Ok, here I am flying to Salt Lake City from Orlando. (no no no! Fast forward!) Ok, here I am driving from Salt Lake City to West Yellowstone. (no no no! Fast forward!) Here I am at Yellowstone where warm waters halt. (ok, that’s better please continue!) I take my journey in the canyon down, below the home of Brown. That is former home of ranger Gary Brown, the Yellowstone institute at the base of Druid peak Lamar river valley. Forrest instructs to put in here. I have owned a 17 ft canoe for 20 years. In boating to put in is the starting point of the journey. I had researched the Lamar river before I left Florida and found that to put in here would require portage. I did not feel Forrest would not have done this with a 42lb box. He would have needed help. He said no one but him knows where it is so the journey was not by water.
If not by water then where am I to put in– buffalo trail or the highway? I need to identify the next waypoint. I feel it is the blaze…look quickly down…see rapids below. I found that by taking the highway past the Yellowstone institute, 4 miles to the west (not far, too far to walk) it follows the river where it changes from a wide slow moving current to raging rapids. These rapids continue for a mile with 6 pullouts scattered along the way (tarry scant, marvel gaze=a pullout). Surely I would find a trail marker at one of these pullouts that reads “see rapids below” sadly, I did not. All of the pullouts are on the south side of the road, same as the river. Each one has a drop off of 50 to 150 feet at a 45 degree angle all the way to the river. The river is raging here, definitely “no paddle” huge boulders, whitewater the entire mile. I believe now to be within 500ft of the bronze box, at one of these pullouts. Maybe I don’t need to find the actual sign, see rapids below. Simply near rapids. I go back to the first pullout at the beginning of the rapids to make a map so I don’t cover the same ground twice.
After mapping, I decide to start at the westernmost pullout I label as #6. The pullout is a half-moon shaped slab of asphalt with room for 3-4 cars. There is only about 10ft of flat ground to the drop to the river. It’s about 100 ft to the area just above the river where it floods. Thick green grass grows here and there are huge boulders. There are almost no trees on the slope, just rocks and sage. I divide the area into two sections, east and west, with the dividing line at the center of the pullout. I start on the west section walking parallel to the highway about 10ft down the slope. The embankment is so steep that my left leg is straight while my right knee is bent. I walk about 100ft looking under every sagebush, rock, nook and cranny. I can see the roofs of cars going by on the highway above. At the end of 100ft I feel is as far as FF could have carried the box so I turn down hill, go 20ft and then turn back towards my dividing line. Now I can’t see the cars, only hear them. I traverse the hillside in this pattern, working my way to the river, looking, looking, looking…
The wind is always in my face, which is a good thing as every hunter knows. The wind blows my scent away from my destination, the river. If there are any bears or mountain lions down there, I will see them before they see me! Another important hunting technique is to always have the sun on your back. Today, it’s early morning with sun at my side, which is OK. Before leaving home I washed all my clothes in baking soda to make them scent free. I don’t use deodorant or shampoo. The best way to search undetected by predators is to stay scent free. From home research I knew I would be searching near pullouts so the animals here are used to the smell of cars. Another way to fool them is to smell like a car so I got brake dust off the front wheel of the rental car and put it on myself. I can’t smell a thing, but the animals will.
Finally, exhausted, I reach the flat area next to the river. I’ve got bear spray but if I’m attacked here surely a mountain lion could catch me before I could scramble up the hill. Am I crazy? I say my prayers to the powers that be asking for guidance and safety….”dear earth, trees, rocks. A certain man has collected items of gold and bronze and stone and has carelessly deposited them not where they came from. I am here to find these items. Please guide my steps and keep me safe.”
I lay down in the tall soft grass, slightly dizzy from the altitude and exercise. All I can hear is the roaring river not 20ft away. I have a bottle of water. Constantly aware of my surroundings, I pause from hunting and possibly being hunted to take in the natural beauty. I let my guard down. Slowly I repeat each line of the poem… I think yes! This is it! I am here! ….now where is that box?
I look to see him on what appears to be an old deer trail that followed the river.
Ducking his head
Leading me down the path,
Skinny little legs he hath!
“Wait!” I cry
Trying to keep up
He has a rhythmic beat to his strut
“Is this the way?” I ask
Confident, always moving forward
Sure of his task
Just as I get close
Again, he goes
Eyeing me as if I’m a ghost
He knows the treasure
Where it is
Always ahead of me, the intruder
Suddenly, he flies!
To the top of a tree
There he sits looking every which way.
Now I see
The treasure is all around me.
The lone robin had led me to finish my search of pullout number six. Working my way back to the top, back and forth.
Looking, looking, looking, occasionally raising my head ever wary of predators. I think about the group of wolves known as the Druid Pack. Are they out today? I reach the car and safety not realizing how tired I was until I sat down. Something to eat and more water will fix me up. It’s quite a shock to the body to come from Florida at 44ft above sea level to over a mile straight up.
Other cars stop at my pullout to see what I’m looking at. I watch them get out, look around, and then shoot a glance of dismay at me as they get back in their car. I can read their minds, they are thinking, “Why are you stopped here? There’s nothing!” I shout aloud but of course they can’t hear me, “I’m looking for Forrest Fenn’s treasure!” Just then the robin lands on a reflector that sits atop a metal pole next to the pullout. “my friend! So we meet again!”
I raise my water to toast him, “We’ve got five more pullouts to go, care to join me?”
