Gold Rush
Photo by Phospheros

We’ve covered a lot of treasure stories and hunts for lost fortunes. There is something that’s nearly irresistible about the lure of gold and that goes back before mankind started writing things down. Most of the lost treasure out there is still of contested ownership. Those who are lucky enough to stumble upon a lost fortune soon find themselves the object of lawsuits from governments and individuals with the idea that they too have claims to that newly-discovered loot. But there’s one treasure trove still out there that contains millions in gold and gems—and the rightful owner wants you to find it.

Forrest Fenn’s story reads more like a technothriller than an account of one man’s life. Retiring from the U.S. Air Force as a Major, Fenn once flew F-100 Super Sabres and was shot down twice in combat. In one skirmish he crash landed his plane, in another he bailed out over Laos; both times he was rescued by American forces.

After the war Fenn started collecting art rarities and memorabilia, amassing a small fortune as an art and antiquities dealer. After a brush with cancer, he took a sizeable amount of that treasure and put 42 pounds of it into a ten-by-ten inch cast bronze box. In 2010 he then took that box loaded with gold coins, gems and gold nuggets, some the size of eggs, and buried it somewhere in the New Mexico wilderness. Estimates of the value of the treasure put it at about $2 to $3 million dollars. The iconoclastic adventurer then published vague clues, including a poem, about where he hid the treasure.

Fenn periodically releases new clues as to the whereabouts of the treasure and there’s an active network of blogs and chat groups where treasure hunters discuss the clues and share their experiences searching for the treasure. Fenn has confirmed that more than one person has come within 200 feet of the treasure. Even today, six years later, those millions in gold and jewels are still out there, waiting to be found.

So far New Mexico has been the biggest winner in the treasure hunt with an estimated 65,000 people trooping into the state to hunt for Fenn’s elusive treasure. Even when this trove is found, it would probably be smart for the state of New Mexico to bury another secret golden fortune somewhere, as that seems to work better than advertising for drawing tourists.

The search has also seen several people needing to be rescued after getting lost in the desert; one man died after setting off in a raft down the Rio Grande River near Sante Fe in the winter. Searchers found the raft and the man’s dog ten days later but the skeletal remains of his body weren’t located until mid-July. In Fenn’s defense, it’s unlikely he could have envisioned such folly when he hid the treasure.

If you’re one of those drawn by the lure of Fenn’s gold, here are a few things to keep in mind. Fenn has stated plainly that the treasure is not associated with any structure or graveyard, so don’t risk your life banging around in abandoned mines or desecrating the dead. He was also an old man and cancer survivor when he hid the forty-two pound box, so it’s not likely he heaved that much weight very far through the desert. When the treasure is finally found, it’s going to be relatively close to a road or waterway. Given that Fenn was fairly precise when he announced several people were within 200 feet of the treasure, it’s a fair bet that figure represents the treasure’s farthest distance from a road or river. It’s also a good guess that Fenn knows the terrain, specifically areas that are prone to flash floods.

Leaving the box in a flood zone would risk its being washed away and buried in mud and Fenn would be smarter than to leave it somewhere it might be accidentally lost. That would mean the treasure is high and dry, within sixty yards of a road or that far up an embankment along a river, somewhere over the highest flood line. Given his physical limitations, one would also expect that place to have a well-worn hiking trail and nice view, maybe so nice that people out searching for a lost treasure would take a moment to admire it. Also likely eliminated would be any areas that require technical climbing gear or pack animals.

When the treasure is finally found, it’s going to seem obvious in hindsight and there are going to be a lot of people, at least 65,000, slapping themselves because it’s going to have been cached someplace people pass by regularly. So don’t risk your life and don’t get lost wandering through the desert. Take a pleasant hike on a nice trail.  Enjoy the view.  On the way back, you may just stumble over two or three million dollars in gold…