Even people who have covered miles and miles on Santa Fe's wilderness trails can make a wrong turn or take a nasty fall and end up in trouble. Plus, every summer there's a share of visitors to the area who think they are going to find Forrest Fenn's legendary hidden treasure. It's the goal of the Santa Fe Search and Rescue to lose as few of them as possible.
"They need to be cognizant of their safety. I have been on a few searches for treasure hunters, and unfortunately they don't turn out well," says Jack Fulton, the group's vice president.
State Police have gone so far as to request that Fenn reveal the location of the treasure to stop people from dying while they seek it, but Fenn refuses. He expects "at least several thousand" people will come hunting here this summer. As of press time, he was busy hanging out in his own yard on Santa Fe's east side. "I've been sitting out in my trees with a cold lemonade in one hand and a hose of water in the other," he tells SFR. "My little dog Willie sits with me and we love to water the fruit trees."
It's been more than a decade since he says he hid a chest containing hundreds of gold coins, jewels and other valuables. A poem contains all the clues to its whereabouts that he's willing to give. But he understands people get overly ambitious. "It is easy to get turned around in the Rocky Mountains," Fenn says. "Searchers should always take a GPS and know how to use it. Don't go alone and let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return."
Fulton notes that one of the lines in the poem suggests, in fact, there will be water near the treasure. So, that's an added element of danger.
"This time of year those water sources are running real fast and can be really dangerous if you are close to it or fall into it," he says. "And if there is a thunderstorm coming, it's only going to run faster."
Survive the Adventure
Santa Fe Search and Rescue (santafesar.org) has printed new informational cards its members are handing out this summer. While those materials are more detailed than our list, treasure hunters and others should keep in mind these three common-sense categories:
Check your gear. Make sure you've got sunscreen, a warm hat, rain gear, a first aid kit, lights, fire-starting material, food, water and other essentials.
Check your route. Take a decent topo map. Tell someone where you are going. Aimless wandering is a quick way to get lost. Cell phone apps for hikers have improved to the point where it's useful to have them loaded onto your phone, even if just for emergencies. When a call or text can't get through, sometimes the phone's GPS chip will still have enough signal.
Check the weather and yourself. Snow falls in the mountains well into June, and temperatures can dip drastically due to high wind and rain storms. Watch the sky. Don't risk the dark clouds. Are you dehydrated or feeling sickness from altitude? Stop now.