From Glacier National Park, I made the beautiful drive south along the Flathead Lake toward Yellowstone National Park.
West Montana is my favorite.
I would like to summer there… as well as Maine, Seattle, and Boulder 😉 Wouldn’t it be nice if each year there were three summers in a row, and then one tiny winter?
I got a shower (showers become a bit more memorable when they’re a rarity) and a head-cold-thawing hot-tub soak in Autumn-draped Missoula, made some new friends, and then paused to wander Butte per one of those new friends’ instructions as I continued south.
The national forests around West Yellowstone had no free dispersed camping areas because of their proximity to the national park (although this isn’t always the case, so was a bit of a disappointment.)
After bumping my way down several rough fire roads in search of one, I ended up at a ranger station just outside of West Yellowstone, hoping to be pointed in the direction of a free spot that I was sure must exist somewhere.
They were closed, as it was just before sunset, but as I studied the map another traveler who was for some reason videoing the map asked what I was looking for.
When I said I was looking for a free dispersed camping area, he pointed me towards a forest area 20 miles back up the road that he said was creepy (the road was aptly named Ghost Road) but where he said I wouldn’t be disturbed or charged.
I thanked him and he left, but pulled back up a moment later after looking in my car, saying he hadn’t realized I was alone. In that case, he said, I shouldn’t stay there alone, and he invited me instead to share his cabin in Yellowstone. From there, he launched into a monologue about an eccentric art collector named Forrest Fenn who has reportedly hidden a treasure chest valued at over one million dollars somewhere in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe, prompting treasure hunters from around the world to scour the rugged Rockies in search of it.
My new friend was one such hunter, and he gestured to the mountain of shovels and metal-detecting equipment in the back seat of his SUV.
There’s a poem in Fenn’s book “Thrill of the Chase” that gives clues as to the location of the hidden treasure, and he read it to me and then offered to give me 2% if I came along on his treasure-hunting journey and we happened to find it.
Although I was intrigued by the idea of this quirky millionaire and his unorthodox way of drawing people away from their TVs and into the great outdoors, I declined the treasure hunter’s offer and wished him luck in his search.
The sun had set by the time I finally pulled away from the ranger’s station, and I had the treasure hunter’s offer to at the very least park in front of his cabin if I was unable to find something echoing in my head, but moments later I was gifted with a parking pass, complete with my very own fake reservation number, at a beautiful resort just outside of the Yellowstone entrance and spent the evening wandering the bustling streets of West Yellowstone and reading about the very unconventional Forrest Fenn.
Forrest Fenn’s Poem:
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.