Relive Last Summer's "Hidden Cash" By Hunting for Forrest Fenn's Treasure

Photo: Disney

Jason Buzi and Yan Budman aren’t names that most people would immediately recognize, but many people in the Bay Area absolutely love them. Why? They’re the millionaires who took to Twitter last summer and started the Hidden Cash phenomenon of hiding hundreds of dollars for people to find and either keep or pay forward. Now that the campaign has come to an end, some might be wishing for another chance at finding free money.

That’s where Forrest Fenn comes in. For more than five years now, no one has found the reported $1 million in gold he’s buried somewhere in a mountain range north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Interested? Here’s a primer to help you get started on what could be the quest of a lifetime.

So who is this mysterious Forrest Fenn?

Forget those beer commercials, Forrest Fenn might actually be the most interesting man in the world. He ran a successful Santa Fe art gallery often patronized by former presidents and celebrities, owned a pet alligator named Beowulf, controversially excavated Indian ruins at San Lazaro Pueblo, was investigated by the FBI for the assortment of rare and priceless treasures he displays in his own home, from Sitting Bull's peace pipe to ornaments from Egyptian tombs, and served as the inspiration for Douglas Preston’s novel The Codex, a story of “a notorious treasure hunter and tomb robber.” There’s little about this self-made Texan and Air Force veteran that seems boring.

The story of his treasure begins in the late '70s, when a cancer diagnosis got him thinking about how to leave a legacy behind. While Fenn had buried eight bronze bells stuffed with his life story, he began to think about a larger prize. He managed to beat the cancer, but the thought of burying treasure still seemed right.

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What do we know about this treasure?

According to sources, the “treasure includes gold coins, nuggets, pre-Columbian gold animal figures, a Spanish 17th century gold and emerald ring and an important bracelet with turquoise beads excavated in 1898 from Mesa Verde, which Fenn won much later playing pool” and is buried in an “old world bronze chest” (potentially worth $25,000 alone) or lockbox, along with an ancient olive jar that contains a copy of his autobiography. The 10 inch by 10 inch chest reportedly weighs 42 pounds and since much of the reportedly 265 gold coins are collector’s gold, the treasure might be “worth much more than the face value of gold alone because of its historical importance.”

What does that mean for potential treasure hunters?

Some say that the $1 million price tag should actually be somewhere closer to $3 million. The New Mexico Tourism Department splits the difference at around $2 million. Since the treasure was buried sometime around 2010, the value of the gold will likely continue to rise.

Of course, there will always be the skeptics who think Fenn might be pulling off one of the most elaborate hoaxes in history. To those who don’t believe the treasure exists, Fenn claims that many people saw the treasure before it was hidden, including the author Douglas Preston.

What's the point, other than leaving a legacy?

Part of the fun for Fenn is the thrill of the hunt. "I wanted the monetary value to be a consideration for those who are looking for it, but mostly my motive was to get kids off the couch and away from their texting machines and out in the mountains,” he said in a recent interview. And plenty of people have. An estimated 50,000 people are expected to be searching for the treasure this summer alone.

What kind of clues are we working with?

Fenn helps stoke the passion of treasure hunters by releasing various clues. The first clue, a 24 line poem in his 2010 self-published autobiography The Thrill of the Chase is certainly enigmatic:

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.

Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.

From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.

If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.

So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.

So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.

The last four lines are reportedly coded directions to the treasure and there are a total of 9 clues in this poem, yet no one has been able to solve the mystery yet. Fenn has claimed in a recent interview that some treasure hunters have come as close as 200 feet away from his treasure. He continues to release clues through interviews, social media and other appearances to perpetuate the legend.

A recent book, Too Far to Walk, also includes a pullout map of the area surrounding the treasure. While Daily Beast contributor Tony Doukopil believes the treasure is hidden in Yellowstone National Park, a place that Fenn has visited many times and mentions frequently in The Thrill of the Chase, others are not so sure.

The main clues that have been released since 2013 aren’t going to provide much help, either: all we know is that the chest is wet, is not in a graveyard, is 5,000 ft above sea level (perhaps in the Rocky Mountains) and is not in any sort of structure.

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But that shouldn't hold you back from getting out there and trying your luck. As the Old Santa Fe Trading Co website says: “Keep your children close in the mountains and search at your own risk. Good luck in the chase.”

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