This episode of Backpack America is a little different in that I have decided to reveal the location of Forrest Fenn’s Treasure. There’s a lot more to the story, but I figured the location of the treasure would be what interested most people.
I originally came across the story of Forrest Fenn’s Treasure just after I had become homeless in July 2015. There was an article in Outside magazine with his poem, and I ripped that page out and stuffed it in my pack, thinking that if I ever made it out west it would be fun to look for the treasure.
More than a year passed before I even thought about the poem again. Over Christmas 2016, since Forrest Fenn’s poem was still in my pack, I decided to find the exact location of the treasure.
Just in case I ever needed the money.
After a couple of hours deciphering the poem I was sure that I had the location. But it was on the other side of the country at the time, and I still had a couple hundred bucks to my name, so I put it off as a potential future adventure.
It wasn’t until the end of March 2017 that the location of Forrest Fenn’s Treasure started to consume my every waking thought. I was attempting my second Appalachian Trail thru hike, and all day long, every day, I would think about the location and the money and what I would do with it.
I’m ashamed to say that Gold Fever forced me to get off the trail and hitchhike across the country to Wyoming.
Because that’s where the treasure was.
To understand why we’ll have to look at the clues in Forrest Fenn’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.
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 answers 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.
Most people ignore the first stanza of the poem thinking that the clues start with, “Begin it where warm waters halt.” But Forrest wrote it, so let’s give it some respect.
By saying that he has gone in there boldly, where there is a hint of “riches new and old,” he is telling the reader that there is a risk associated with the site of the treasure, but as you will see it isn’t the type of risk that most people imagine.
But let’s get to where most people start, with, “Begin it where warm waters halt”
Warm waters are thermal, and I also like to think that a person who says halt is a police officer, so Thermal Police, Thermopolis.
But I seriously doubt that’s what Forrest Fenn had in mind when he said that warm waters halt. Instead, he probably considered the fact that Thermopolis, Wyoming is named for the Pass of Thermopylae, which you might remember from Greek history, or the movie 300, as the Spartan battle ground, which was a narrow pass leading from Thessaly into Locris.
Thermopolis wasn’t much of a surprise when I was looking for the location of the treasure since I’d suspected that either the begining of the hunt would be on the map released by Forrest Fenn, or there would be some reference to the House of Brown.
I just wasn’t expected to find the beginning of the poem to point to a spot that is named, smack dab in the center of the map he released.
“And take it in the canyon down, Not far, but too far to walk. Put in below the home of Brown.”
This line means to follow U.S. Route 20 south out of town but not as far as Boysen Reservoir.
The manmade lake is formed by Boysen Dam and is stocked with Brown Trout among other varieties of fish, and if you put in below the dam you’ll be on the Wind River heading north, back towards the town of Thermopolis.
But, as a legal disclaimer, boats or floating of any kind in this section of river is strictly prohibited. (Though this is the route described by the poem it is not the route taken by Forrest Fenn to place the treasure. That much is obvious from listening to any of his talks available on YouTube. For instance at Moby Dicken’s Book Shop https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RzrIu3hMec )
Rafting that would be dangerous, so you could say that it’s no place for the meek. But the real clue is in the next line, “The end is ever drawing nigh.” That’s because, as you float downriver you are looking for Johnson Draw. It is one of the canyons off to what will now be your left side, formed by erosion, but since there is no significant source of water there you won’t be able to paddle your way in, except for the brief moment when you pass under the heavy railroad tracks above the entrance.
That would be the “heavy loads.”
The “water high” refers to the overhanging ledge at the back of Johnson Draw, where large amounts of water collect on top of Boysen Peak. This slowly drips off to a natural pool of water under the concave cliff wall.
There, in the curved and protected cliff face, is an owl cave, about 35 feet up.
There is even an ancient ladder there leading to the cave, waiting for you to claim the treasure.
But if all this is true, you might be saying to yourself, then why haven’t I gone to collect the treasure for myself?
I did go to visit Thermopolis to look at Johnson Draw, but the treasure Forest Fenn left behind is on tribal property. The Wind River Indian Reservation to be exact. And I couldn’t help but wonder if that was what Forrest Fenn meant in the poem when he said, “If you are brave and in the wood,” if this wasn’t something intended for the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Native American tribes.
Despite being homeless and broke, I felt no compulsion to deny them of the treasure on their own land. Instead of gold, I simply want to be known as the guy who finally located Forrest Fenn’s Treasure.
Besides, what does a homeless drifter need with a million dollars anyway?
So there you have it, the location of Forrest Fenn’s Treasure.
What happens next is up to you.