Treasure — gold, loot and artifacts — is not worth a human life. It’s that basic.
So when Forrest Fenn — Santa Fe author and inspiration behind a modern-day treasure hunt — says he is wondering whether to suspend the quest he sparked, we are not sure what is causing his indecision. Pull back the treasure. End the hunt. And, as state police Chief Pete Kassetas put it so well: “Stop this nonsense.”
We don’t blame Fenn for the risks treasure seekers have taken. Individuals have to be smart in the outdoors and should know better than to put lives, including their own, in jeopardy. But the reality is this: Two people seeking the treasure now have died. One, it appears, is a pastor from Colorado who disappeared earlier this month. Another searcher died last year, and still more have become lost. One determined seeker even stalked Fenn’s granddaughter, thinking she was a metaphor for treasure.
Fenn started the fuss with his 2010 memoir. In it, he stated that he had placed treasure — worth more than $1 million — somewhere in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe. It has brought publicity to the area and helped sell a lot of books. National television shows have featured the search. There are websites and online communities dedicated to the hunt. To date, the riddle has proved unsolvable, despite the clues Fenn has provided.
For many people, searching for treasure has been light-hearted fun, including an annual “Fennboree” gathering of 100 or so searchers who come to Santa Fe to trade clues and ideas. No wonder. Who doesn’t want to find buried treasure?
However, as Fenn debates ways to make the search safer or whether to cancel it altogether, we have to side with the chief. The treasure hunt should be ended so that no more lives are put in danger — and that includes the public safety responders who have to search for lost men and women.
Supporters of the hunt claim life is full of risks, and they worry that the chief’s admitted concern over the state’s limited resources to run search and rescue operations sets a bad precedent for other outdoor activities. A commenter from Chama, writing at www.santafenewmexican.com, had this to say: “What other lawful activities would the state feel emboldened to ask citizens to stop engaging in just because that would save the state money and other resources? I am dismayed that the police chief even asked, given the ‘slippery slope’ nature of the request.”
The slope is not that slippery. Fenn’s hunt is an artificial construct, a way to excite the reading public and to share his life of adventure with the world. He can do those things without telling folks he buried a chest somewhere in the mountains north of Santa Fe — and it could be way north, in Colorado or Montana. He’s even succeeded in one of the goals of his book, The Thrill of the Chase, attracting more people to the great outdoors. Once there, we hope the searchers have found their own priceless treasure — the beauty of the West.
Smart seekers have found adventure and enjoyment, and that’s a wonderful result. Still, the costs are great. Fenn should go dig up his chest — the best treasures are buried in a chest — and write another book, this one dealing in lessons learned by searchers, some of the heartbreak, as well as his thoughts on hiding the treasure, leaving clues and successfully hiding the booty. To show good will, Fenn might even consider donating at least part of the treasure to charity — perhaps to search and rescue groups or organizations such as the Nature Conservancy that preserve the outdoors. That would create a win-win situation, satisfying the curious public and giving the 86-year-old Fenn another project to put together. Best of all, no more lives would be at risk.