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A Quest for Adventure (or) A Yellowstone Education

We should have known anything called Devils Slide wasn't going to be a cakewalk... but there we were, down to our last ounces of water, crawling over decade old skeletons of antelope, elk, and bears, peering over the edge of yet another sharp precipice. A branch hit my hat and I watched it slip off my head and fall through the air. My heart sank, my aching legs complaining with the realization that they would be hiking back up this peak once again... but I'm getting way ahead of myself! let's go back to the beginning!
Day 1

Thursday morning, a decision was to be made. Stay home in L.A. and enjoy a long Labor Day weekend... or, drive all through the night and next day to Montana, on a whim, with only one goal in mind: collect as much information on Forrest Fenns hidden treasure from the Yellowstone locality as possible. We chose adventure!
After a hasty pack, we were on the road. We made it deep into Utah before pulling over to get some rest. I really couldn't tell you where, but it was very dark, peaceful, and the stars were stunning. We got creative, pushing the back seats down and using an assortment of hoodies, sweaters, & blankets to create a bed of sorts and we put ourselves in the trunk. It was surprisingly cozy!
Day 2
6 hours later and we're cruising up I-15 towards our goal, West Yellowstone, Montana. Forrest Fenn was raised in this tiny town every summer of his life until he joined the Air Force at 19. He speaks fondly of it many times in his various writings and although I had never been in this state, I felt the sensation of returning to a familiar place. I was not let down.
West Yellowstone is a unique, quaint piece of American history, frozen in time. I wasn't aware that we still had authentic western towns surviving into modern times, and I felt like a character in a Louis L'amour novel. It took all of 10 minutes to see the whole town, which was fortunate because we were starving!

Our first stop was Bullwinkles, formerly known as The Totem Cafe. Fenn worked here in the 1940's as a dishwasher and there are many a clue in his Totem Cafe chapter of his memoir. I just had to see it. The walls carried some history and information of the area so of course i studied it all. My waiter, becoming inquisitive said "So are you family or friend?"
"Pardon me?" I replied
"family or friend? you sure seem to know the place"
"Oh, nope. I'm actually a treasure hunter", I said, expecting this to be a popular statement here.
"I think I've heard about that before. Oh yea man, there's this old fart you gotta talk to, cookier than hell! Bartie is his name! He's convinced its near some railroad tracks out here... let's see if hes drinking next door" The waiter led us out back, and ducked into a bar/casino that was attached to the building. He came out a minute later.
"his second cousin is in here, c'mon"

So we walked in, and a polite looking couple greeted us, inviting us to their table. We talked for a good half an hour, exchanged some ideas, and collectively pondered the meaning behind certain lines of the poem. Then something happened that flipped my perspective. He began telling a story, of a past treasure hunter who had gotten lost...
"So we knew what hotel this guy was at, we knew he had been missing too long, and convinced the hotel clerk to let us into his room. Bed hadn't been slept in, but we discovered he was going up Beaver Creek"
A distant bell started ringing in my head... I knew this story, nearly every detail. How?
"Wait, who's cousin are you" I interrupted.
"Forrest Fenns"
"Ohhh" I exclaimed. "I know this story! You're Chipper Smith. That guy was way out there and he was going to die. You saved his life!"
Well Chipper and his wife stared at me, mouths agape for a moment. Neither was aware their story had been made public by Forrest on one of his blog posts. All of a sudden this chance meeting was amplified in importance to me. I felt as if I was being divinely led by some invisible hand. How funny that the first person I meet, within 30 minutes of my arrival, should be the cousin of the man's treasure I was chasing!
He was equally surprised when I told him how I knew of his grandfather Carl, and had discovered through my research that he had ran away from Pennsylvania at age 14, changed his name, and joined a traveling Vaudeville group. Apparently this was recent knowledge to the family and had created some minor incidents...
"Well, I've met several treasure hunters out here but I've yet to meet one as well-read or clever as you are. I think you've got a chance son"
"Oh wow, thank you" I said bashfully, finding it difficult to repress a very large grin.

Day 3

"I think... I think we need to cross that river" I said.

"looks shallow. Lets do it" said Pilar. She was quite the competent treasure hunting partner, and pretty too.

