of the last clue.
We returned from our SE Asia trip at the end of May 2019 and few weeks later armed with a new solution, went to Carson National Forrest. Obviously, we were still far away from the treasure location and were just starting to realize how difficult this last clue was. After this failure we thought we would need at least 2 more trips to New Mexico. Renovation of our new home slowed us down and we managed to take only one trip in October 2019. The trip, although successful in finding additional markings left by Forrest, did not secure the chest. In November 2019 we left for South America where we stayed until mid February. The plan was to finalize the chase in April, but due to Covid-19 restrictions we couldn’t even cross the border into the US.
Final observations and comments.
The vignettes on HOD illustrate scenes from the whole route beginning and ending in La Madera. This matches the ancient Egyptian Vignettes describing passage to the underground. Almost all of Forrest’s SBs have hints. We managed to decode about 75% of them.
We do not believe that Forrest walked this entire route, to hide the chest. The hiding spot was within walking distance of NM111.
Forrest elegantly quoted T.S. Elliot’s poem:
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T.S. Elliot
The treasure hunt begins in La Madera and the hunter returns to La Madera, seeing it in a completely different light.
To conclude, thank you very much Forrest for the chase. It has been a blast!
To the finder, congratulations.
We don’t have plans to make a final trip to complete the last section of the 9th clue (we feel sick thinking about 25 hours of driving to NM), so feel free to check out the coordinates if you’re in the vicinity and let us know what you find.
On July 22, 2020 Forrest announced that the treasure chest, hidden for 10 years, was found in Wyoming. Obviously, our 9th clue does not lead to Wyoming, but we are still confident that our solution, as described above, is correct and all marks left on the trail are from Forrest. But, we do not have a full understanding of how the 9th clue leads all the way to Wyoming. There are a few possibilities that we would like to muse over. They involve how to apply the above solution to lead to Wyoming.
Before we talk about it though, let us touch up on the way we counted poem’s clues. To give you an example; if you have three geographical locations called A, B and C, there are two ways to give a direction for a trip from A to C via B. One way is to describe each of the geographical locations and let the traveller follow the locations. The other option is to describe each leg of the trip. In this case describe A to B leg and then the B to C leg. As you can see in the first case you need 3 clues to describe the journey and in the second case you need only 2 clues for the whole journey.
In our case when solving the Fenn’s poem we used the first method, so our 9th clue ends with ‘If you are brave and in the wood’ line. If Forrest was using the second method of counting poem’s clues then the 9th clue would have to be ‘I give you title to the gold’. This final 9th clue could be in the form of some kind of inscription, e.g. an engraved rock at the final destination. The searcher would still need to solve the whole poem and receive title to the gold, but the gold would be located in Wyoming. This makes sense because of the tax and asset protection laws difference between New Mexico and Wyoming, i.e. there are no state taxes and 1,000 year asset protection laws in Wyoming.
Possible solutions pointing to Wyoming
The obvious solution leading to Wyoming would be that at the final New Mexico destination, Forrest left hidden GPS coordinates of where in Wyoming the chest is hidden. The last line of the poem, ‘I give you title to the gold’ would give the finder GPS coordinates anywhere in Wyoming to claim the treasure chest. This approach though, does not seem like Forrest’s way of ending the poem and the treasure journey.
There is another possible solution that we favour. Remember the fifth stanza’s first line, ‘So why is it that I must go’? Our sole interpretation of this stanza is that you must go to the note ‘so’ on the ‘wise’ line, which is 8 arc seconds from ‘do’ note. What if this line had a double meaning? The first meaning was, as we interpreted it above. But, what if the second meaning is pointing to Wyoming? ‘Why’ is a homonym of ‘WY’, which is the state name abbreviation for Wyoming. If this is the case then the second meaning would required the searcher to apply an offset along the ‘wise’ line at the note ‘so’ right across Wyoming border? The ‘wise’ line runs straight from the South to the North, along 106° 4’16.37″W meridian and crosses Colorado/Wyoming in a precise location on the 41st parallel. The Wyoming/Colorado border running along 41st parallel, could act like a mirror of a journey that proceeds in Carson National Forrest.
If this solution is correct, then you finish your search in New Mexico and then by taking a mirror image (using Colorado/Wyoming border with the offset at Wyoming ‘so’ note you have the place where the chest was hidden.
The problem with the second solution is that nowhere in the poem can we find an indication to apply this mirror solution. For this approach to be correct, the final destination in New Mexico must have a clue telling the searcher to apply this mirror solution.
Trying to apply a straight solution (without a mirror image), with the offset at the ‘so’ note across Wyoming border would not work as the searcher would end up somewhere in Colorado.
We’ve noticed an interesting coincidence, or is it a coincidence? There are two wooden posts; about 5 feet tall and 6 inches in diameter, placed in cairns on the presumed 9th clue (see pictures titled Wooden Post 1 and 2 above). The posts are placed at GPS coordinates: 36°30’20.70″N, 106° 3’0.70″W and 36°27’29.60″N, 106° 3’16.00″W. When you draw a line between them and extend it to Wyoming, the line goes straight through the center of Laramie, Wyoming. Medicine Bow National Forest is headquartered in Laramie. Going even further, if a mirror image was applied to our New Mexico solution, the treasure chest would be located in Medicine Bow National Forest.
A wooden log with a sharp end, see picture titled ‘Wooden log with a sharp end’ was found behind a rocky outcrop that we called ‘Horns of Chaos’. The wooden log (GPS: 36°27’30.40″N, 106° 3’15.20″W) rests against a leaning stone and its bottom sits in a rock cairn. The sharp end of the log points a few degrees toward the west, as compared with the line between Post 1 and Post 2. Does it point toward Wyoming’s location where the chest was hidden? Unfortunately we didn’t take the bearings of its direction.
One of the last scrapbooks that Forrest wrote SB243, was the subject of the book and movie ‘A River runs Through it’. Did Forrest have Laramie River on his mind when writing this scrapbook?