King of the rock
My motel is in Cooke City so I keep passing pullout 4 every day. This will be my third time by. It’s calling me, #4 I know there is something special there. But just like when fishing a river, I leave the best spot for last. So, on to pullout 1 today. 1 and 2 are sort of combined. #3 is close to the river really there is no place to look there. All that’s left is 1 and 4….and 4 is calling me. I must remind myself to search 1 slowly and be patient.
After the steep slopes of 5,6 pullout1 is a relief. Mostly flat. A huge rock formation sits right by the road, big as a large house. On the east side is the valley floor, just before the beginning of the canyon and rapids. I notice the rock is fractured vertically all over it. Sections have fallen out to leave perfect hiding places for the bronze box on its side, like a book.
I spend hours here, I have to look closely as the box would blend in perfectly, camouflaged. I find my first piece of modern trash, a plastic water bottle. I take it with me to dispose of properly. Having searched the base of the rock, I climb to the top to search there. Working my way back to the pullout. It’s just some light rock climbing, nothing strenuous. What’s this? A bronze disc. A US Geological survey marker! Hmmm..1941 it says. Probably placed here that summer just before pearl harbor– Cool.
Now exhausted, I go back to the car to sit and think. More tourists stop, get out briefly and get back in their cars. They never wander far from a pullout. I talk to them but they can’t hear me…”yeah yeah yeah, nothing here to see. Move along folks.” I suppose they want to see a bear or moose, something big!
So, I’m thinking, wait a minute! What if Fenn put the box on the back side of the hiway…away from the pullouts? It’s still below the home of brown, and near rapids! What the heck, I’ll take a look. I found a passage to the top of the hill between two big boulders. Once there, WOW! What a view! The mountain is flat on top, a Mesa I guess? I can see the hiway below, cars whizzing by. They can’t see me. Lots of buffalo activity here, tufts of hair, rolling in the dirt. I’m looking for the bronze box, rocks the size of a bean bag chair. I can imagine the box lying here for thousands of years, undetected. Nobody comes up here, it’s obvious. Moving along slowly, quietly, I hear a faint chattering up ahead. It’s a marmot perched on top of one of the rocks! Three chipmunks are at the base, hiding from the marmot, snickering. They take turns, running up the side of the rock to touch the marmots tail. He spins to meet the attacker and barks out “watch it bub”. I look to see if the marmot is protecting food or something of value to ground squirrels. I can see nothing, what are they doing? Eventually, abandoning greedy human reasoning, I figure out they are just playing a game…..King of the rock.
How lucky am I to see this unrehearsed unscripted show in nature?
Search of pullout 1 complete. (sigh)
The Holy Grail
I say so-long to Cooke City this morning. Ready for a full day of searching at pullout#4 in Lamar Canyon. I’m excited, after two days here I’m better adjusted to the altitude and I feel accepted by nature. I have purpose. I have a sister in law who won’t go on family outings to a lake because she says the smell of lake water makes her sick. Huh? I love the smell of lake water. Nature has rejected her. I don’t think she knows how to pray. Maybe nobody ever taught her.
At the pullout, just off the asphalt there is a slight slope. I find a dirt path leading west along the river. I see footprints. Tourists have wandered away from the safety of their cars here to take pictures of themselves sitting on rocks with the raging river below. I follow the path for about 50 feet and the footprints stop. A little farther, and the path stops too, I see why. I find bones from a mule deer or elk kill by a predator.
I can’t find the skull though. There is danger here, but I got bear spray and Fenn did write that it was no place for the meek and I’m here. My plan is to go as far into this area as I think Fenn would have gone and then search my way back. So, another 100 feet past where the path ends should do it. Deeper in, I begin searching. Looking, looking, looking.
At home, if I lose my car keys, I get frustrated after 20 minutes of looking. Funny how after 4 days of looking for Fenns treasure, I still enjoy it. Must be the surroundings. Hey! There’s an old jar! It’s about 8″ tall with a screw-on lid. Looks like an old pickle jar. I’ll keep it, along with other treasures (trash) I’ve found. I’m not going home empty handed.
I come to two huge boulders, 15 feet high. Smaller boulders have tumbled down behind them so I can climb to the top to look around. I find a safe place to lay my treasures (trash) and begin climbing. Up top is flat, moving to the edge there is a gap between the boulder I’m standing on and the one next to it, two feet wide. On the ground 15 feet below is the missing skull with a full rack of antlers. I have found the den of whatever predator killed that mule deer. I’m in trouble. A quick check of the wind tells me it’s not in my favor. I’m hoping whatever lives here is asleep. I remove the bear spray from its holster and the trigger guard. It’s possible I could die today. I’m not going to play king of the rock with a mountain lion. I climb back down to the ground same way I went up, the side opposite the entrance to the den. Thankful I did not walk around that boulder before I climbed it. Gather up my treasures (trash) and almost run back to the pullout. Always turning around to see if I’m being chased as the roar of the river is deafening. I would not hear the pitter- patter of huge, clawed feet.
At the safety of the car, catching my breath, gathering my wits I take a closer look an the jar I found. On the bottom, emblazoned in the glass is the name of a Fenn family member! I can’t believe it! I have to go back to where I found it! The bronze box must be buried there! I just know it. I’m resting, and thinking….resting, thinking.. Is it worth it? I have found the holy grail, the very cup which Fenn drank from to refresh himself when he turned the last shovel of dirt. What should I do?