Decade-Long Search for Rocky Mountain Treasure Yields Trove Worth $2 Million

Nine clues embedded in a 24-line poem led to art dealer Forrest Fenn’s hidden chest of gold, gems and rare artifacts

Rocky Mountains
A poem providing clues to the location of a treasure chest filled with gold and jewels inspired thousands to search the Rocky Mountains. Visions of America / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“The treasure has been found,” declares a sparse blog post dated to June 6. The words signal the end of a ten-year search for a chest of gold, jewels and rare artifacts hidden in the Rocky Mountains by art dealer Forrest Fenn, reports Danielle Prokop for the Santa Fe New Mexican.

As many as 350,000 people unsuccessfully sought the treasure, which is worth an estimated $2 million. Five died while searching with only a poem said to contain nine clues to guide them.

“The guy who found it does not want his name mentioned,” Fenn—who confirmed the find through a photograph—tells the New Mexican. “He’s from back East.”

The bronze chest’s location at the time of its discovery remains a mystery.

Fenn’s blog post simply states, “It was under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains and had not moved from the spot where I hid it more than [ten] years ago. I do not know the person who found it, but the poem in my book led him to the precise spot.”

As Johnny Diaz reports for the New York Times, Fenn is a former Air Force fighter pilot who runs an art gallery in Santa Fe. A diagnosis of potentially fatal kidney cancer led him to devise the treasure hunt, which he hoped would inspire people to “get off their couches.”

Fenn published the 24-line poem that revealed the treasure’s whereabouts in his 2010 autobiography, The Thrill of the Chase. His cryptic verses sent seekers to remote stretches of wilderness in the American West. Per the Associated Press, numerous treasure hunters quit their jobs and devoted themselves to chasing down Fenn’s trove full-time. Others drained their life savings or placed themselves in physical danger.

Some have speculated that the cache is a hoax orchestrated by Fenn. In June 2017, local authorities called on the art dealer to abandon the treasure hunt after a second person died while searching. Instead, he tried to dissuade searchers from putting themselves at risk.

“The treasure is not hidden in a dangerous place,” he told NPR in an emailed statement. “I hid it when I was about 80 years old.”

Over the years, Fenn released several additional clues to the treasure’s location: Hidden between Santa Fe and the Canadian border at an elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level, it wasn’t inside of a mine or a graveyard, reported John Burnett for NPR in 2016. Neither was the chest tucked away in a tunnel or atop of a mountain, “[though] it may be close to the top,” Fenn told the National’s Eric Spitznagel in 2018.

The ornate bronze chest weighs 20 pounds on its own. Its contents weigh another 22 pounds, according to the New Mexican. Among the items nestled in the chest are 265 gold coins; hundreds of gold nuggets; and a bracelet made with hundreds of rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds, reported Jenny Kile for Mysterious Writings in 2013. Per the AP, the trove also includes gold dust, pre-Hispanic animal figurines, prehistoric “mirrors” of hammered gold and ancient Chinese faces carved from jade.

As the search drew to a close, Fenn offered his congratulations to “the thousands of people who participated in the search,” saying that he hoped they would “continue to be drawn by the promise of other discoveries.”

Asked how he feels about the treasure’s long-awaited discovery, Fenn tells the New Mexican that it’s been quite the decade.

He adds, “I don’t know, I feel halfway kind of glad, halfway kind of sad because the chase is over.”

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