How I found out about the treasure was an article in Outside Magazine that had been delivered to an apartment in which I no longer lived. It was a slow day at the restaurant where I had given my notice, planning to live out of my backpack for the foreseeable future, hiking the Appalachian Trail.
The poem, and the idea of a treasure hunt, captured my imagination. For whatever reason I felt like I would be the one to find the treasure. That it was waiting for me. Something that I am sure a lot of treasure hunters have felt.
But I didn’t need treasure. Not because I was rich, far from it, I had been homeless for sometime and was counting the days until I was free from work. I was looking forward to a long-distance hike that would hopefully take up a large chunk of the next year. I was hiker trash to the core. I hiked on a low budget and most likely would be broke long before I finished the trail. So heading off to find a treasure with only a vague sense that it was in the Rocky Mountains wasn’t a priority.
I needed an adventure, and thru hiking the Appalachian Trail for a second time was what I had in mind. Still, I tore the page out of the magazine with the poem and stuffed it in my map bag, keeping it as an option just in case my life of adventure led me west.
Having had the magazine article in my backpack for longer than I could remember, I never really figured out the treasure’s exact location. Worse came to worse I always figured that I’d search the section of Utah mentioned in the article.
But I had to know if that was the best guess. And with hiking you get a lot of time to think. Keep it simple, break it down. That was the plan.
I started by asking what I knew, and what Forrest had said in interviews outside of the poem.
Where was the treasure? The Rocky Mountains. Where in the Rocky Mountains? North of Santa Fe, but it wasn’t in Canada, Idaho or Utah according to Forrest Fenn. So that eliminated the theory from the magazine article.
That left New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. And New Mexico was basically out if the treasure was also at least 8.25 miles north of Santa Fe.
He’d said that it wasn’t in a graveyard, tunnel or mine. And his advice was something like, “Don’t search anywhere an 80 year old man could not carry a heavy backpack. If you think I could not have put it there, you are probably right.”
He’d also said that the treasure wasn’t on a mountain top, though maybe close, and was above 5,000 feet in elevation but below 10,200 feet.
Above 5,000 feet? Couldn’t I fix Google maps to show only locations above that? Was it possible to eliminate things above 10,200 feet as well? Could I do that on my $16 smartphone?
I was way out of my depth if the solution required high tech resources. Keep it simple, I kept reminding myself.
There were nine clues in poem. What were they? And how would you tell the difference between the clues and the rest of the poem? Was it that obvious?
So I pulled out the poem and studied it.
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 ignored the first stanza of the poem when looking for clues, but Forrest wrote it, so let’s give it some respect.
By saying that he had 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. The hint of new riches being his treasure I imagined, and the riches of old most likely meant a historic location. Somewhere with a rich history.
But where most people think the clues start is with, “Begin it where warm waters halt.” And Forrest had not only said, “Where warm waters halt is not a dam,” but he’d also provided people with a map to use in their search.
I had heard that there was a mistake in the map, and I’d thought that maybe it was something that got included which shouldn’t have, something that would directly tie in to one of the clues. House of Brown, perhaps, though not as obvious. Brownsville or other combinations with synonyms for house. But at the Moby Dickens book singing he had said that perhaps the mistake was not including Canada on the map despite the Rockies continuing out of the country.
Still, I downloaded the best copy I could find, and there, smack dab in the middle was Thermopolis. Was that the warm waters halt reference? Therm as in thermal? Polis, which meant city in Greek, but could also refer to the Old French poliss, as in polish? Which just meant to make smooth and glossy, to refine, as in the warm waters smoothing out after they had bubbled out of the ground?
He had also said that using the map or starting online a person could get to the first two clues but would need to go there to find the rest… Or was I misremembering that as well?
I couldn’t help but laugh that a person who says halt is usually a police officer, so Thermal Police, Thermopolis, meant warm waters halt in a roundabout sort of way.
But I seriously doubted 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.
Was it as simple as using the Pass of Thermopylae in place of Thermopolis to not only understand the meaning of halt, as the Spartans halted the Persian advance, but also pylae in place of polis? Pylae, as in pile, the thermal waters bubbling out of the ground, smoothing out and coming to a halt in pools? The idea being that halt replaced the word city in the first location?
Was it that easy to find the starting location of the clues in Forrest Fenn’s poem?
You can download the entire book of Quest in the West in PDF format here!