Fact or Fiction: Forrest Fenn and his Treasure
For those unfamiliar with the story, an eccentric octogenarian man living in New Mexico by the name of Forrest Fenn has hidden a chest filled with "millions of dollars" worth of treasure in the hopes of encouraging people to go outside and explore nature. He wrote a memoir entitled "Thrill of the Chase" and included with it a poem which gives clues to the location of the treasure and the right to take possession of it to anyone that can find it. The chest was supposedly hidden in 2010 and people have been searching for it ever since. In early 2013 it received increased publicity and Forrest even appeared on the Today show promoting the search and giving out additional clues. The chest has not been found, nor will it ever be found, for the following reasons.
Too Many Contradictions by Forrest Himself
Forrest Fenn has come out and said that although he has not revisited the spot where he placed it 3 years ago he is certain that people have searched within 500 feet of it based on emails he has received. He also says that people have figured out the first two clues and went right past the treasure and didn't know it. What?!?! A football field is 300 feet. He's basically saying that people have been a little over a football field away from it and/or walked right past it and didn't find it. How is that even possible? Anyone that is that accurate in deciphering the clues would probably do more diligence in the area than to walk right by it or not investigate the area. These people are there specifically to find the treasure. Random hikers in the middle of nowhere find dead bodies all the time. You're telling me all these treasure hunters are wandering almost within a football field of the treasure and can't find it? Please.
Then to add insult to injury, he goes on to say that he wants to be remembered in a 100 or even 1,000 years when the treasure is found, so he left his 20,000 word autobiography in the chest (point of interest: this article is 3,000 words which means he summed up his entire life with stunning efficiency). Does he even comprehend how long 100 years is, let alone 1,000? A thousand years ago we were still 500 years away from realizing the Earth wasn't flat and that the earth revolved around the sun! This man honestly believes that in a world populated by 6,000,000,000 people, some of whom have apparently been 500 feet away from his treasure, it is going to take 100 or even 1,000 years to find this thing? It's only been buried or hidden for 3 years! The learning curve of "closeness" has whittled the location down to within 500 feet in only 3 years. The square footage of the Earth itself is 5,502,532,127,000,000 feet and we have narrowed it down by 99.99999999999999%. Man, that last quadrillion of a percent sure must be a doozy. The contradictory statements he is making suggests either it will be found soon, if it exists, or he is making it all up.
It should also be pointed out, for the record, that he has fantasized about having his bones buried near or put into the chest after his demise. Let's just forget for the time being that he is going to have to tell someone where to a.) carry a bag of human remains, b.) bury it alongside priceless valuables, and c.) not take the treasure themselves. We apparently are now living in a world where we are reverse grave robbing, i.e. adding bones to priceless valuables rather than taking priceless valuables from bones. He also expressed dismay that a Google search for his father only resulted in a single entry. This guy really really really wants to be remembered. Let's keep that in mind throughout the rest of this article.
But wait, we can't quite leave the contradictory department just yet. As you will see in the next section the poem and clues are extremely vague in the sense that they can apparently get you almost within a football field but no closer. He has said the clues are difficult enough that it won't get found right away but easy enough so that it is not impossible. So somehow he has crafted a riddle so ingenious that people are walking by it but not finding it and it could remain there for 100's or even 1,000's of years. By that time no one will remember anything about the poem and the person who finds it will have had to stumble upon it because I can guarantee you no one is going to be trying to decipher his poem, let alone even know about its existence, 100 years from now. So that basically means either someone will find it before everyone has forgotten about Forrest Fenn or it will never be found. There is no in-between. I reference the previous point that random hikers find criminal evidence and dead bodies all the time in some of the most remote places on Earth. The planet has become a lot smaller in the past few decades.
The Clues are Ridiculously Vague
For those of you unfamiliar with the poem and clues here you go:
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.
He has since given additional clues, including, the treasure is North of Santa Fe in the Rocky Mountains, it is not in Nevada, it is at least 300 miles west of Toledo, it is above 5,000 feet, and it is not associated with any structure.
Forrest has repeatedly said that you do not need a copy of his memoir to decipher the poem and that you merely need the poem itself. Assuming his statements to be true, let's just put aside the fact that some of the brightest minds on the planet work tirelessly to solve mathematical proofs, codes, and historical mysteries for fun. If they could do it and be rewarded with free money in the neighborhood of millions of dollars they would all be switching careers until the money was found. But we are going to ignore that for now and focus on the clues.
