I am a millionaire – and much more!

“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or – worse! – stolen by burglars …. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.” Matthew 6:19-21, Message

Treasure and artifact seeker Forrest Fenn decided that he wanted to do something creative to get people outdoors and enjoying nature. So he took some prized possessions from his vast collection, put them into a gold box worth over $10,000 itself, and hid it somewhere out in nature to be found by a lucky explorer. But he didn’t leave the search completely to chance. With the announcement of this stash, he wrote a poem with clues to the bounty. Part of the poem reads:

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 if ever drawing nigh;

There’ll be no paddle up your creek,

Just heavy loads and water high.

News about this treasure has triggered a modern-day gold rush. Prospectors have spent time and money in search of the prize, sometimes at the risk of their lives.

I’d heard about this hunt about a year ago, just before a trip I took with my family to the American Southwest. Fascinated by it, but also feeling like I could find a use for millions of dollars, I kept an eye out for places the stash could be located. I didn’t necessarily think I’d wander upon it, but a couple of times when I did find myself in a canyon with flowing water, my interest was piqued. I figured a river in a canyon was one of the landmarks. But alas, I did not see that golden box. Honestly, I hadn’t tried too hard to find it, so my failure was no surprise.

Clues to the treasure

In addition to the clues in the poem, Fenn has also mentioned on news programs and in interviews that the box is located in one of four states: New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, or Montana, and is somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. He has also mentioned that it’s located above 1,500 meters.

Early in August, as I planned a road-trip loop around parts of Colorado’s mid-section, I came up with an extra day between two places I wanted to visit. Looking at a map, I found a spot halfway between the two and decided to check it out. It seems as though every place in Colorado is amazing, and this spot was no exception: a deep canyon in the Rockies that had a river running through parts of it. I love a good canyon, and the convenience of the spot sealed the deal for me. It was also around this time that Fenn’s treasure came back to mind. A canyon? Water in that canyon? In the Rockies? This seemed interesting. I at least figured it was in the running as a potential spot.

Having decided that a “high” waterfall was involved in this treasure’s location, based on my understanding of the clues, I Googled the name of the park and the word “waterfall.” It didn’t seem as though this park had one, or one that was more than a few meters high, but my heart skipped a beat when a search-engine query revealed that not only was there a waterfall there, but it was almost 50 meters tall. At this point, I’d say I was about 40 percent sure this was the location. The percentage only increased as time went on.

I looked online and didn’t find much information about the falls, but I did find a blog by a couple giving directions on how to get to the top of the falls in the winter. They also mentioned a cave at the top, which bumped up my certainty about the spot. I had always figured a cave would make a great place to store the box, as Fenn had mentioned once that it was possible the treasure could go undiscovered for quite some time. A cave would protect it from the elements. The cave at the top of the falls would be the first place I’d visit. I now had directions on how to get there from these good folks in the blog.

But something was happening that I didn’t like. I had been looking forward to this trip more than anything I had looked forward to for a long time. Time camping under the stars, mountain views in abundance, city views of Denver at night from the windows of my room, me and God and nature for over a week – I was a kid at Christmas. But that started to ebb away as the hunt for the treasure grew.

To be clear, I didn’t become money-hungry at the hint of this treasure. Actually, even if I had the right spot, I was aware that someone else could have beaten me to it. While Fenn says that he has not been given any evidence to date that someone has found the treasure, there was always the chance someone had discovered it and chosen to remain anonymous. But this treasure hunt was huge – millions of dollars huge – and by its nature was eating up more and more of my attention.

The excitement about the trip dwindled as the potential of finding the location of the box became more of a reality. And I didn’t like that. I considered scratching my trip to that area and having nothing to do with it, but I figured God could help me stay focused on what was real and certain and what I had looked forward to seeing. Besides, if I did find the gold, I could buy the state of Colorado and go there whenever I wanted, without the distraction of the treasure.

Before long, I was on my trip and driving through the beautiful state of Colorado. The scenery was amazing, and the lack of distraction meant I could focus on God and my time out in the mountains. The possibility of hunting for Fenn’s treasure not only didn’t consume me as I had feared, but I figured rooting around for it at the end of my itinerary would be a fun and extremely unique addition to the trip.

The day of the search finally arrived. That morning was exciting. To be involved in a real treasure hunt – and one of this magnitude – was bigger than me. After breakfast, I hurried to prepare my small backpack for the journey. I also had a collapsible cooler with a shoulder strap that I brought in case I had to carry something golden and boxy back to my car after my hike.

I parked where the blog recommended and walked down to the entry point into the canyon. It was a steep descent, made worse by the previous night’s heavy rains. Each step found me sliding about 30 centimeters down the soft hill. I hadn’t gotten far when I realized I needed to find another route. A second route also found me backtracking and looking for other options. I considered going through a dark water tunnel that went under the road, but getting to that seemed difficult and potentially problematic. I went back to the first route, getting down as far as the creek at the bottom of the steep hill, but I quickly realized that going that way would not be feasible for various reasons. The blog writers had traveled with deep snow over everything, and I realized that may have been to their advantage.

Walking back to my car only 15 minutes after having left it, I felt extremely disappointed. All this buildup for nothing. I considered other options, but to no avail. If only Fenn had told me how to get to the location, I thought. That’s when it hit me. He had. I’d used all his clues to determine the end point, but then did my own research and allowed myself to get sidetracked into hearing how to get there from others. I had forgotten that the treasure hider and poem writer had provided step-by-step directions.

