• 86-year-old Forrest Fenn hid treasure in the Rocky Mountains in 2010.
• He’s provided clues to its location, but it’s still undiscovered.
• He hopes the hunt will encourage families to spend time outside together.
At some point in 2010, Forrest Fenn made two trips north out of Santa Fe and into the Rocky Mountains.
On the first journey, the art dealer carried with him a bronze, Romanesque chest.
On the second trip, he brought a backpack filled with gold coins, gold nuggets, and gems.
Fenn says he filled the chest with the valuables and stashed it all somewhere in the massive mountain range.
And, as far as we know, no one has found the chest yet.
That doesn’t surprise now 86-year-old Fenn.
“No one will happen upon the treasure,” he told Business Insider. “They will have to figure out the clues before they can find it.”
Hints to the treasure’s location (and even a map depicting New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana) are included in two of Fenn’s books, “The Thrill of the Chase” and “Too Far to Walk.” One of Fenn’s poems, which advises the reader to “begin it where warm waters halt,” is said to include nine clues.
“Read the clues in my poem over and over and study maps of the Rocky Mountains,” he said via email. “Try to marry the two. The treasure is out there waiting for the person who can make all the lines cross in the right spot.”
The idea for the treasure hunt had actually been brewing for years before 2010. It first came to Fenn after a brush with death.
He had kicked off his varied career by joining the Air Force during the Vietnam War. Fenn had a hard tour, working 14 hour days and dropping 22 pounds.
“As a fighter pilot I flew 328 combat missions in about 348 days, and was shot down twice,” he said. “I was missing in action in the Laotian jungle. On other missions, I took battle damage to my plane and wondered if I would make it home.”
After the war, Fenn said he felt mentally and physically exhausted.
“I was not going to wear a coat and tie, wear a watch, or have a calendar,” he said. “I just wanted out. Santa Fe was the only place where I might make a living wearing blue jeans, hush puppies, and a short sleeve shirt.”
So he entered the art business, opening up the Old Santa Fe Trading Co. He says that sitting down and thinking allowed him to achieve success.
“People today are too busy to think,” Fenn said. “There is so much going on in the world and they are distracted. My advice would be to set aside an hour each day to just think. Don’t rule out any idea.”
Then, in 1988, Fenn was struck by a particularly unusual idea. He had been diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer. He considered leaving behind some clues, heading out to the wilderness with a chest of treasure and a bottle of sleeping pills, and dying on his own terms.
The plan was put on hold for a few decades, when his cancer went into remission. Then, when the Great Recession hit, his mind turned back to the thought of a treasure hunt.
“There seemed to be despair everywhere,” Fenn told Business Insider. “I wanted to give people some hope and something to believe in.”
Fenn said that he also holds to the quote (often attributed to actor Errol Flynn) that “Any man who has $10,000 left when he dies is a failure” — although he amends the amount to $50.
“They say money can’t buy happiness but it can make a nice down payment,” Fenn said. “I have decided that having enough money is a lot better than having a lot of money.”
The treasure has been previously estimated to be worth about $2 million, but Fenn says he has no idea what the exact worth of the chest and its contents is today, as some of the items contained within need to be appraised. Fenn adds that the chest contains 20.2 Troy pounds of gold, including 265 American Eagles and Double Eagles and ancient gold artifacts and jewellery.
Treasure hunters who want to get their hands on that gold have a lot of ground to cover if they ever want to find that fortune.
As the New York Times reported, Fenn has provided a few more hints about the treasure’s location. Apparently, the spot where the chest is hidden is higher than 5,000 feet above sea level and at least 8.25 miles north of Santa Fe.
Fenn urges searchers to take safety precautions while searching for the chest. He also encourages them to enjoy the journey, rather than focusing solely on the goal of discovering the fortune.
“I wanted to give the kids something to do,” Fenn says. “They spend too much time in the game room or playing with their little hand held texting machines. I hope parents will take their children camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains. I hope they will fish, look for fossils, turn rotten logs over to see what’s under them, and look for my treasure.”
The treasure hunt has launched blogs and online communities dedicated to solving the mystery. Not all of the interest is positive, however. Fenn has had to call 911 a few times, after fortune hunters showed up at his house uninvited. And still others have questioned whether or not the treasure is a hoax.
“There are only a few who have said it is a hoax and I don’t say anything to them,” Fenn told Business Insider. “The funny part is that they think they know exactly where it is hidden. When they arrive at that spot and the treasure is not there, they think one of two things. Either someone has already found it or it’s a hoax. Ironically, most of them are still looking.”