After 10 years, a chase for hidden treasure in the Rocky Mountains has come to an end.
Forrest Fenn, a New Mexico art collector who created the treasure hunt, announced over the weekend that someone had found the bronze chest that he had buried in the mountains, filled with gold nuggets, coins, sapphires, diamonds, pre-Columbian artifacts and other items. He has estimated the hoard is worth $2 million.
“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 10 years ago,” Fenn, 89, said on his website. He did not elaborate on the exact location.
“I do not know the person who found it, but the poem in my book led him to the precise spot,” said Fenn, who lives in Santa Fe.
A man who did not want to be named found the chest a few days ago, Fenn told a local newspaper, The Santa Fe New Mexican. Fenn said that the chest’s discovery was confirmed through a photograph the man had sent him. He had previously told the newspaper that the bronze chest alone weighed 20 pounds, and its contents another 22.
Fenn, a former Air Force fighter pilot who runs a gallery in Santa Fe, hatched the idea for the hunt decades ago, after he learned he had kidney cancer. He had planned to have his remains interred with the riches, but when he recovered from the disease, he buried the box to give families a reason to “get off their couches,” he said in 2016.
He announced the quest to the world in a self-published 2010 memoir, “The Thrill of the Chase,” and provided clues to the location in 24 cryptic verses of a poem. He has said that the treasure was hidden in the Rockies at 5,000 feet above sea level, hints that have sometimes led hunters into dangerous and remote stretches of wilderness. “Begin it where warm waters halt,” one clue reads, “and take it in the canyon down.”
Tens of thousands of people have searched for the chest, according to Fenn. Seekers scrambled across high-elevation trails in Colorado, into the scrublands of New Mexico and toward landscapes carved by glaciers in Montana. Fenn eventually specified that the valuables were not in an area that an octogenarian would find hard to reach.
But at least two people have died trying to follow his clues, and some have accused Fenn of endangering people’s lives by offering up a quixotic adventure or even a hoax. In 2017, Chief Pete Kassetas of New Mexico State Police urged Fenn to stop the hunt, saying that people were putting their lives on the line.
“People are coming from other states and other parts of the world to find this elusive treasure that may or may not exist, with very few clues,” Kassetas said at the time. “They’re underestimating New Mexico.”
Fenn declined to retrieve the chest, however. “If someone drowns in the swimming pool we shouldn’t drain the pool,” Fenn told The New York Times that year. “We should teach people to swim.”
And there have been accounts of close calls and rescues. In 2013, a Texas woman looking for the chest in New Mexico got lost near Bandelier National Monument, an expanse of 33,000 acres filled with canyons, steep trails and rugged woods. After spending a frigid night between two boulders, she was rescued the next day.
Jenny Kile, who has tracked the hunt for years on her website, Mysterious Writings, said Monday that the hunt had enticed thousands because “it was believed that no matter who you were, it could be done.”
“This belief did have some go against caution, either financially, physically or emotionally,” she added. “But for the vast majority, the opportunity was an adventure of a lifetime. Who doesn’t want to look for treasure?”
On his website this weekend, Fenn commended all of the thrill seekers who had tried to find the chest over the years.
“I congratulate the thousands of people who participated in the search and hope they will continue to be drawn by the promise of other discoveries,” he said.
Though the person who found the chest might remain anonymous, even to Fenn, the discovery might still come with some strings attached. Anyone who finds and keeps property that has been lost or abandoned, such as a treasure trove, will also find it “taxable to you at its fair market value in the first year it’s your undisputed possession,” according to the IRS.