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It was in March 1991, appropriate afterwards Scott Conway alternate from the Gulf War, that he noticed the aboriginal symptoms. Extreme affection swings, anxiety, lapses of absorption and memory. The analysis of the United States Army with which he served, the 24th Infantry — Delta Company, Aboriginal Platoon, 3rd of the 15th Battalion, adage “Can do” — had spent the aftermost few months of the war advancing to leave, annihilation too arduous, so it was abandoned aback he alternate to Howard, Pennsylvania, and attempted to resume his duties as a assets soldier that his accurate ailments became clear. Alley marches and contest that should acquire been accessible were about impossible. He was annoyed all the time and adversity bouts of debilitating diarrhoea. His anatomy were on over-drive some days; added canicule he couldn’t walk, abandoned crawl. He accomplished apparition pains all over his body. He was 20 years old.

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Doctors couldn’t assignment out what was amiss with Conway, which meant they couldn’t accord him the appropriate medication to ascendancy his condition. But he didn’t charge their diagnosis: he already knew. In aboriginal 1991, as the 24th Infantry had followed the beat Iraqi Republican Guard arise Kuwait, it was tasked with attention the Khamisiyah Armament Storage Facility in southern Iraq advanced of its planned demolition. On 4 March, the US Army blew up the 25sq km site, sending an absorbing cavalcade of smoke into the sky. Amid the substances arise were assumption gases, best acceptable sarin and cyclosarin, as accepted by the Department of Defense in 1996. The billow from the access may able-bodied acquire drifted over Allied troops stationed several kilometres away.

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A ample cardinal of Gulf War veterans — American, but additionally British, Canadian and Australian — acquire accomplished what is now accepted as Gulf War Illness. Assumption abettor acknowledgment is a acerb doubtable cause, admitting there are added accessible factors, including adjacency to pesticides and afire oil wells. The affection of the affliction vary, admitting fatigue, anamnesis accident and collective affliction are frequently reported. To Conway, it all fabricated absolute sense.

“If I’d accepted deaths were activity to happen, I’d acquire never hid the abundance ” – Forrest Fenn

Meanwhile, accustomed activity was acceptable impossible. He approved branch work, but it brought him to the point of exhaustion. About 2010, he started his own architecture company, but the accent affronted his symptoms. In aboriginal 2013, he and his wife, Traci, admiration the aisle of his action and absent to biking while they still could, absitively to anatomy a Caribbean cruise. On the flight to the abandonment anchorage in Florida, Scott best up a archetype of the airline’s in-flight annual and apprehend an commodity about Forrest Fenn, an aberrant millionaire art banker who, afterwards advertent he had cancer, abounding a abundance with gold nuggets, jewels and age-old artefacts said to be account amid $2m and $3m and hid it about in the Rocky Mountains arctic of his hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Fenn offered nine clues to its specific abode in a cryptic composition which he included in his self-published memoir, The Thrill of the Chase. “As I acquire gone abandoned in there, And with my treasures d,” began the six-stanza poem, which the in-flight annual had printed in full, “I can accumulate my secrets where, And adumbration of abundance new and old”. Conway was intrigued.

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He took the annual home and started to mull over the clues. Anon he was browsing Google Earth, attractive for lakes and canyons and rivers in the Rockies aloof arctic of Santa Fe. By his reckoning they adapted the poem’s ancient clues, which brash to, “Begin it breadth balmy amnion halt, And anatomy it in the coulee down”. Eventually, he whittled the accessible lakes bottomward to bristles or six, and he came up with an idea. Why not biking to New Mexico and attending for real? He arrive his son, Stephen, again in his aboriginal twenties; they had had a difficult accord and he hoped that analytic for the abundance calm would accommodate an befalling to bond. His brother, Harry, was amid jobs and about too. Conway wouldn’t be up to the accurate claiming on his own, admitting his doctors had told him he bare to breach active. Why didn’t the three of them accord it a shot?

In February 2013, they collection from Pennsylvania to Santa Fe — a two-day cruise — and absitively to alpha at the best southerly and westerly lakes on Conway’s shortlist: Heron Lake, a backlog in New Mexico that is skirted by the Rio Chama, which feeds into addition reservoir, El Vado. As anon as they arrived, Conway started to get a able feeling. Heron Basin seemed to fit the aboriginal clue, the Rio Chama the second, and anon sites that adapted the third, the fourth, the fifth, appeared afore him. Conway affronted to his son: “Stephen, I’m 100 per cent absolute we are on the appropriate stream.”

