The Forrest Fenn treasure has been found

The discovery was made after a Colorado avalanche swept the stash onto a roadway.


Note: On June 7, 2020, Forrest Fenn told the Santa Fe New Mexican that the Forrest Fenn treasure was, indeed, found. Our story, below, was posted as an April Fools’ Day piece in 2019, meant as satire and for entertainment purposes. 

About a decade ago, Santa Fe art dealer, millionaire and former Vietnam fighter pilot Forrest Fenn buried a bronze chest supposedly filled with gold and precious gems somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, leaving treasure seekers nothing but the nine cryptic clues hidden inside a poem to guide them.

The booty, located somewhere between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Canadian border, has inspired hundreds of thousands of searchers. Some have discovered new places in the process and a few of them have died — but Fenn’s treasure has never been found — until now.

It wasn’t the careful clue deciphering of a dedicated hunter that brought the sought-after fortune to light. Rather, it was a happenstance discovery by a crewmember clearing a treacherous mountain pass — the Million Dollar Highway, which was buried by a historic avalanche in March.

The discovery occurred last week on Red Mountain Pass, the narrow highway that winds between Durango and Silverton, Colorado. A 20-mile stretch had been closed for 19 days as Colorado Department of Transportation crews cleared the pass of 60 feet of snow. One of them discovered much more than expected. 

“Our crews have spent weeks confronting several avalanches that have covered the roads in heavy, wet snow with branches trees and boulders — were it not for the keen eye of one of our crewmembers, the Fenn treasure would still elude us,” said Begonia Spurge-Burdock, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Photo illustration by Luna Anna Archey/High Country News Sources: WSDOT and Shutterstock

Fortunately, Denny Burfurdunk, a middle-aged snowplow operator with a red ZZ Top beard, noticed something unusual as he was pushing one of the great piles of snow and debris onto the shoulder. He put his plow in park and ran toward an oddly ornate tattered trunk sticking out of the snow. Using his pick and shovel, he freed it from the snowbank. It was a Romanesque chest, deeply worn from many harsh winters and sealed shut by a large rusty lock.

His fellow crewmembers crowded around the discovery. “I remember running up and just shouting to Denny, ‘You know what this is, Denny? I’ll bet this is Fenn’s treasure!’ I am just blown away that it actually was,” said Bill Meelater, a CDOT supervisor, whose sharp eyes instantly caught the words “THIS IS FENN’S TREASURE,” spelled out on the trunk’s lid in faded neon colors. Another crewmember handed him a small hatchet. Burfurdunk broke open the bolt and pried open the chest. 

He surveyed the inventory: Four copies, containing thousands of yellowed pages, of the 1970s issue Gold and Jewels children’s book; the studio album Spirit by Jewell, 1998; a copy of the Joan Baez album Diamonds and Rust, minus the rust; a single issue of the gold platinum 1942 single “Chattanooga Choo Choo” by the Glenn Miller Orchestra; and a framed faded photo of Australian singer and songwriter Ruby Hunter, who died the year the treasure was hidden. And finally, under the cracked plastic of a Neil Diamond 1970 live Gold CD was a signed copy of an unpublished manuscript by Forrest Fenn himself.

“It truly is a priceless collection,” Spurge-Burdock said. “Such riches, new and old. It’s brilliant. Just brilliant.” 

Burfurdunk, too, was elated by his discovery. “I expected it to be full of riches or money or something, but this is so much better. Now I feel rich in my heart.”

The Thrill of the Chase: clues to finding Forrest Fenn’s treasure

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.

Paige Blankenbuehler is an assistant editor for High Country News. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.