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(Editor’s Note: While we are away at a blogging conference, please enjoy this encore post which originally appeared on June 20, 2014.)
At some point during the course of our childhood, every young boy dreams of going on a treasure hunt. We pretend to travel through caves and shipwrecks, mountains and jungles, solving clues and battling evil forces on our way to finding treasure chests stuffed with riches. Countless movies and stories have been made and told around just this premise (Indiana Jones and the Goonies, anybody?). But, as we grow up, we usually let go of these silly boyhood dreams, realizing that there are no hidden treasures to be found. Well, Forrest Fenn has given us all a chance to relive our boyhood fantasies and made a hidden treasure a reality.
For those of you who may not have heard, Forrest Fenn is the eccentric New Mexico art dealer and gajillionaire who decided to hide a treasure chest filled with approximately $2 million worth of rare coins, gold nuggets, gemstones, and jewelry somewhere in the mountains north of Santa Fe. After receiving a cancer diagnosis in 1988, Fenn came up with the idea to hide this bronze chest in the mountains and die along side of it. Mr. Fenn survived the illness and waited until he was about 80 years old to move forward with his plan to hide the treasure.
Our hunt for the Forrest Fenn treasure begins
Upon reading Forrest Fenn’s book The Thrill of the Chase a few years ago, my brother-in-law Brian became interested in the treasure. He told my wife Holly about it, and she interviewed him for a couple of different websites – after which, the two of them became friends. Brian decided that he was going to search for the treasure himself and asked me if I would come with him to New Mexico. Always up for an adventure, I happily obliged, and we started making plans. After weeks of studying poems, books, and maps, we determined our precise search area and hopped a plane to New Mexico.
Hot tip #1: plans change, be flexible
Using some airline points to book our flights, Brian and I made the first leg of our journey on a late flight to Phoenix, AZ. Unfortunately, we were delayed there and got into ABQ about an hour and a half later than planned – at 2:25 A.M. Upon arriving at the rental counter, we got the eerie feeling that we were in a ghost town. Instead of picking up our car and driving an hour to our 5-star hotel room in Santa Fe, we quickly realized that the rental car depot had closed about half an hour before our arrival. Major bummer, dude…What were a couple of major knuckleheads like us supposed to do? Well, we did the only thing we could do. we grabbed a few clothes out of our suitcases, wadded them up like a pillows, and slept on the airport floor for the night. When the rental counter finally opened at 5 A.M., we hurriedly picked a car, loaded our bags, and sped up I-25 toward Santa Fe.
Our first stop in beautiful and artsy Santa Fe was the Inn and Spa at Loretto – the hotel at which we were supposed to stay the evening before. There, thanks to Holly, we were fortunate enough to have breakfast with Forrest Fenn himself. We had a lovely time with Forrest and Dana Ortega, the hotel’s Director of Sales and Marketing. After breakfast, Brian and I did have a chance to wander around the hotel for a few minutes before heading out to spend the morning in Santa Fe. The hotel itself is absolutely gorgeous. Incidentally, they do have a “Treasure Hunting Family Package” specifically for Forrest Fenn treasure hunters. Check it out if you get a chance.
After spending a few hours roaming the streets of Santa Fe, we jumped back on the interstate and headed toward our search area. We decided to call the small town of Española home for the weekend. Located about an hour’s drive from our main search location on the Chama River, Española is a perfect launch pad for searching several areas of northern New Mexico – including the popular skiing village of Taos. The first evening, we made the drive past Abiquiú Reservoir until we reached a small, winding road just off the main highway. From there, we took our rented silver Chevy Cobalt 2,000 feet up the backside of a plateau – on a windy, narrow, dirt road, nonetheless.
Hot tip #2: rent the proper vehicle
Here might be a good time to suggest this hot tip: make sure you choose the proper vehicle for your adventure! No brainer, right? Well, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Even though the roads may look great on Google Maps, those images can be tricky! Many of these mountain roads are not in great shape, and you may want to consider something that has all-wheel drive – or at least something that sits a little higher off of the ground. Our Chevy Cobalt was barely up to the task. After nearly losing our oil pan and getting stuck, we eventually parked the car, busted out the GPS, and wandered into the Santa Fe National Forest to search our first location. Since the evening darkness was fast approaching, we were ill-equipped in the vehicle department, and we were miles from civilization, we decided to bug out and head back to the hotel in Española for the night.