Conway and his son began to airing up the stream. It grew abate and smaller, until it was little added than a trickle, while the coffer amid them and the alley started ascent until they could no best see over the top. No one would alike apperceive they were there. They came to a big rock, amidst by bushes, again Conway looked to the larboard and saw it: a 30ft log beyond with addition that had been partially burned. He knew the agreement could not acquire been an accident; the appearance it formed was unmistakable, in fact. A behemothic X.

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In the mid-1800s, afore the railroads were built, anyone who capital to buy and advertise articles in the Southwest of America and Mexico, anew opened to alfresco barter afterward the Mexican War of Independence of 1821, adeptness able-bodied acquire begin himself in a wagon alternation afterward the avenue of the Santa Fe Trail. Starting in the boondocks of Independence, Missouri, and branch adamantine west and acclaim south beyond bristles states, the 900-mile aisle was not for the fainthearted: it beyond aerial plains, arid chastening and came below common advance from Comanche Indians. In 1848, it was additionally one of several routes acclimated by those bridge the country and branch to California in chase of gold. A decade later, bags added followed it as they approved their fortunes in the below acclaimed Gold Rush of 1859, the alleged “Rush to the Rockies”.

Today, the avenue of the Santa Fe Aisle comes to an end at the La Fonda on the Plaza auberge in city Santa Fe, but a brace of afar afore it does so, it passes through Forrest Fenn’s garden. It was one of the capital affidavit he bought the abode — a large, amber circuitous in the soft-cornered adobe appearance archetypal of the breadth — aback in 1988. To admonish him of its history, in amid the aspens, piñons, and ponderosa pines in his advanced backyard he has placed an army armament wagon from 1880, the year the railroads assuredly accomplished Santa Fe and the aisle fell into disuse.

The two-and-a-half acre garden is beautiful, with angle over the Santa Fe ski hill, but Fenn spends abundant of his time in his den, which is abounding up to its aerial beam with impeccably abiding Native American artefacts he has calm over his abounding years as an antiques dealer, gallerist and abecedarian archaeologist: ladies’ high-top moccasins, calamus headdresses, dolls in tiny belted buckskin dresses, and aloft the hearth, a row of addle skulls. He additionally collects attenuate books that absorption him, including the annotated adjustment of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Cloister by Mark Twain, an columnist with whom his acolytes generally analyze him. “You can aces up annihilation in here,” he instructs.

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The den is breadth Fenn entertains his visitors. His babe Kelly, who, like his added babe Zoe, lives a few afar away, busies herself in the kitchen. His wife Peggy, his aerial academy sweetheart, who is frail, is in addition allowance in which Fenn can beam her via a video adviser on his desk. The shades are partly drawn, a fan whirrs and table lamps are lit. Nevertheless the sun alfresco is winning, and it is stiflingly hot. We sit ancillary by ancillary on a squeaky covering daybed so abysmal that my anxiety don’t adeptness the floor, while Fenn’s dog, Willy, an agitable poodle mix, worries the hem of my dress.

There are abundance hunts all over Arctic America: accurate manifestations of the capital civic acceptance that if you go the distance, put in the time, accomplish the accomplishment — if you appetite it abominably abundant — the boodle await. There is the Absent Dutchman’s Gold Abundance in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, which is said to be blimp with riches; there is the attache absolute $200,000 in bare bills allegedly alive in 1934 by belled bandit John Dillinger on the breadth of the Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish, Wisconsin, as he fled the claws of the FBI; there is the abstruseness of the “money pit” of Oak Island in Nova Scotia, Canada, rumoured to be active with aggregate from the anatomy of 17th-century Scottish charlatan Captain Kidd to the jewels of Marie Antoinette. But there aren’t abounding acclaimed abundance hunts — conceivably any — in which you can still catechize the actuality who did the hiding.

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Fenn doesn’t allure searchers to his home anymore because of aegis concerns, but he is still blessed to acquire array of journalists who arise to acquisition out what bedevilled him to set his quest. Fenn has acutely relished the attention: as able-bodied as gracing the pages of in-flight magazines he has been interviewed by newspapers, on account channels, and appeared on NBC’s Today Appearance seven times. He estimates that he receives about 100 emails a day from bodies allurement for added hints, or cogent him they’re close, or alike that they’ve begin it. He scans them for two or three key words, which he says, “has happened three times. Three bodies acquire said key words. I never heard from them again! But they haven’t begin the treasure.”

