Where Warm Waters Halt…On the Trail of Treasure in the Rocky Mountains!

A "blaze" I found in the Rio Grande Gorge in northern New Mexico last spring.

A “blaze” I found in the Rio Grande Gorge in northern New Mexico last spring.

“Where warm waters halt… where warm waters halt… where warm waters halt.” For two summers, I’ve been exploring the Rocky Mountains with those words on my mind. Why those four words in particular? Because I believe they lead to a modern-day treasure chest.

In 2010, Forrest Fenn, a retired antiquities dealer based in Santa Fe, N.M., set about creating his own legend: He bought an antique bronze chest and filled it with valuables and artifacts including gold dust, coins and nuggets, Chinese jade carvings, a 17th-century gold-and-emerald ring, an ancient turquoise bracelet — together worth between $1 million and $2 million — and then lugged all 19 kilograms of it to a mysterious hiding place somewhere “in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe.” He then released a poem containing nine clues as to the treasure’s whereabouts. More than four years later, nobody has yet found Fenn’s treasure, and he maintains that if it goes undiscovered, the chest will stay safely in place for hundreds of years.

The Fenn treasure has been valued between  million and $2 million and the chest itself — a 12th-century Roman lockbox made of sculpted bronze — has been said to be worth about $35,000. Credit: Forrest Fenn.

The Fenn treasure has been valued between $1 million and $2 million and the chest itself — a 12th-century Roman lockbox made of sculpted bronze — has been said to be worth about $35,000. Credit: Forrest Fenn.

Thousands of people from all walks of life have gone searching for Fenn’s treasure in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana (Fenn has eliminated Utah and Idaho). When I heard about the treasure, I couldn’t help thinking about it from a geologist’s point of view: The poem implies that the treasure is hidden near water, but the courses of waterways can change drastically over time, even from season to season, let alone over centuries. And as someone interested in archaeology and paleontology, I’m well aware that if you find something interesting on public land, it’s not always “finders, keepers.” I was intrigued. Could I put my background in geology and my hiker’s knowledge of landscapes to work searching for a treasure chest?

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping!, Science Writing, Sustainable Living, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Where Warm Waters Halt…On the Trail of Treasure in the Rocky Mountains!

  1. Barneysday says:

    Thanks for sharing the Earth article. Very interesting story about a very interesting man.

  2. Box Canyon Blogger Mark says:

    Very cool… not to mention, seductive. Just what we need, another gold rush 🙂
    Box Canyon Mark from Lovely Ouray, Colorado.

  3. Dennis says:

    What a fascinating and captivating story! Mr. Fenn is obviously a special person. If it were me, at 80 years of age, I would contribute another clue each year to make it more likely the treasure would be found. What would be the fun if I died and never knew? A treasure that unique should never, in my humble opinion, be lost forever. Perhaps Mr. Fenn should tell one other person the location of the treasure in the event of his death. Or a map in a safe deposit box? Of course the greatest treasures were never intended to be hidden.

  4. Ancientfoods says:

    Thanks again for the informative article. I must however say something about the photo of your hand on the rock. In light of the article form the Albuquerque Journal on February 11, on vandalism at Petroglyph National Monument , and even in spite of it, you shouldn’t show your hand touching the rock. Pointing to it is one thing, touching it is another! I know that’s not a Petroglyph but it sends a message that it is ok to touch such rocks and I can see someone not realizing the difference and the possible damage that could happen. We must protect such objects of our collective past. Here is the article, and since I cannot link for some reason here is the complete URL. http://www.abqjournal.com/539762/news/monument-marred-by-vandalism-trash.html. Thanks

  5. Bob says:

    Great Earth magazine piece! But I’m not gonna go treasure-hunting.

  6. Josh Baker says:

    Outlet from a hot springs? Hmm. Might need a road trip to search. Great story!

  7. furrygnome says:

    Fascinating story! Hope you’re enjoying winter!

  8. That is a very exciting quest indeed! I wish you luck and fortune. Do let us know if you find it. 🙂

  9. ldsrr91 says:

    The treasure is not so much the contents of the box, the treasure is the illusion of locating the box and the journey. Just imagine all the people who will read this, and live the adventure vicariously thru you, and never leave their home. You are so fortunate, unlike those left behind, that cannot trek out into the wilderness and search for whatever your/their heart requires.

    Funny how the mind will work, I have the same thing bouncing around in my head, almost constantly. A man, two pack horses and a dog, every year he goes into the Rockies and stays two weeks, just him and that old dog.

    Maybe some day huh?


  10. Barry says:

    Oh great, like I had so much time on my hands. I had never heard anything about this story. Now you have me hooked…..big time. Your story has stirred something deep within me. Maybe a longing for the long summer days of being a kid and trekking through the woods looking for treasure. I have my first site located and cannot wait to make the long journey with my teardrop trailer to pick up my just reward. If I find it, I will share some with you, as without this story, I never would have gone looking.


  11. Mark Robert says:

    Very nice blog, inspiring in many ways. I would just like to add, in case it hasn’t already been pointed out to you, that the “blaze” that you found in the Rio Grand Gorge is Tibetan script. It says Om Mani Padme Hung, the most well-known of Tibetan Buddhist mantras, and found carved in holy places throughout Tibet. it’s also very well done, I suspect by a native Tibetan or a well-informed Westerner. As far as the meaning goes, that’s a secret treasure!

  12. pl289 says:

    Excellent article. Best I’ve read on The Chase during years of research.

  13. Chris says:

    Wish I could get a chance to look, I have some theories of where it could be. But shame they won’t get a chance to be put into practice lol

  14. Thomas Conrad says:

    Where warm waters halt, I believe the first four paragraphs give the area and state to start, then you begin your trip in there from where warm waters halt, on the east side of the front range, The Rocky Mountain Front is such an important geologic feature that it affects the weather in North America. Warm air masses moving from the Gulf of Mexico are blocked by the front from moving west, causing hail, thunderstorms, tornadoes, and other kinds of violent weather which then move east. Email me if you’re still looking

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