I came about 9 years too late to the game of searching for Forrest Fenn’s Treasure. Sometime around 10 years ago an eccentric art dealer named Forrest Fenn’s hid a treasure somewhere in the Rocky Mountains with the goal of getting families and kids off the couch and into the wild.
He published a book that contained a poem that if solved correctly would lead to the treasure hiding spot. The book was called the Thrill of The Chase – and Forrest had hoped people would enjoy hunting for his treasure.
9 years later, it was still sitting in the woods somewhere waiting for someone to find it. So I figured I might have as good a chance as anyone. After 9 years someone must’ve solved at least a few of the 9 clues hidden in the poem. There had to be some consensus on the solution to at least a few of the first clues. My approach would be to analyze the solutions that had come before, figure out where they went wrong and solve the poem. My strengths don’t lie at breaking codes or deciphering poems, but I’m good at looking at the big picture and finding flaws and coming up with new possibilities.
To my surprise, there wasn’t any kind of consensus on the solution to the first clue. That first clue is – Begin it where warm waters halt.
Forrest had narrowed down the search to 4 states – New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. But that didn’t help. People posted convincing solves in all 4 states, usually after they had gone on unsuccessful BOTG, searcher community acronym for Boots On The Ground, meaning actually getting off your couch and searching in the mountains for the chest.
So I spent months pouring through other people’s solves, trying to get a sense of discoveries that had come before. So many people were convinced of their solves, and were also very convincing. There was some great thinking behind many of the solves. On the other hand, there were also some insane theories involving codes and other forms of complexity that seemed way out there.
The problem as I saw it was that there was zero feedback. So you had to take a leap of faith until you found the treasure. The only positive feedback you were on the right track was the treasure. Not only did you have to figure out where to start, but you’d also have to correctly figure out 9 clues with no way of knowing you were correct. This is a formula for confirmation bias.
Immediately I knew that the only way to get close would be to narrow down the starting point. Solve WWWH – another searcher acronym for Where Warm Waters Halt.
There are many places where warm waters halt in the Rocky Mountains. How could you know where to start, with such a vague first clue? But that was the goal, at least start in the right place with confidence. Without confidence in that first clue you would just be wasting your time.
So this is where my journey began. I spent 6 months pouring over the poem, searching through blogs and forums. Someone had to have successfully solved the first clue by now. Forrest had even confirmed as much, saying searchers early on in the chase had found the first two clues and went right past the treasure, likely because they didn’t successfully solve the following clues.
The second clue was – Take it in the Canyon Down. Again, way too vague to have any kind of certainty without knowing the solution to the first clue. What was certain was that after you found the correct WWWH, there would be a canyon right there. And again, there are way too many canyons in the Rocky Mountains for this clue to be helpful in any way. You might be able to eliminate some WWWH that didn’t have a canyon right there, but that wouldn’t help you with WWWH that did have canyons nearby.
This realization caused me to back up even from the first clue. There had to be a way for the poem to tell you where to start. Exactly where to start. And then from there you could narrow down the place Forrest had intended you to begin your journey by finding WWWH. This seemed like the only way to proceed with any kind of confidence.
Before we get to how I went about solving WWWH – it’s important to mention a few things. Forrest has confirmed several hints after publishing the poem. The first is that the poem contains 9 clues, though he doesn’t state which lines are clues. The second, and probably the most important hint is that he has confirmed the line Begin It Where Warm Waters Halt is for sure the first clue.
But that first clue doesn’t appear until the second stanza of the poem. If that is the first clue, wouldn’t you start the poem with that line? Why would you include something before the first clue?
Well one reason would be that the first stanza contains a hint. Another distinction Forrest has made. A clue gets you closer to the treasure. A hint is something that helps you figure a clue out. He has said that there are a few hints in his book The Thrill of the Chase, but has been mum on what those clues are except to say they are hidden in aberrations. We can talk later about some of those aberrations and what they may mean.
Back to the first stanza, here it is:
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.
Taking the approach that there is a hint that would lead you to the general area, I poured over the first stanza over and over again. Forrest advised reading the book and then reading the poem over and over again. As if there was something in the reading of it that might contain a clue.
I honed in on another Forrest quote – at one time he had stated that a few searchers were in tight focus with a word that was key. That always seemed like a strange twist of words. If I were to say something like that, I might use the term keyword rather than “word that is key.” And maybe the phrase “tight focus” was also a clue?
I read the book, and read the poem over and over again. I searched the forums and the blogs for any hints that others had discovered. Nothing. I read up on solves in all 4 states. Sometimes I would read a solve that sounded really good, like the searcher was definitely on the right track. Then I would read another solve, in a different state that was equally convincing.
The problem was without that positive feedback loop, it was all confirmation bias. Without confidence of at least the starting point, there was just no way of knowing anyone was on the right track without actually having the treasure in hand. And the likelihood of anyone getting that far by guessing at the solution to 9 consecutive clues was unlikely in my opinion.
After 6 months of spending many nights lying on my couch researching, reading and thinking while my wife watched TV, I was about to throw in the towel and move on to another way to spend my free time. I never thought any of the time I spent was a waste, because I really enjoyed trying to figure out this puzzle and there was always the possibility of figuring it out, flying out West one weekend and finding a treasure chest filled with gold. Highly unlikely, but still a possibility.
At some point though, I wasn’t making much progress and considered throwing the towel in. Then something wonderful happened. I got my Eureka! Moment. I was Googling places in Montana. Forrest had mentioned in his book having a map of Gallatin Forest in one of his adventures when he was younger. I was searching areas around there, saw Gallatin Canyon. This was located on the outskirts of Yellowstone, another place Forrest has written fondly about.
I Googled Gallatin County. You should do it now too. Does anything pop out? Something very strange popped out at me and suddenly I was very far from throwing in the towel again. I was back in The Chase.
