When Cynthia Meachum got the news, she felt as if she had lost her best friend and the best years of her life all at once.
It was this weekend's announcement by Forrest Fenn that a man had found his fabled chest full of ancient artifacts, coins and other treasures — a trove Meachum herself had sought in at least three states over the past eight years.
Fenn, 89, has not revealed the name of the man he claims has found the chest — the hunter, from "back East," wishes to remain anonymous, he said — and won't tell where in the Rocky Mountains the chest was hidden.
The Santa Fe author, antiquities dealer and Vietnam Veteran started the hunt a decade ago when he published an autobiography, The Thrill of the Chase, containing a poem he claimed offered clues leading to the whereabouts of a cache worth somewhere between $700,000 and $2 million.
Now he is declining to release the solution to the puzzle that has sent some 350,000 treasure hunters into the Rockies in search of a fortune.
Fenn said by phone Monday morning he was not "going to talk about it anymore."
Meachum, 67, hopes that will change.
"I want more information," she said. "I'm on pins and needles. I can't wait to find out what state it has been found in. I want to know, 'Was I ever close?' "
She's not alone.
Interviews with Fenn treasure hunters around the globe said they can live with knowing someone has beaten them to the loot. But they're longing to find out whether their calculations, deductions and forest searches put them in the ballpark.
Most of them said it makes perfect sense for the finder to remain anonymous to avoid any future trouble, such as uninvited visitors or a court battle.
Fenn has faced both types of trouble since he hid the 20-pound trove 10 years ago.
Ken King, who works in the construction industry and lives in Longmont, Colo., said he’s been treasure hunting most of his life. He started looking for the Fenn treasure four years ago.
“It’s not an every-waking-moment kind of thing, but when my mind wanders or when the moment grabs me, I work to refine my solves,” he said.
He said he understands the privacy concerns of the finder and Fenn.
"I am personally wondering if Forrest will actually reveal the location or not," he said. "This place was a special place for him, and maybe he won't want hundreds or thousands of searchers descending to get a look at the resting place of this treasure chest that has eluded us for so long."
Colorado artist Peter Campbell said if he had found the chest, "I would have kept it a secret from everyone but Fenn."
He found evidence at a location in Montana that made him wonder if he actually had discovered the former hiding spot shortly after the chest was found and removed.
Campbell's two-day sojourn into the wilderness led him to a huge hole in a rock formation filled with water. On the ground nearby, he found an abandoned inflatable raft, a pair of gloves and a yogurt container possibly used to scoop the water and nab the treasure.
Campbell is aware he might have had the wrong spot. But, he said, that's part of the mystery of the hunt.
Several treasure hunters contacted The New Mexican following Sunday's news of Fenn's announcement to say they believed they had solved the mystery. While none said they thought Fenn's hunt was a hoax, some wondered if he hadn't arranged for someone to nab the chest just before they reached it.
Gregory Sereda is pretty sure he had it all figured out.
"I'm certain in my solve," he said in an interview Monday. "After following all these clues, and I end up under a rainbow next to a symbol that means 'pot' and a symbol that means 'gold' under the rainbow, that’s kind of ironic."
Sereda, a truck driver from Canada working on his master’s degree in nursing, said he was certain he knew the very spot where Fenn's treasure was buried in Colorado — between two trees — but hadn't had a chance to dig it up.
He couldn’t get his solution to the puzzle confirmed by Fenn.
“Last night, after I heard all the stuff was going down, I wanted to call and reconfirm, and I tossed my name out to him, and he didn’t know me from a hill of beans,” Sereda said.
For some hunters, it was not the lure of gold that drove them but the idea of a good, old-fashioned adventure.
Jonathan Jones, a 41-year old information technology worker from England, made the hunt a family affair. He took his partner and two children along for fortune-seeking sojourns in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere.
For Jones, who grew up on adventure movies like The Goonies and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Fenn's treasure hunt brought the joy of playing Indiana Jones to a real-life trek into the wilderness with a poem full of clues.
"Was it about the money? Was it about proving you could solve something like this? Was it about friendships you developed?" he asked.
"This was a story and an adventure and about you going out into the mountains," he said, "and you fantasized about being in a movie. Nothing has stoked people up like this."
Fenn has said he launched the hunt to inspire people to seek adventure throughout the Rocky Mountain West — a region he has hiked, fished and explored since childhood.
The search for Fenn’s treasure has spawned an annual gathering of campers at Hyde Memorial State Park known as Fennboree, as well as several documentary films and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. The New Mexico Department of Tourism even produced a video about the search and posted it on a state website.
While it has generated excitement about wilderness areas and has drawn hundreds of thousands to the outdoors, the hunt also has been deadly for some. At least five people have died searching for the treasure. Many others have gotten lost in the wild, prompting dangerous rescues.
An unknown number spent all their spare time and their savings on a fruitless search.
The hunt also has posed dangers for Fenn and his family. One man broke into his home, convinced the treasure was hidden there in a chest full of linens. Another man was convicted of stalking Fenn's granddaughter.
Now, many treasure hunters just want to know if they almost found it. Several said they would make a pilgrimage to the site if it were revealed.
"In fact, if the location was released, I would get in my car first thing in the morning and go there," Meachum said. "And I'm sure I would be joined by hundreds of other treasure hunters."