We hiked up our pants, held our shoes above our head, and waded across the Firehole River. There was a series of bluffs on the other side that looked appealing from a topographical map and I wanted to see them up close. We found tons of tiny caves & cubby holes, but no clues and certainly no treasure. We climbed to top of the bluff, where Pilar spotted a geyser erupting in the distance. It looked pretty darn neat so we had to go see it, but not before crossing the river again.

After getting wet the first time across, I decided to cross in the nude. I slipped, and the current dragged my butt across the rocks. Ouch. As I pulled my clothes on, back on the bank, we noticed a Buffalo upstream. He didn't seem to mind seeing me in the buff much.

Tired, we resorted back into tourist form and explored Yellowstones many marvels.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is truly a sight to behold. If it's not on your bucket list, stick it in your top 10. You simply have to see it.

A thought occurred to me, as I stared across that gorgeous, multi-colored canyon, setting my eyes on the cascading water of the Lower Falls. I thought of how immensely beautiful this all was, how massive nature can be, and how small and insignificant it made me feel. This canyon, with its two splendid waterfalls has existed and will exist for millions of years and here I am, a small, vertical creature that will hardly last 100 years, in awe of natures magnitude. It was a humbling experience. I began to imagine this same place half a million years ago... what would it have looked like then? Could it have been any more amazing? Then, I realized something that made me feel better, that made me feel significant again..

When have you seen a herd of elk standing at the base of a waterfall, staring upward? Have you ever seen a dog or cat stop to admire a post-storm rainbow? How odd would it be, if thousands of bears traveled miles to a canyon edge every summer, simply to gaze over the edge, then leave?

We may be small, in a very, very big world, but until us, there has never been anyone to truly appreciate this strange, mysterious place. We are the first animals with the ability to recognize beauty! We are the first to feel wonder, awe, amazement, and bewilderment! We are uniquely enabled to recognize the lines, slopes, and patterns of Mother Natures geometry and say "would you just look at that!"
We cant help but appreciate how elegant the design this game-board of Life is, as we continue playing our way along it, grinning to the finish. And that is what we do. We just look at it.
Later that night, we were given a lesson on the duality of Mother Nature, because where there is awe, and wonder, there must be fear, and anxiety.
The moon shone bright after sunset, and looked close enough one could reach up and snag it out of the sky! The canyon took on a whole new appearance in its glow. The multi-colored canyon walls now resembled melting Neapolitan ice cream, running down the gorge. The waterfall glowed a pale white and its roar filled the air around us. A moonlit hike seemed a perfect idea.
Sublime Trail. Sounds peaceful right? The trail meanders along the canyon wall and shortly drops off steeply on the left side. The trail is plenty wide enough for several people, but I discovered a new phobia I wasn't aware I have, people I love slipping over a cliff. On my own, I'm fearless, often standing on edges, looking down. With my better half, I was all but a mess.
Pilar quickly became annoyed with my constant grip and positioning myself between her and the edge, but her aggravation was scant a concern of mine, when I feared for her life! Justified, or not. It didn't take long before I gave up on the hike and begged that we turn into the forest. She capitulated.
Well, the backcountry of Yellowstone is nothing like the Appalachian wilderness we were raised in, and as we crept along in the thick darkness, we foolishly began recounting the myriad of ways Yellowstone could kill a person... Grizzlies, Moose, Bison, boiling mud, thermal vents, acidic hot springs, geysers... Yup, we ran back to the car as fast as safely possible!
Regaining our confidence, we salvaged the night by taking advantage of our solitude with the canyon overlook and laid on blankets under the moon & stars, letting the waterfalls roar scare away all of our night terrors.

