“Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures.” – Lovelle Drachman
Somewhere in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe, New Mexico—maybe even in Colorado, Wyoming, or Montana, and perhaps in a forest, or hidden behind a waterfall—sits a treasure chest dating from 1150 A.D. Inside are gold coins and nuggets, along with ancient artifacts such as a 17th-century Spanish ring encrusted with emeralds and rubies, worth an estimated $2 million.
It was all tucked away in 2010 by Forrest Fenn, an art collector and former fighter pilot in Vietnam, who had one aim in mind: To give the world an adventure.
So he crafted a treasure map in the form of a six-stanza poem, which contains nine clues as to where the chest is located. He published it in 2010 in his memoir, The Thrill of the Chase. It begins…
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.
“I wanted to encourage people to leave their homes, take a walk in nature, and have an adventure,” says Forrest. “As far as I know, the treasure is yet to be found…”
Adventure and civilization don’t necessarily go hand in hand. As humanity has evolved, we have sought to create order from chaos, to analyze and predict outcomes, and to eliminate uncertainties. With the advancement of technology we have further reduced our opportunities for experiencing the unpredictable, and have become more sedentary and largely indoor creatures. According to the National Park and Recreation Association a mere 25 percent of Americans under the age of 35 spend more than an hour outside when they do venture out. And three out of 10 American adults do not spend time outside on a daily basis. We have become risk-averse, and in doing so have dulled our experience of life.
But Forrest, 85, believes that people just need encouragement to take to the trails. “More of our population would be out in the countryside if they knew what was there waiting for them,” he says—that inside many of us beats the heart of Indiana Jones, craving the chance to have an authentic experience in the wild.
Katya Luce is one of the thousands of people who have gone searching for Forrest’s treasure chest. After reading Forrest’s poem she says she didn’t sleep for six weeks. “I became obsessed. I love mystery, I love puzzles, I love being in the outdoors, and I just kept researching until I thought I knew where it was,” she says. That first guess was wrong, but she didn’t give up. In the last three years Katya has made over a 100 journeys to the Rockies in search of the 10x10x5-inch box.
As she’s spent more and more time in the wild, Katya says it’s become less about the treasure, and more about the adventure itself. “It’s an interaction with nature I had never experienced. When I hike I am eager to get to the goal and come home, but in hunting for Forrest’s treasure I am observing every nuance of nature, as it could be a clue or a sign,” she says.
Adventure offers the chance to be around life where nothing is artificial, and to be where time is measured by the sun.
There is something intangible and deeply sacred when fully immersed in nature in this way. It provides the stories that we come home with eager to recount—a bond that we all can share. Katya’s stories are of the bears, cougars, and snakes she has encountered. On one adventure, she found herself face to face with a mountain lion. “To stand so close to something so wild, so beautiful and powerful, and to be scared but to be OK—it felt like a rite of passage, and now I feel like I have a place in nature. That I am more comfortable and less intimidated.” Katya’s adventures have reconnected her to her own wild nature.
For Forrest adventure offers the chance to be around life “where nothing is artificial,” and to be where “time is measured by the sun”—where the limits and constructs we have built around our lives fall away.
Intensely observing nature can also put our own lives into perspective. “At times I have followed an ant as he hurried along a trail. I am always interested in what he’s thinking and where he’s going in such a hurry. Then I realize that life isn’t simple for him, and in many ways is similar to mine. I never stop being thankful to him for bringing my life into perspective,” he says.
Whether a fire ant or a mountain lion, elements of risk are inherent within adventure. Katya describes it as “empowering.”
Forrest approaches it with caution and safety. Since publishing the poem he has given more clues to the treasure’s location to try and keep people safe. It’s higher than 5,000 feet but lower than 10,000 feet, and it’s not in a graveyard, nor is it hidden in a structure. “An old man carried the chest to the place it can be found,” he reminds people regularly, when seekers are stranded up mountains or in ditches.
Does he mind if no one finds the treasure in his lifetime? No, he says. Even though the box contains parts of Forrest’s own story of hunting for rare and valuable artifacts—Chinese jade carvings and pre-Columbian gold animal figurines—it was never about seeing someone’s face when they opened the box.
If parents take their children to new places in search of the treasure, then Forrest says he’ll know he has been successful in his quest. “I want people to know that there is more than the tedium of daily routines,” he says. That adventure is waiting for us just outside our front door if we choose to step out.
Helen Avery is a Section Editor at Wanderlust Media, working on the Vitality and Wisdom channels on Wanderlust.com. She is a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, Awakening Together minister, and full-time dog walker of Millie.