Spolier alert. If you haven’t already Googled Gallatin County and looked through the images of it, I’m going to spoil the surprise. Gallatin County, a place that Forrest has written about and definitely spent time in, is shaped distinctively like a key.
Some searchers are in tight focus with a word that is key…
The rush was amazing. Was this the starting place Forrest had been pointing us to? Are you supposed to find the place where warm waters halt somewhere in Gallatin County and go from there?
Although I felt the rush of an Aha moment, I wasn’t so sure. It could fit perfectly with Forrest’s quote about being in tight focus with a word that is key (Gallatin is literally shaped like a key) but how would you ever get that from the first stanza, or even anywhere else in the poem. If Forrest had intended the poem to be able to direct you to the exact location of the hiding spot, then Gallatin would have to be hinted at in the poem. And it just wasn’t.
The comedown after realizing I’d been bitten by the radioactive confirmation bias spider was tough. I was definitely bummed out and didn’t feel like I was any closer to cracking WWWH after 6 months of steady research, reading and thinking. I searched around the area on Google Maps and there were definitely some interesting place names in the area but none that could be considered a likely candidate for WWWH, especially around the canyon.
One thing that did stand out was the name of this area on Google. It was called the Middle Basin. The Thrill of the Chase had a chapter titled Me in the Middle. Was this another hint to The Middle Basin and Gallatin?
Nah, too much of a stretch. Certainly not enough proof to nail down WWWH, especially since there was no obvious place in this area. The possibility still lingered but I had to let it go.
A bit dejected and feeling like this was my last go before finally giving up and moving on with my life I went back to the poem. I liked my notion that somehow the general area could be figured out in the first stanza. It made sense, and after all with no feedback you have to take a few leaps of faith, with the hopes that you can eventually back it up with evidence.
I studied the first stanza over and over again. I looked for meaning. I looked for hidden meaning. Then I read it out loud. And what I discovered almost knocked me out of my chair.
As I’ve gone alone in there and with my treasures……
Do you see what I see? I found something that just could not be any kind of coincidence at this point. And it fit in perfectly with Forrest’s “tight focus on a word that is key” quote.
Maybe I’d gone off the deep end and was starting to see patterns that weren’t there? Or maybe I was one of the few that had finally become in tight focus. I immediately searched the blogs with my discovery. And sure enough, I was not the only one. I found a poster who had posted my exact same discovery and another poster named Zap seemed to get irritated with him for spilling the beans on an open forum. I started researching Zap’s posts and appreciated his analytical approach to the poem. He had converted Forrest’s books into a searchable database on his computer so he could look for patterns of words and statistical anomalies. He seemed to be honing in on what he thought was the final hidey spot.
And he had also found the same hint that I had in the first stanza. Let’s look at it again, with a little more focus:
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.
If you’re in the right kind of focus, you can almost see Gallatin being coded in the first letters of the first few words of the poem. Had I gone nuts? Look at the other letters bolded after Gallatin. As an extra convincer that you’ve found the right word, the letters directly after Gallatin are W MT. Short for West Montana. Come on! How can that be a coincidence?? It’s not like Gallatin is a common word that could be found anywhere. It is a very distinct word, with a distinct spelling. And that word happens to point to a county that is shaped like a key. And yeah, this place is in West Montana.
I just about fell off my couch. The validation was that others had also found this and thought it could be important. The confidence was building. And just to add to the confirmation, you can also find GAL later on in the poem, followed by MT – just to key you in that you’re on the right track but not an exact duplication to make it so obvious. Wow, just wow.
But if this was true, then where do you Begin It? Where does Warm Water Halt?
Forrest has said multiple times to look at the big picture. I thought the entire poem would unravel once I found WWWH. It took me a month to discover the obvious solution. Look at the big picture. What is the big picture of where warm waters halt in this area?
Yellowstone! Duh. Warm water literally stops at Yellowstone, and you take Gallatin Canyon down 191. Wow, two clues solved like that. The rest of the poem should be unraveling in no time. I just knew I’d be booking a ticket out to Montana soon for a long weekend of clomping around the canyon.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think I was going to actually find the treasure. I was happy to have just cracked a few clues and I definitely wanted to go out there and feel the mountain breeze while I searched for a treasure. I started calling up friends to recruit for the long weekend. Because my wife was convinced if I went into the mountains alone I would die in minutes.
I never got a chance to book my trip. My wife got pregnant just as the pandemic was beginning. And oh yeah, the pandemic. Travel was out of the question unless I was going to drive to Montana and that would just take too long to be away from her. I mean, if I had an end-to-end solve and I could convince her that there was a possibility of coming home with a million dollar treasure without dying, then I might have some bargaining leverage. But the possibility of me going out there and not coming back with a treasure combined with a 90% chance that I’d die by bear or just sheer city slicker stupidity, the chances of treasure hunting in 2020 were slim.
One day in June of 2020, my wife and I put down an offer on a wonderful home and it was accepted. It was a long day of negotiations and I remember laying on the couch, about to do a little treasure hunting from my phone. That’s when I saw the email from one of the popular blogs. The treasure had been found. The excitement of buying a new house was drowned out by the depression of lost possibilities. Besides, what would I read on the couch for hours on end?
This meant I would never have a chance to be eaten alive by bears on a long weekend. It was over. Someone had beaten me to the Gallatin Canyon. It was inevitable, I did have a late start but it hurt all the same, in a way that I had not expected. The Chase was over.
Oh yeah, and there was one other thing. Although the solve and final hidey spot have not been revealed and may never be, Forrest and The Finder decided to reveal the state it was found in to give some searchers a form of closure.
It was announced that the treasure had been found in Wyoming.
To Be Continued…….