Day 4
As she slept, I had driven us north to Gardiner, Montana, just outside the Yellowstone entrance. I found a small, dirt road and parked on top a large mountain. I climbed into our makeshift trunk/bed and clocked out.
I was awakened by a gaggle of Scissor-tails, and once I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, I was greeted to the most beautiful sight. I had parked just above the small, western town of Gardiner and could see for miles!
Our first order of business, bathe. We were whooped and deserved a good soak, but in keeping with our rustic style, we headed to Boiling River, where super-heated water pours into the icy Gardner River and mixes to create a comfortable temperature. However, it's a challenge to find that perfect spot, and generally ends with you freezing on one side while being scalded on the other. Forrest Fenn bathed here as a teenager to avoid paying 50 cents for a shower.
Now, I've never said I thought I knew where the treasure was or that I had a correct solve for Fenns poem. In my mind, it takes a lot of knowledge(and imagination) to correctly decipher the clues and I don't believe it's nearly as simple as many like to believe. My interpretation leads me to believe I can solve it from home, but not without knowing exactly what Fenn is referencing. I came to the Yellowstone area to gather information, to understand Fenns childhood, and of course, to see some pretty cool stuff.
Knowing we had to head back towards L.A. that evening, we decided to just follow intuition and see
where we were led. We were led to Devils Slide.
You can see next to it are the two large walls resembling a massive hallway. It looked enticing and easy enough, and I thought there must be one hell of a view from the top. So up we went.
Halfway up, the aisle turned steep, and rocky. It looked foreboding, and we were losing steam... but we were halfway! That effort shouldn't be in vain right? We climbed up, and up, atop fallen rocks. I coached Pilar on how to ensure a rock was secure before putting weight on it and we pushed on. Over an hour later, we still hadn't made it to the top. It looked a short hike from the ground but we hadn't expected to be bouldering the whole way, so we had only brought about 24 oz of water. I relegated us to small sips every so often.
Finally, we summited! All our hard effort paid off, and boy what a view! Tall, vertical shelves of rock framed the land above, and it appeared untouched by man. I imagined we were the first to walk its majestic valley! Then I saw the bear tracks, and then the bones, bones of many large animals. Some skulls still had their antlers attached, others had disintegrated into brittle fragments. Everywhere we walked was the evidence of mass animal death, hundreds of skeletons, a literal animal cemetery.
Time to leave. As hard as it was the way we had come up, I expected it to be much more dangerous going down. We knew the hill to the left of Devils Slide appeared to have an easier descent so we took it. Halfway down, my anxiety came rushing back. Much to Pilars dismay, we had come to another precipice and obnoxiously protective boyfriend was back. We had to go back, the steep slope was more than I was willing to traverse with her in tow, so we started hiking back up the mountain.
We were exhausted, running low on water, and losing sunlight fast. Thoughts of being trapped on the top of Devils Slide filled my mind, as I imagined ways to survive the night if needed. I'd dig a hole. Start a fire. Cover the embers with a layer of dirt, and we could sleep on that for warmth... Maybe we can get service at top and call Chipper Smith...Nonsense, we're getting down this damn mountain.
We made our back down, further to the left, between another 2 rock shelves, before coming to the grisly scenario described in my opening paragraph. Shit. We had to go back to the top & we had to go back down the way we came. I was deeply regretting bringing Pilar up there, knowing she was just as exhausted as me, but she trudged on like a champ. When we finally topped this Hell of a peak for the 3rd time, we started down the perilous ravine we came up...

And then.... We had fun! turns out our fears were for naught. The way down was a breeze and we laughed as we used the loose sediment to slide down the slopes like superheroes, albeit a few falls.When we arrived at our car, we were greeted by herds of Pronghorn Antelope and massive Mule Deer. I took Pilar for a much-needed shower & ice cream, and what was once a dreaded, long journey back to Los Angeles now seemed oh so sweet.
Much was learned on this adventure. First, that Nature, in all of its undeniable glory, is a fickle wench and should always be approached as such. Life & Death are an inescapable two-sided coin. We can't appreciate Peace without Fear. We cant appreciate Joy without Misery, and with Foolish acts come hard-earned Wisdom

Oh, and keep your loved ones away from steep cliffs.


  1. Great post! Sounds exciting and scary both. Next time I bet you'll be more prepared since you know what you need now. I hadn't heard of this guy before, now I have to google him. Keep writing--this is good stuff.

  2. What a wonderful adventure! My husband and I were out there that same time, and in fact, I recognize some of the people in your photo of the Boiling Springs. If you saw a woman about your grandma's age with a pink shirt and rolled up pants, taking the water temperature.....that was me! Thanks for letting us old folks relive our more carefree youth through your story.

    1. Now that is just too funny. So close in place and time, & here I am a couple days later on blogspot too! No such thing as a coincidence!

    2. Okay, now that I've read up on this adventure and the hidden treasure, it sounds like a job for geocachers. ;) We solve puzzles to find those tupperware containers all the time. Why not this one for a fortune? What a fun adventure on which to embark!

  3. What a great read! I had to read it all and now I'm behind on my cleaning! You've found a new follower!

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I hope my future posts keep you similarly enthralled :)


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