Chances are if you’re an outdoorsy person, you’ve tried your hand at geocaching. Whether it’s for the fun of the find or just a chance to explore, the prospect of a quick treasure hunt is enough to get a number of people out of the house and into the sunshine—but how many people might be willing to exercise for a treasure worth a million dollars?
It was this idea that led Forrest Fenn, an 86-year-old art dealer and resident of Santa Fe, to bury a fortune in the Rocky Mountains. In a recent interview with Business Insider, Fenn explained, “People today are too busy to think. There’s 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.” And that is exactly what his treasure hunt asks people to do.
Buried in 2010, the treasure—consisting of gold coins, gold nuggets, and precious stones—is said to be contained in a Romanesque box and planted somewhere in the Rockies at least 8.25 miles north of Santa Fe. As for the clues and the treasure map? They can be found in Fenn’s novels, The Thrill of the Chase and Too Far to Walk.
Although the majority of the clues are carefully tucked into a Tolkienesque poem, a few can be deduced from simple facts given by Fenn himself. For example, the treasure has to be hidden somewhere that’s accessible to an 80-year-old man. “Don’t look anywhere where a 79- or 80-year-old man can’t put something,” he explained in an interview with the Sante Fe New Mexican. “I’m not that fit, I can’t climb 14,000 feet.”
In addition to the poem, which gives clues such as, “begin it where warm waters halt” and “put in below the home of brown,” treasure hunters are free to email Fenn and ask him questions; although he’s likely to respond, he won’t give any additional clues, and his responses are often almost as cryptic as his poetry.
According to the New York Times, Fenn estimates that close to 65,000 people have gone searching for his treasure. He also says he knows of some hunters who have come within 500 feet of finding it, but didn’t realize it was there and assumed their estimation had been incorrect.
Setting the prize of one million dollars aside, one of the most rewarding aspects of Fenn’s buried treasure is the number of people who search and fail to unearth it, but find joy in the experience of traveling, discovering a new place, or spending time outside. Countless individuals have posted accounts of their experiences online, including this post by a woman named Cynthia, who spent 7 hours looking for the treasure, only to realize the latitude of her search area did not coincide with a possible hiding place. Regardless, she described it as “another great day. It was not a day spent in pursuit of Fenn’s treasure … it was a day spent in pursuit of mine.”
So whatever your motivation may be, if you decide to set off on the Forrest Fenn treasure hunt, at the very least you’re bound to find a fantastic photo op. And you never know— if you stumble in the right direction, you may even find your pot of gold!