As I realized this, the spiritual parallel to my situation became clear very quickly. What I had done with the poem, too often we do with God’s Word. Sometimes we feel like we know the end of the story with God, so we take our own path to the conclusion. We do this with the Bible when we ignore very clear Bible passages because they don’t seem to jive with our idea of a loving God or the view of God we have. So we ignore what we have read and take our own path to the end. However, that can sometimes lead us to the wrong conclusion, or a conclusion that is not completely correct.

Clues from the poem

The poem reads, “Begin it where warm waters halt.” As I considered approaching the waterfall from the base now, and getting to it from the river, an interpretation of this line seemed to make itself known. To get to the river, I’d have to cross over a dam. Dams definitely halt water. On one side of the dam was a reservoir surrounded by hills, on the other a deep canyon. You had to drive down into the canyon and walk down further to get to the river at the base of the canyon. In other words, “take it to the canyon down” – the next line of the poem.

“Put in below the home of Brown,” The only dock on this part of the river was below a brown outhouse/storage unit owned by the National Park Service. The falls were five kilometers away from this point if you could find a path that continued that far, so “too far to walk” but one could travel by river. “No place for the meek”? The river wound around high canyon walls. A tall waterfall at the end of the five-kilometer journey seemed like the likely home of the treasure to me. However, not at the top as I’d been planning on, but in the pool of water at its base. It seemed to fit all the clues from the poem like step-by-step directions.

Feeling the rush of adventure again, I looked for a way to get to the waterfall. After considering different options and calling around, I had only one choice. I’d have to drive 30 minutes east to rent an inflatable kayak that could fit in the back seat of my car in its deflated state and then be inflated at the river’s edge. I quickly made plans to do this. But with the sun setting in a few hours, I’d need to wait until the next day to start the quest.

The morning of the trip, I carried more than 20 kilos of equipment just over 1.5 kilometers along the river’s edge to where I’d put in and inflated the craft. With excitement, I pushed off from shore, cooler bag snugly lodged between the outer edges of the inflatable kayak. Into the canyon I went, toward the falls.

It was a beautiful day. The blue sky, white puffy clouds, and rugged canyon walls around me seemed to paint a picture of the nature of God. I loved where I was and what I was experiencing – and not because of the bounty that I felt might lay before me.

In just under an hour, I pulled myself up to the rocky shore near the pool of water at the base of the waterfall. Having had all the clues line up perfectly to lead me here, I would say that I was now 90 percent certain this was the home of Fenn’s treasure. But I can tell you honestly that as I stepped out of the kayak and saw the pool of water below the falls, I felt 100 percent sure of it. Now my future came down to whether or not I was right about the location, and if so, whether or not someone else had already beat me to the same realization. With humble, curious, unbelieving excitement, I walked up to the shallow pool at the base of the 50-meter waterfall and stepped in. So cold.

I figured that if this was the spot, the box would be under or behind the falls, so I checked there first. I had pictured it being in a dry area behind the falls, but the area behind the falls was a wall of rock. So instead, I felt around in the water under the falls. Getting cold quickly, and not yet ready to commit to sticking my hands into the murky water, I opted to inspect the shallower areas around the edge of the pool first. After finding nothing, I realized I needed to go back to the waterfall.

I started to feel around under the falling water, but the height of the falls, the temperature of the water, and having to reach down into areas I couldn’t see into made this a short attempt. I tried a few more times, shivering and gasping for cold breaths before retreating back to the shallow edge of the pool. I didn’t want to go back into the water or under the waterfall. I wanted to leave. Had I not been there looking for the box, I would have left. Honestly, I was a little freaked out.

But I couldn’t leave what could be instant millions, either. So I gathered up morsels of courage and sloshed back over to the falls. Arms in up to almost my shoulders, cold water dropping onto my head and back, I fully committed to the task this time, making sure I didn’t leave wondering if I should have given it more care. Just then, the wind blew the narrow falls over to one side, out of my way and off my head. I reached in one more time, giving it my all, feeling everything, and making sure it wasn’t there. It was in this last attempt, while feeling around, that I realized … it wasn’t there. Disappointed, and feeling on the verge of passing out from hyperventilating and the extreme cold, I left the pool to warm up in the sun. Certain this was the spot, I figured someone beat me to it. Then again, maybe I was mistaken. Maybe the similarities were just a coincidence.

The real kind of millionaires

I mentioned that the idea of this whole money grab thing nearly sapped my enthusiasm over the trip. I’ll tell you why it didn’t. It was looking at the city lights of Denver from my hotel room at night, and seeing the Rocky Mountains off in the distance the next morning after the sun came up. It was the amazing views from every campsite I stayed at. And the night I spent at the base of a canyon. Have you ever seen stars on a clear night, in an area without any light, at the base of a canyon? I lay entranced on the hood of my car for hours. It was the hike in the mountains over Vail, with the view of the surrounding peaks and the varied mountain vistas at every turn as I drove from place to place. And the people. Everyone was so nice. Maybe they were on vacation too, or just more friendly or relaxed in general. Whatever it was, they made the trip better. And I can’t forget the solo kayaking trip through the canyon the morning of the trip to the falls. Even as I paddled out, I said aloud, “Who cares if the box is there or not? I got this experience, and that makes me rich.”

Millions of stars in the sky, a treasure box full of nature and amazing views around us, and caring people everywhere. Sometimes in our lives, we have to look for treasure, but to those who find God’s gifts to us, we’re millionaires for sure. The real kind of millionaires, not those with only boxes of gold.

Chandler Riley is senior benefits specialist, Human Resources Department, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. E-mail: rileyc@gc.adventist.org.