Since a Santa Fe author and artifacts dealer announced in 2010 that he had hidden a chest full of gold and jewels worth more than $1 million somewhere in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe, thousands of searchers have been trying to unravel the poem published in his autobiography, The Thrill of the Chase, that supposedly leads to what has become known as Forrest Fenn’s treasure.
Even though many doubt the existence of a physical treasure, the New Mexico Department of Tourism has released a new promotional video featuring sweeping shots of New Mexico’s landscapes, as Fenn speaks about his life and the treasure chest. It is part of the New Mexico True ad campaign.
“We love the idea of people out searching in New Mexico,” said state Tourism Department Secretary Rebecca Latham.
Latham said the agency came up with the idea after noting that many treasures hunters were coming to New Mexico. As of Friday, the video had received more than 45,000 hits on YouTube.
Speaking in the video, Fenn says of the treasure chest: “It’s such a visual site. Emeralds and rubies and diamonds and sapphires and gold and antiques and jade.”
And though Fenn has said the treasure could be in Colorado, Wyoming or Montana, Latham said she feels the video does a good job of representing New Mexico. She thinks the clues point a toward a location somewhere in Northern New Mexico, though others who have spent years hunting disagree.
But beware, the video contains a couple of potentially misleading clues. First, Fenn states in the video that if he were standing near the treasure, “I’d smell wonderful smells, of pine needles or piñon nuts or sagebrush.”
He also says in the video: “I know the treasure chest is wet.”
But in an interview with The New Mexican, Fenn said, “That video didn’t have any clues. It might influence some people to come to New Mexico, but I don’t want to give the impression that I am giving that as a clue because I am not.”
Fenn said if the treasure were in the wilderness, of course it would be wet. Just because the video shows a river, that doesn’t mean the chest is underwater.
And he said he erred in mentioning piñon nuts. He really meant pine needles.
Fenn said he still receives about 120 emails a day and estimated some 30,000 people went searching for the treasure last summer alone. He said he meets with hunters two to three times a week, but he gets enough requests he could schedule two to three visits a day.
Dal Neitzel runs a blog dedicated to the searchers who hunt for Fenn’s treasure. It features a bullet-pointed list of clues and a forum for Fenn fans to debate the clues and possible locations for the treasure.
Neitzel said he started searching for the treasure about four years ago. The searcher said he spent a year searching for the treasure in New Mexico before venturing north to Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.
Like Fenn, Neitzel said he doesn’t believe the author’s participation in the tourism video suggests the treasure is hidden in New Mexico. His research has led him to believe the author stashed the treasure near Yellowstone National Park, but he doesn’t want to discourage others from deciphering the clues and searching elsewhere.
“I would have to say it could be in any of the four states,” Neitzel said. Regardless of his personal beliefs, Neitzel added, he believes the promo video will send people flocking to New Mexico.
Fellow treasure hunter Stephanie Thirtyacre said she also started her hunt in New Mexico, and she estimates she has visited the state 50 times. Thirtyacre runs a website chat room, “Chase Chat,” and she said her regular commenters have been dissecting every frame of the new video.
She, like Neitzel, believes it will encourage many treasure hunters to search in New Mexico’s mountains. And also like Neitzel, she can’t definitely say if Fenn stashed the treasure in New Mexico.
“I wish I could say ‘yes,’ ” she wrote in an email. “… My solution locations change on a daily basis.”
Fenn, 84, is thrilled with the continued success of the hunt, given that when he first published his autobiography in October 2010, no one had read his previous eight novels. And it’s anyone guess if the treasure will ever be discovered.
“I don’t even know which way to guess,” he said. ” I did not intend for it to be found easily, but it’s certainly not impossible to find.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported Dal Neitzel, a hunter of Forrest Fenn's treasure, searched for the hidden stash in Minnesota. He searched in Montana. The story has been amended to reflect the correction.
Contact Chris Quintana at 986-3093 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @CQuintanaSF.