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treasure quest for Forrest Fenn's gold

Have you heard about "The Thrill of the Chase"? It is a treasure quest for a chest full of gold and precious stones that Mr.Forrest Fenn, an art dealer from Santa Fe, NM, hid somewhere in 2010 in the Rocky Mountains. And 350,000 people were looking for it for the last 8 years. Earlier this month I became a searcher number 350,001.

He encoded the clues in this poem and if you solve them, they will lead you straight to the prize:

I am a poet myself and the fact that the clues were coded in a poem picked my interest. As soon as I came to the conclusion that I may have solved the puzzle. I cannonballed 1,800 miles from my home in Virginia to Santa Fe, NM in 2 days. During the trip, three times I was stopped by law enforcement, who took me for a drug runner, which pumped my thrill level even more. Of course, I fit that profile: rental car, short fuse trip across the US, elusive answers of the trip's purpose... They gave a thorough search of the car and could not understand why I was carrying maps, military fatigues, metal detector, rocks and other suspicious stuff, but none of the drugs, as signaled by their dog :)

This is how I interpreted the clues in the poem:

- Begin it where warm waters halt

Since so many people over analyzed that phrase from so many angles and still failed to get to the treasure, I thought that the answer could be non-conventional. My first shot at it was that the ‘warm waters” were in the air. Like, when the warm clouds (coming from the South) drop their water in the Rockiess – where could it be? The “invisibly hand” must have helped me to end up somewhere not too far North from Santa Fe NM… I was following down along the canyon that almost brought me to Santa Fe… And then, I saw something unusual!

A water processing plant from the air has these huge round vats FULL of WARM WATER! But, I did not recognized the water processing plant for what it was and thought that it was a waste processing plant with the tanks holding another KIND of WARM WATER – namely, a urine. In some parlance, urine is referred as warm water. Besides, “home of Brown” then translates into “home of Poop”. The hint that a child would have better chances at finding the solve would apply here perfectly. I had a good long laugh! No, that was not my solve. When I did further research and correlation with other facts, it was McLure Reservoir that fit the bill for the 1st clue solve!

- And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.

A few miles down the canyon there is a former reservoir called Two Mile Reservoir. It’s official title is “The Nature Conservancy Santa Fe Canyon Preserve”. The stone dam was initially built there in 1881, but at some point it was overflown and filled with solid deposits. In 1994 the dam itself was removed. Library of Congress has a set of historical photos and diagrams that I researched extensively: https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/NM0189/ Since that time, the area turned back into its natural state “the home of BROWN”, hence BROWN is just another name for BEAVER. Two Mile Reservoir is a beaver habitat !

Put in below” would mean to continue at the lowest part of the former reservoir.

- From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.

On the low side of the reservoir, a stream enters the reservoir from the North. Its multiple gullies branch out and disappear in the terrain. From this point on I will describe what I found there on Monday March 12th during my hike. I follow several of the gullies and one of them led me almost to the top of a peak. I imagine that during the rainy season it was overflown with water.

- If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,

Almost before reaching a plateau on the top of that hill, I have noticed a stone outcrop to my right. There was a hidden place – almost like an alcove beneath it. Above it (facing East) there was the best blaze I ever seen. That was the photo at the start of this article. One can see that it is a rather secluded spot. It is sheltered from winds and rains and people built a rock wall that easily converts into a tent. I would think Mr.Fenn had spent some quality time here.

- Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,

There is a small niche in the wall right underneath the blaze. The box is obscured from view (that is why the line starts with BUT) by a mass of decomposed rodent droppings. At high altitudes in right environment (usually within cracks in the rocks) the poop turns into a black tarry substance known as shilajit (another name for it is mumijo). Someone mixed a fair volume of chollo cacti needles to prevent humans or animals from removing the material out of that crevice. I believe the word "scant" in the poem combines "scat" and "scant" to represent little animals poop. Here is a close-up photo with tarry scant removed.

- Just take the chest and go in peace

Unfortunately, the chest was not there. Either a wrong location or… someone removed it already. I brought a metal detector with me and scanned that whole area, in case “look quickly down” could have literally meant to look down at the ground. I flipped a few rocks and looked inside the pile of rocks that are laid out to form a wall. I did not want to destroy the place and left it the way I found. Except all the tarry scant that I pulled out of that niche…

After re-watching a video, that I made of the inside of the niche, I realized that these green cedar needles/leaves did not belong there. See the short video on youTube: https://youtu.be/Q2e6ozILAyY

To get to the back of the niche, I have removed a lot of fill material with a stick and dumped it all on the ground. It was literally stuffed with cholla cacti needles/triple thorns, forming an impenetrable shield for animals and humans. The only logical explanation, that I could come with, is that the niche has been cleared fairly recently (from a week to a couple of months ago). This fill material mixed with fresh cedar leaves has been added on the back to fill a space that was occupied by something else. It has not been blown in here naturally and it did not have time to dry and turn brown yet. After that, the original tarry scant, weaponized with cacti needles, was returned to the front. If it was a fellow searcher, why bother filling the niche back? The cacti needles were not hurting my hands because I had double gloves on – thick scuba diver’s neoprene gloves on top of the cotton ones (many still penetrated through the skin and I had to pull them with my teeth). It would be much easier to throw a couple of rocks on the back, filling the space where the chest was, and then return the tarry scant camouflage back in place… Someone suggested that maybe pack rats could have been responsible for the fresh leaves brought into their nests! I wonder how they avoided the cacti thorns when doing that?

So, this is the end of my story. I did not find the gold at the end of the rainbow, but I had a great time looking for it.

I found an additional hint, during my research online, that could support the conclusion, why Mr.Fenn chose that place to hide his treasure. The spot is located within the confines of Dale Ball Trails outside the National forest and privately owned lands. http://www.sfct.org/trails/dale-ball-trails

This is a quote from the page above:

“As the name would suggest, the trail system is named after Dale Ball, who was instrumental in the conception, design and construction of the trail. The City of Santa Fe, Santa Fe County and private landowners contributed key parcels of land for the trail, while contributions for the construction came from an anonymous donor and the McCune Foundation, along with a large amount of public support.”
This donor contributed $100K that were matched with another $100K from McCune Foundation. I also found that the conditions, that the anonymous donor attached, were – 1) to name the park after Dale Ball and 2) to remain strictly anonymous. I think that person was Mr.Forrest Fenn himself.

There was an episode during my search, that I should mention: On Monday afternoon I was done canvassing "Two Miles" reservoir. I was sitting in the car, parked at the trail head at the entrance to Dale Ball trails, eating a sandwich. Two cars pulled into the parking - one little car like mine and another one a nice shiny black SUV with 4 people inside. They parallel parked and stared at me for 15 -20 seconds and then they just left. I have noticed that SUV had no rear license plate, BTW. I did recognize the woman who was driving and the 2nd woman sitting behind in the rear passenger seat. I recognized their faces from a photo that I saw online. They were Kelly Sparks and Zoe Old - Mr.Fenn's daughters. I do not know how to explain their appearance. But, at that moment I got the feeling that, if I would find the spot, there will be no TC there...


FOTCM Member
Interesting trip! Fenn said that he would come back and get the 'treasure' when the value increased to $10million. So maybe he or his daughters got it themselves.