The poem is 24 lines long and Forrest has said that it contains 9 clues, although he has not specifically stated which parts are clues and which aren't. In addition he has said that you do not need a map to solve it and that the clues need to be followed in order, which I found particularly hilarious. So basically you don't need a map, the answer is contained in the 24 lines, they need to be followed in order but no one has found it in 3 years. When you examine the poem it is easy to figure out why.
Although people have analyzed the hell out of this thing the first stanza, IN MY OPINION (please do not comment at the bottom that you have it figured out and I am wrong. If I am so wrong just go get the treasure so we can all praise your genius and get on with our lives), is a throw away stanza. It does not offer any serious concrete clues on where to start although it could affirm your starting location, as we will see shortly. The first real clue, then, is the line "Begin it where warm waters halt." Wow, that's not vague or anything. People have had guesses on this anywhere from the confluence of waters at the continental divide to a toilet. Seriously, a toilet! Because, you know, that warm urine certainly halts when it hits the cool calm waters of your commode. So, basically we have narrowed it down to every toilet, river, glacier, ice pack, tributary, creek, brook, warehouse, farmhouse, outhouse, henhouse, and doghouse (I got that last part from The Fugutive) above 5,000 feet, north of Santa Fe in the Rocky Mountains and not in Nevada. The implications are comical. You might as well say you hid your treasure that is comprised of a needle in a stack of needles the size of China, not including Mongolia.
But let's have some fun with this shall we? Before I realized this was all a hoax I actually racked my brain trying to come up with the answer. Being a highly intelligent individual I was sure I could figure out what the rest of the people couldn't. All I needed to do was use my wits and soon I would be swimming in free gold. So I read a bunch of theories and came up with my own and here it is...
There were a million interpretations for the phrase "home of Brown," including, you guessed it, a toilet! It seems that no matter how civilized our species gets poop will always be on our minds. One interpretation intrigued me and that was Brown trout. Forrest Fenn is a huge fan of the wilderness and a case could be made that he was referring to fish rather than a specific person or family. So I read some articles about Brown trout fishing in New Mexico and I learned that there is a river called Rio Vallecitos which has a bunch of Brown trout in it. It is fed by a creek called Placer Creek, which dries up during the summer near its northern most point. This happens above Hopewell Lake, which is dammed. And oh my God, did you know that Brown University was inspired by a school called Hopewell Academy?!?!
I'm so close to the treasure already I can feel it. What do we have so far? We have a place where warm waters halt, which is the northern part of Placer Creek which dries up in the summer, e.g. halts. Did you also know that placer is a term used to describe gold deposits and that in the 1880's Placer Creek got its name from the 10,000 ounces of placer gold that were found there? That must certainly be referring to "riches new and old." Placer Creek continues past the dam in Hopewell Lake through a canyon, just like the poem: "take it in the canyon down." And this is where the Brown trout are which obviously is the home of Brown! I ignored the part where it said "too far to walk" because to me walking across my living room sometimes is too far. So I threw that line out because obviously it didn't fit into my interpretation.
So where do we go from here? I'm glad you asked. Placer Creek flows South and although it is not filled with rapids or anything crazy it has small waterfalls and drop-offs which obviously make it impossible to canoe or kayak back up, which aligns with the phrase "there'll be no paddle up your creek." And the fact that I'm talking about Placer CREEK, not a river, seems to fit perfectly. So about 2 miles south of Hopewell Lake, Placer Creek merges with Rio Vallecitos and then heads East. I conveniently ignored the next line about heavy loads and water high because you know, this location is almost at 10,000 feet above sea level so the altitude alone satisfies the elevation part. And with respect to the heavy loads I'm sure it just has something to do with poop again. So I'm on to the next line.
It says "If you've been wise and found the blaze." Well, we already know I'm wise because I've made it this for but how do I find a blaze? Typically a blaze is a notch, or series of notches, in trees in order to show a direction or path to follow. And I don't have to use a map according to Forrest so I somehow need to find what he is talking about without using a map. Too bad, I'm using one anyway. I stare at my map and well, what do you know? Look at what I found less than a mile East of my current location...
