ALBUQUERQUE — A collection of gold and jewels that a retired Santa Fe art dealer says he stashed in the mountains north of Santa Fe has generated so much interest from amateur treasure hunters that some have put their lives in jeopardy or been cited for illegally digging on public lands.

But authorities are warning people about more than being careful and following the law. They also note finders may not be keepers.

“If this treasure is buried, you would need to dig for it. And you can’t dig anywhere in a national forest without a permit,” said Bruce Hill, spokesman for the Santa Fe National Forest. “Even if it is not buried and it is just placed somewhere it becomes public domain.”

Ditto for state lands, according to Department of Game and Fish spokesman Dan Williams.

Fenn was asked if he had considered land rights before hiding the chest. He said in an email that much has been written about land laws.

“I’m staying out of those discussions, except to say it may be fun to redefine some of the terms,” Fenn said in the email.

The poem that Fenn published in his memoir, “The Thrill of the Chase,” to give clues to the chest’s whereabouts advises the treasure finder to “Look quickly down, your quest to cease, But tarry scant with marvel gaze, Just take the chest and go in peace.”

But authorities currently seem to be more concerned about public safety than ownership questions as publicity about Fenn’s claims to have hidden the 40-plus pound chest filled with gold coins, gold nuggets and ancient jewelry draws people to the northern New Mexico mountains.

Last month, a woman from Texas got lost in the mountains near Los Alamos overnight after seeing reports about the treasure on national television. But she was found safe the next day.

And Williams said the state plans to file charges against a man found digging last month under a descanso along the upper Pecos River last month. A descanso is a marker where someone has died or ashes scattered. Williams says the man told officers he was digging for Fenn’s treasure.

Forest officials are urging treasure hunters to check with their office before setting out to make sure they have the proper gear and know the best places to go, Hill said.

“One of the concerns that we had is that this might invite people that really aren’t familiar with traveling in a forest,” Hill said. “They could get lost. They could step and stumble and turn an ankle … maybe put themselves in a situation where they have to be rescued and maybe put other people’s lives at risk.”

Fenn said he has also posted caution notices on his web site and several blogs.

“Flatlanders don’t realize how dangerous it can be,” he said.

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(6) comments

Steven Davis

As a trained geologist, a commercial airline pilot, an outdoorsman and a patriotic constitutionalist, I am simply amazed, as always, at the bitter, petulant, childish, jealous, statist, fascist, angry nanny-state, anti-liberty, condescending comments about Fenn on this site. Wake up everyone! Fenn has done nothing wrong! Here's a man who has magnanimously and philanthropically given an amazing portion of his personal wealth to the society at large; and he has done it in a way that has sparked countless imaginations of adults and children and caused people to rediscover much of the beauty and splendor of this magnificent nation's landscape. And you still have creatures on this site who are so low, so far beneath contempt as to excoriate him for doing this and suggest he is "littering' and "should be fined." People aren't going to do any significant harm here people--lighten up! Celebrate the fact that a real treasure hunt is on and that is the stuff that many people's dreams are made of. If it's not your dream, then fine--don't engage in the hunt! But stop telling other people how to live! And for God's sake stop asking for ever bigger and more powerful nanny-state government to swoop in and punish your fellow man for exercising his basic liberties. Even with my limited legal background from studying and practicing geology, I can assure you that both federal officials who claim that the treasure becomes public domain if left on public land, are absolutely incorrect. It is frightening to have such dangerously misinformed government employees, who always err, of course, in the direction of all-powerful tyrannical government. One could listen to these officials and easily see why most governments throughout history become tyrannical and often must eventually be abolished, only after tragic bloodshed. Embrace freedom; defend liberty, and relish an event like this that sparks the nation's imagination and dreams. I am reminded of the bold individuals who toil and research and sacrifice and recover an aircraft that has been an abandoned wreck for 70 years or a shipwreck that has been in a watery grave for centuries, and they are then immediately assaulted by tyrannical rapacious governments claiming the fruit of the citizen's labor as government property. The greed and dishonesty of government is limitless in these cases.

Jennifer Bizzarro

I must say I am surprised at some of the self-righteous outrage expressed by our state government and some of its residents. Mr. Fenn, whatever his motives, has put New Mexico on the global map in a way that appeals to the adventurer and explorer in all of us. The Tourism Department has not had to spend one penny on this and yet it beats the heck out of any campaign they’ve come up with so far.

Rather than tell tourists what they cannot do, why don’t we ask Ms. Jacobsen’s department to come up with a way to work with them on this made-for-television reality show. Cordon off trails, enlist safety guides, etc. Mr. Fenn? Kick some royalties back to the kids.

Buried treasure? It’s everyone’s dream!

Alicia Dante

Forrest Fenn IMHO is an irresponsible juvenile who thought it was OK to take advantage of women when trading antiquities and to dig in a ruin for fun without keeping notes etc. Now he wants to sell more books so who cares how many lives are endangered. RAH are the only words to describe him.


Should not Mr. Forrest Fenn be cited for littering on public lands? Honestly, I think if he is worth his salt, he will go recover HIS MESS, and donate the million dollars to charity and save us all the searching and fines and trouble this is causing.
Is not picking up your trash and or DUMPING on public land illegal? I wholeheartedly say "Fine Fenn"!!!

Randall cole

I bet book sales have shot up along with the fire dangers.

karl hardy

...and all we need is to have those "Flatlanders" in the middle of the drought - smoking in the forests - most strangers to this area have no idea of the basic concept of the dangers of this seemingly inviting area

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