The search is on
The next morning, we jumped back on U.S. 84 and made our way from Española to our main search area north of Abiquiú. The drive there is a visual delight. Surrounded by forest, mountains,and plateaus, each new bend in the road offers more visually appealing scenery. We even stopped along side of the road to tour a decaying adobe church. Art lovers will note that Abiquiú was home to Georgia O’Keefe. This is the area where her famous red-rock oil paintings originated, and it is easy to see why she loved it here so much. If you have time, you can visit her home and studio in Abiquiú, which is now a museum that is open to the public.
Our first destination was the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. To get there, go about 2 miles north of Abiquiú Reservoir on U.S. 84 to NM 154. The road to the monastery is only about 12 miles long, but it is very winding and made of dirt, so it will take you about 45 minutes to get there from the highway. Along the way, be sure to check out the ruins of an ancient adobe house and look for wildlife.
The monastery itself is small and beautiful. Since it is a spiritual place, the monks do ask that you treat the area with a silent reverence. Situated deep in a canyon along a bend in the Chama River, the natural surroundings of the monastery are breathtaking. Be sure to visit the gift shop where you’ll find books, soap, rosaries, and more. We were given permission to hike the face of the mountain behind the monastery. After hiking the rugged terrain for about 500 ft. in altitude, the hill becomes a cliff that is straight up and down. We took in the view and got some great photos.
If you are in the area, treasure hunt or not, you should also check out the visually stunning Ghost Ranch. The red rocks and the visible layers on the mountainsides are absolutely gorgeous. There is also a really cool natural echo-chamber just a few miles north of Ghost Ranch on U.S. 84. I highly recommend that you stop there, do a little yodeling, and take a few pictures.
Thoughts on New Mexico
New Mexico is unlike any other place that I’ve ever been. The unique mix of Mexican, Native American, Contemporary American, and Cowboy cultures is palpable during every interaction with this rugged land and the people who inhabit it. Eating at the local restaurants is certainly a treat. Here, you’ll find all of the traditional Tex-Mex dishes complete with a bottle of honey on every table – the perfect complement to my favorite local cuisine, sopapillas. A sopapilla is a light, flaky, fried pastry. There is a pocket of air in the center, and the bread is typically sprinkled with powdered sugar. With a bit of honey on top, these delightful little quickbreads are simply delish!
Hot tip #3: bring plenty of water
We spent the next two days wandering around the area near the river – including a 5-mile hike in and around some of the various canyons off of the Continental Divide Trail – including Ojitos Canyon and Cañada de la Fuertes . While a 5-mile hike may not seem like a long way, that ain’t no joke, yo! We were far off of the beaten path. Climbing uphill, over rocks, and through unblazed trails is a helluva workout…and a great way to work off some of those sopapillas! Remember, you are in the mountains where the air is thinner, and it is often a lot warmer and drier than many of us are used to. Be sure to bring plenty of water and sun screen so you don’t turn into a mountain lobster.
One of the things that struck me was how vast a seemingly small search area can become. While our area looked pretty contained on the map, once we actually got to the location, it seemed nearly overwhelming. The sheer size of these wide open spaces is mind-boggling. To top it off, the ground is covered with knee high shrubbery, which makes even 500 meters is a ton of ground to cover when you are looking for a small box. Seriously, we could have stepped right on the treasure and never have known it was there.
On the final day of our quest, we abandoned our main search area and headed north toward the Colorado border to see what we could find. We eventually made our way to El Vado Ranch, coming up empty once again. We returned to the hotel late that evening, exhausted and more confused than ever about the treasure hunt clues.
The next morning, we packed up our stuff and headed south toward Albequerque. We were able to spend a few hours in Albuquerque’s “Old Town” before heading to the airport. Although we didn’t come home with any gold, we did come home with a lot of memories and a great outdoor experience. And, maybe that is what Forrest Fenn had in mind all along. While I do believe that the treasure is real, the true reward is in the journey. The treasure hunt is a a great way to use your mind, exercise, and enjoy the company of your family while exploring the great outdoors. Heck, if it wasn’t for this, I never would have gotten out to experience the New Mexico wilderness…and I would have missed out on some of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever seen.
Forrest Fenn’s poem
If you are interested in beginning a treasure hunt of your own, all you have to do is follow the nine clues in this poem penned by Forrest Fenn in his book The Thrill of the Chase. Here is the poem…and happy hunting!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What do you guys think? Is the treasure real? Would you ever go on a treasure hunt yourself? Where do you think Forrest Fenn hid the treasure? Let us know in the comments below!