OMG! It's Burned Mountain. A blaze can be anything and in my mind a blaze is a mountain freaking named after one! So I just need to go to the top of Burned Mountain because the next line is "Look quickly down, your quest to cease." This is where I have to stop obviously. But I know all I need to do is get to the top of Burned Mountain and look down and all my money problems are solved. Let's ignore the fact that there is a very small lake called Turkey Lake near the summit. Surely this couldn't be a joke. I ain't no turkey! I just need to get in my car and drive on over there. But alas, I won't, and here is why...
This is just ONE interpretation. The mental gymnastics I have to use to make this location fit into the poem is absurd. And for every location such as this one there are a million other possibilities that also "fit" the poem. You can interpret it to mean it is near Hebgen Lake near Yellowstone because Forrest spent a ton of time there and loved that place. It could be Two Ocean Pass where Atlantic Creek and Pacific Creek converge. The "warm waters" of the Pacific halt where it meets the cool waters of the Atlantic. It could be near the Molly Brown Museum in Colorado. The home of Brown could just be plain old Colorado because it has the word "color" in the name of the state. Look people, this poem is purposefully vague for the exact reason it exists...
The Treasure's Existence Defeats Its Purpose
The poem exists for two very distinct and specific reasons. The first is that Forrest wants to encourage people to get out of their houses and explore nature, especially children. This is a noble cause and one which I would support and encourage if not for the fact that it is used as a subterfuge for reason number two: Forrest Fenn desperately wants notoriety, recognition, and fame. Think about it rationally (this means all you mindless believers can skip to the comment section now). If his goal is to encourage people to explore and experience nature then the actual existence of the treasure defeats the purpose. How is his goal furthered once it is found? Is he going to bury another treasure and give a new poem? The simple answer is no.
Think about it even further. Are we really to believe that some random guy from New Mexico came up with the most ingenious poem ever conceived that is going to encourage people to explore and hunt for some random treasure for hundreds of years? It is so ingenious in it's composition that it can get people within 500 feet but no further and this will remain the status quo for eons? Really? What is the more plausible answer? The plausible answer is that regardless of whether or not he wants people to explore the great outdoors he wants recognition. Why give out extra clues on national television if, as he has stated, you only need the poem to find it? Why include your autobiography with your treasure if your intentions are truly altruistic. Why say you want your bones buried with it? Why mention you were dismayed that your father only had one Google entry? Who cares?! I'll tell you who cares, Forrest Fenn cares. If this man was truly driven by the desire to encourage people to get out of the house he would write an epic poem describing the locations of thousands of small treasure that actually existed, not make up a story about a huge one whose actual existence negates his entire premise.
Someone has already come up with an altruistic way to encourage people to get outdoors, it's called geocaching and you can even do it on your phone.
And the extra clues are just ridiculous. Saying it does not involve a structure. That absolutely goes along with the "get out of the house" reasoning. Worrying about man-made structures is exactly what he doesn't want people to do. And just one more point. He says that it is at least 300 miles West of Toledo but that it is also in the Rocky Mountains. Whah? If he's talking about Toledo, Washington or Toledo, Oregon then it is either in the Pacific Ocean or in the Cascade Mountains, not the Rockies. If he is talking about Toledo, Ohio why even bother with that clue? The closest mountain in the Rockies is over 1,000 miles West of Toledo. And saying North of Santa Fe when the Rockies do not even extend that far South? The stuff he is coming up with is just nonsense that is used to keep his story current, which all ties into his desire for notoriety.
In conclusion, does the treasure exist? Yes. Is it anywhere that the poem will lead you to? Possibly if it points to his house, a bank, a safe deposit box, or possibly his toilet. Is it out there in the wilderness just waiting for someone to crack the most ingenious poem in the history of mankind? No.
P.S. I am well aware that there are people that are in communication with Forrest via email or know him personally. I know there are plenty of people that believe the treasure is out there somewhere. You are free to believe whatever you want. I have simply given my personal opinion and interpretation. I could absolutely be mistaken and if I am I would be happy to admit it at such time that the treasure is found. I am not suggesting that you or anyone else should believe anything I have discussed, so please avoid the flames in the comment section about how you know it exists or how I am wrong or whatever. Happy hunting... suckers.
A treasure hunter named Paul Norman believed he had solved it and embarked on an epic quest. He wrote his experience down in a poem of his own. It is fun light reading with pictures about his journey. Unfortunately, he did not find the treasure but his story is quite interesting. And the physical challenges he endured for his age are inspiring. You can find his poem here: