In the opening scenes of the 1981 classic, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, intrepid explorer Indiana Jones navigates a deep jungle, a river, the betrayal of his fellow adventurers, and the lethal booby-traps inside a mountainside cave to capture a priceless statue of gold. Indy’s return to civilization includes more death-defying maneuvers, yet he still completes the entire escapade in the first ten minutes of the film. That’s far less time than it took another thrill-seeker to find the real-life hidden treasure of Forrest Fenn.
Perhaps you’re not familiar with Forrest Fenn. Hardly anybody would be, were it not for Fenn’s decision back in 1988 to set aside $2 million of his amassed fortune as a reward for an ambitious treasure hunt through the vast Rocky Mountains. Gold nuggets, rare coins, jewelry, and gemstones; all piled up together inside a twelfth-century bronze box and cached in a region of over 500,000 square miles. Treasure hunt indeed… but no treasure map! Instead, Fenn documented clues in the stories and poems contained in his self-published book, The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir.
Remarkably, Fenn’s treasure appears to have been claimed. The whole story found its way back into national headlines just ten days ago, when Fenn himself declared, “I do not know the person who found it but… the search is over. Look for more information and photos in the coming days.” Conveniently, the one snap of the treasure chest in its hidden location does not indicate when it was taken. Just as convenient, the finder has yet to be identified; only labeled “anonymous searcher from the East Coast”.
Forgive my skepticism, but I’d say Forrest just raised the first red flag on this whole adventure. It sounds good on paper but the more I read the more I sense fairy tale instead of actual tale. To repeat, Mr. or Mrs. East Coast has yet to come forward. The single photo of the treasure could’ve been taken by Fenn himself. Do the homework and you’ll soon start to wonder, does the treasure really exist? For that matter, does Forrest Fenn himself exist? Even his name sounds make-believe.
Body-double aside, Fenn appears to be very much alive, but the case can be made for calling the man eccentric. Consider, Fenn’s initial intent for the treasure was kind of an “X marks the spot” for his final resting place. In 1988, diagnosed with cancer (likely terminal) Fenn was motivated to set up the treasure hunt before his demise. But somewhere in the next 22 years, Fenn recovered from his illness and then penned the memoir, complete with treasure-hunt clues. This sequence of events alone is suspect. What was Fenn’s original intent: secret burial in the Rockies and whoever stumbled upon his grave (and thought to dig it up) wins the prize?
Undeterred, thousands pursued Fenn’s treasure after the memoir was published. Five died in the search. Of those five, only one cause of death was confirmed – a fall down a steep slope in Yellowstone National Park. The bodies of the other four, at first identified as “missing persons”, were found later (at different times and places) along the supposed route to Fenn’s treasure. No cause of death determined with any of them. Add to that a dozen or more arrests, detainments, citations, and lawsuits with other hunters and you start to get a real mess on your hands. Sounds more like a “hex marks the spot” doesn’t it? Fenn considered the request of authorities to suspend the hunt, but public opinion swayed him to keep things going.
Ten days ago, Fenn acknowledged the (apparent) hunt winner and he/she possesses the (supposed) treasure. No doubt this isn’t the last of the eccentric tale of Forrest Fenn. I hope we tune into the news one of these nights and see our latest Indiana Jones, posing in front of the heaping bronze chest like a lottery winner with a giant check (please also, with fedora and bullwhip). I hope Forrest Fenn is posing right there alongside him/her, and prepared to detail this crazy adventure from start to finish. Then we’ll know whether the inevitable production from Hollywood will be fact or fiction.