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Where to Hunt for Treasure in 2019

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     With Spring just around the corner, and the thoughts of warm weather coming closer to reality, you may be planning out a few adventures for this summer. Road trips, amusement parks, and beach days are great, but they are far from unique. There’s something you can do this Spring or Summer, and you might even get a thousand dollars – or more – for participating.

     Buried treasure might seem like a thing of the past, tied to the thoughts of pirates in the 17th or 18th centuries, but there are a few North American hunts that prove otherwise. The modern concept of buried treasure is strongly rooted in the “armchair treasure hunt” genre of literature and offers a valuable incentive for anyone determined enough to try their hand at solving the riddles. Treasures range from $1000 cash, to an alleged $43 million in gold and silver. The only catch is that you need your problem-solving skills to be the sharpest they have ever been.

     One of the oldest currently active North American treasure hunts comes from the book, The Secret, written and published in 1982 by Byron Preiss. Inspired by English author Kit Williams, who spurred an English treasure hunt in 1979 with his book, Masquerade, Preiss wrote and published The Secret, which contained a dozen paintings as well as a dozen poems. When a painting was paired with the proper poem, the combination pointed readers toward one of America’s many national parks where Preiss had buried twelve wooden caskets. Inside each casket was (or still is) a ceramic key which could have been brought to Byron Preiss Visual Publications publishing house for a jewel valued at $1000. To date, only two keys have been returned; one in 1983 by a group of young boys, and one in 2004 by a pair of lawyers.

     Sadly, Preiss passed away in a car accident in 2005, taking the locations of the remaining casks to the grave. Less than a year after his passing, his publishing house filed for bankruptcy, causing doubt as to if the rewards were still available for those cunning enough to find the keys. In 2015, though, a new edition of Preiss’ hunt was printed by Brick Tower Press, and fans who have contacted the firm have received confirmation (as recent as April of 2018) that the hunt is still on, and the ten rewards are still available.

     One of the most famous notorious hunts in North America comes courtesy of art dealer and self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, Forrest Fenn. After retiring from a successful career as a pilot for the United States Airforce around the end of the Vietnam War, Fenn and his friend Rex Arrowsmith opened an art gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Fenn eventually took full ownership of the successful gallery, which he operated with his wife, Peggy.

     In 1988, though, Fenn was diagnosed with cancer at just 58 years old. Wanting to inspire the sense of adventrure in others, he decided to gather a collection of gemstones, gold nuggets and jewelry, and his autobiography to be published posthumously. Before he hid the treasure, though, Fenn recovered from his cancer diagnosis and decided to hold on to the treasure until he was 80 years old.

     In 2010, after Fenn turned 80, he hid the treasure somewhere in the Rocky Mountains of Yellowstone National Park, and stated that he would reclaim his treasure after its value had increased to $10 million if it had not been found. He then published the book, The Thrill of the Chase, which contains a poem he wrote that holds “all the information you need to find the treasure”, or so his 2016 Instagram post containing the poem describes. This being said, the rest of the book holds nine clues that bolster the clues from the poem.

     Perhaps the most alluring aspect of the hunt is how close Fenn’s treasure is to being found. Fenn stated in a 2017 Q&A panel that all nine of the clues have been identified, but have yet to be put in the proper order that would lead a hunter to the treasure. He also stated that, after hearing hundreds of hunters recount their paths in Yellowstone, many have been within 500ft of the treasure, with some as close as 200ft. Of course, Fenn did not divulge who was close, or where hunters were close, but it shows that the treasure is plenty possible for a lucky adventurer to find.

     For any reader considering taking up the hunt, it is worth noting that Fenn’s treasure is substantially more dangerous to seek out than Preiss’ wooden casks. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, is nearly 3500 square miles of cliffs, wild animals, and acid pools that may need to be traversed in order to find the treasure. As of June 9th of 2017, six treasure hunters have passed away while searching for Forrest Fenn’s fabled treasure.

     Finally, the most debatable treasure in all of North America comes from three letters titled the “Beale Ciphers”. The story behind them is that in early 1800s, a man named Thomas J. Beale was part of a buffalo hunting caravan in New Mexico who stumbled upon a massive gold and silver mine while exploring. Over the next year and a half, the group of 30 began to excavate 2900lbs of gold and 5100lbs of silver, tasking Beale with bringing the spoils back to their home of Bedford County, Virginia.

     The treasure was buried in the early 1820s, somewhere ‘within four miles of Buford’s Tavern’, Bedford. When the hunting group went out on another caravan, Beale created three ciphers that, respectfully, contain the exact location of the treasure, the contents of the treasure, and the names and families of the 30 men who are heir to the treasure. These ciphers were then put in an iron box and left in the trust of Beale’s close friend, an innkeeper by the name of Robert Morriss. Beale instructed Morriss not to open the box for while Beale was on his various adventures. If he or any of his caravan did not return within 10 years, then Morriss was to open the box and solve the ciphers in order to properly distribute the treasure.

     This is where things get really questionable – at some point, Beale supposedly sent a letter to Morriss informing him that a friend of Beale’s would send a letter containing the three keys to solving the ciphers. Neither Beale nor his caravan was ever seen again, and the letter from Beale’s friend never arrived. Morriss spent years attempting to solve the ciphers, until he passed the ciphers on to an “unnamed friend” who solved the second cipher using the Declaration of Independence as a key. The various numbers correlated to words in the Declaration, the first letter of each spelling out the message Beale left. The way that this still unnamed friend discovered this solution, to the cipher that happens to divulge the value rather than location of the treasure, or anyone who could substantiate the story, is still unknown.

     Maybe traveling around the country for treasure is a little outlandish or costly for you. If you still have the adventurous spirit, though, there is an activity that you can enjoy on weekends and you probably don’t even have to leave town to join in.

     The outdoor phenomenon of geocaching started in 2000, and created a fun and low cost way to participate in the thrill of treasure hunting with higher odds of finding treasure. Geocaching connects hundreds of thousands of individuals across the world to an ongoing collection of local treasure hunts, organized on the geocaching official website. Making a ‘treasure hunt’ only requires an individual to hide a cache, usually a box with a journal documenting those who find it, somewhere outdoors and post the GPS coordinates on the official geocaching website. Other users on the website can then put the coordinates into their own GPS enabled devices and go on the hunt to find the cache themselves. Joining in on the hunt is as simple as signing up on the website, and using a smartphone or a dedicated GPS-device.

     Some cache creators leave prizes for the FTF, or ‘first [person] to find’ the cache. These prizes tend to be small gifts like gift cards, collectable coins, or items called “geocoins”. These coins, tags, or personally designed items, bear a unique code that is registered on a geocaching-approved website. After recording the code, the owner can leave the geocoin in a cache where the finder can take the object, report where the object was found, and then leave it in the next cache they find. The idea behind these objects is for owners to be able to track the progression of their coin/tag as it moves around the area, or even towards new cities or states/provinces.

     Whether you’re in it for the fortune, adventure, or simply the exercise, the world of treasure hunting has a venue for everyone willing to invest their time. Even though thousands have tried, anyone joining the search today could be the one to find Preiss’, Fenn’s, or Beale’s treasure. So long as it exists, it can be found, and you can be the one to find it. Just remember to stay safe while on the hunt!

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