Above photo: Cimarron Canyon
Story by Jesse Hirsch; photos by Getty Images
Discover some of the state's hidden gems during your quest for Forrest Fenn’s treasure.
Like gold diggers of yore, fanatics who hunt for the treasure cache squirreled away by wealthy art dealer Forrest Fenn are extremely focused. Even though Fenn stashed his goodies among some of our nation’s most picturesque peaks, who has time to smell the roses when there’s $2 million at stake?
To all you would-be treasure seekers, let us suggest that you take a look around. In Fenn’s extensive hints about where to hunt, he suggested a wide swath of land between the Southwestern United States and the Canadian border. In fact, just in the eccentric outdoorsman’s home state of New Mexico, there are a variety of compelling destinations to take in.
We’ve compiled a list of five of these stops in New Mexico, just in case you’re able to tear yourself away from the dogged mission at hand. Fenn’s clues loosely connect each one, so it’s not like you’ll end up too far off the path. Take a breather, see some New Mexico scenery, then dive back into the hunt!
Mystery shrouds so much of Fenn’s treasure hunt. One man claims to have found — and lost! — the mother lode back in 2014. That man’s nerve-wracking game of found-and-lost is well worth reading about, just like Goose Lake is well worth visiting. Fair warning — it’s a hike and you won't want to drive there yourself! Opt for a tour company such as Red River Offroad. A travel columnist in Austin teases that getting there is a real “pain in the you-know-where.” He’s referring to the rocky roads you must traverse to reach the lake, which will put any shock absorbers to the test. (4-wheel-drive is a must.) It’s also an extremely steep ascent, topping off at 11,360 feet. But once you get there, the pristine, glassy waters at this remote elevation practically beg for a picnic lunch, maybe even an overnight camp. Bonus: Locals say Goose Lake is a prime fishing spot.
This gorgeous state park, tucked way up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is the site of the annual Fennboree, where fellow treasure seekers can gather, swap stories, brag and have a little fun together. The event has homey touches such as a potluck meal, and sometimes, Fenn himself will make an appearance. The park itself is semi-remote but close enough to Santa Fe for an easy day trip. It’s known for an abundance of hiking trails and good camping sites (with full amenities and plug-ins for RVs). This pine-ensconced park is also well-suited for winter visitors, with a historic lodge, snowshoeing, sledding and cross-country skiing. And if you’re there during warmer months, make sure to track down the “waterfall trail” — trust us, it’s worth it.
Many of Fenn’s treasure seekers venture to Valles Caldera National Preserve, an area that could reasonably be interpreted as “where warm waters end” (one of the most fiercely debated clues). Valles Caldera itself is a gigantic valley, the product of the eruption of one of seven super volcanoes in the world. The valley’s 90,000-acre preserve was dedicated by President Bill Clinton in 2000, giving the public access to abundant hiking trails, trout streams and wildlife watching. Turkey hunting is popular in the right season, and there are also quirky options like midnight skiing, archaeology digs and even an annual elk festival.
New Mexico’s rugged landscape is known for its natural, secluded hot springs; two of these springs come up again and again when you read the blogs of Fenn’s treasure seekers. Black Rock Hot Springs and Manby (aka Stagecoach) Hot Springs are both well off the beaten path, without any of the crowds — or entry fees — of some of Santa Fe’s posh springs. You may have a somewhat difficult time tracking them down, but you’re an adventurer, right? Once you find these hidden locales, adjacent to the northern Rio Grande, you can soak in 97-degree water in near-complete seclusion. Note: Some travel sites suggest these springs are “clothing optional.”
Many treasure seekers have found themselves haplessly wandering around Cimarron Canyon with a copy of Fenn’s clues in hand. But lift your head up and look around — this magnificent area is host to deer, elk, bear, turkey and many species of birds. The canyon is part of a state park by the same name, with several campgrounds alongside the picturesque (and trout-heavy!) Cimarron River. There are also some of the most spectacular views in the Southwest, from cliffs formed by the Palisades Sill. Plus, the Clear Creek Trail affords access to several pleasant waterfalls, if that’s your idea of treasure.