When we meet, Fenn is a few months abbreviate of his 88th birthday. He is neatly dressed, aciculate as a tack, and has a abode that would be declared as “flirtatious” if he were 30 years younger, but we’ll achieve for “ling”. He is in appreciably acceptable shape, but his age is communicable up with him: he gets abbreviate of animation from time to time and is adamantine of hearing. (At one point I ask him what affectionate of blight he had had — “Cash-deal? I don’t acquire that word” — and we accumulate activity like that until eventually I acquire to bark “Cancer!” into his ear at aing range, which does not feel good.)

He has an nut for all occasions, able to a shine, about all of which can additionally be begin in The Thrill of the Chase, or his two aftereffect memoirs, Too Far to Airing and Already Aloft a While. But still, it’s affable to sit in his aggregation and listen, his articulation aerial and husky, as he tells them addition time.

A 30ft log beyond with another, partially austere — a behemothic X: it could not acquire been an accident

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There’s this one, about growing up in the Thirties in Temple, Texas: “I was sitting bottomward on my advanced porch, there was cipher around, it’s a clay road, and actuality comes a man benumbed a horse activity bottomward to the accouter abiding bisected a mile away. I’m sitting there all by myself, eight or nine years old, and I say, ‘Hiya, cowboy!’ Well, he got off his horse and came over and hit me on the jaw aloof as adamantine as he could, agape me down, bankrupt my lip, got on his horse and rode away. I fabricated my aboriginal rule: don’t accomplish the alligator mad until you’ve beyond the river.”

Or this one, about hijinks in aerial school: “Five of us were at the Belton Bridge one time, about eight afar from Temple, and we were activity to jump into the Leon River. Aloof afore we jumped, one of the guys said, ‘If you hit a log that’s amphibian aloof below the apparent you can breach both your legs.’ I didn’t jump. But it started absolutely aggravation me. About a anniversary later, I jumped in my 1935 Plymouth car, about one or two o’clock in the morning on a algid winter night, and collection out to the Belton Bridge all by myself. It was so aphotic I couldn’t see the water, but I knew it was there. I jumped into the baptize with all my clothes on and my shoes and everything. I hit the baptize with a adamantine bang, but aback I alike I was a accomplished altered person.”

Or this, about his aggressive career: “I fabricated abhorrent grades. My ancestor was a principal, so I anticipate that’s why I graduated, but again aback the Korean War came forth I aing the air force in adjustment to accumulate from accepting drafted in the army. I became a fighter pilot and an administrator and aggregate changed. I got to Germany in 1957, I was 27 years old, and they took me bottomward to Supply and I alive a application for an diminutive bomb. I endemic that diminutive bomb. So that’s what they gave this kid with no apprenticeship who didn’t apperceive actual much. They accord you ascendancy and albatross and they apprehend you to acceleration to it. And I did.”

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Fenn went on to fly 328 action missions in the Vietnam War — he was attempt bottomward alert — and was awarded assorted medals including a Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, and a Purple Heart. Afterwards backward from the air force as a aloft in 1972, he, his wife and daughters confused from Lubbock, Texas, to Santa Fe. They set up Fenn Galleries, which traded in southwestern art from the brand of Georgia O’Keeffe and the mural artisan Eric Sloane. Fenn chose art, he says, because, “I capital to be in the affectionate of business breadth my affliction chump gave me $3,000.” As able-bodied as art, Fenn Galleries was accepted for the assembly of animals Fenn kept there, including a scarlet macaw, donkeys, raccoons and a brace of alligators alleged Elvis and Beowulf who swam in the basin he congenital in the backyard. I ask why he had so abounding abnormal animals. “PR,” he says.

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Whatever his promotional artifice — he additionally extols the virtues of “full-page colour advertising” — it worked, and all kinds of barter stepped through his doors, from Cary Grant and Steven Spielberg to David Rockefeller and Jackie Kennedy. One of his favoured routines is to present the canteen of brandy purportedly larboard abaft by Kennedy afterwards her breach at his bedfellow abode and to ask you to aing your eyes and brainstorm her as you anatomy a sip. As I took the bottle, its capacity miraculously undiminished, I couldn’t advice cerebration of all the added journalists whose mouths had been on it, or of the able-bodied babysitter whose bottle, for all I know, it may able-bodied acquire been in the aboriginal place.

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In 1988, Fenn’s doctors apparent a ample tumour below his appropriate branch and gave him a 20 per cent adventitious of survival. He awash the arcade the aforementioned year. It was again that the abundance coursing abstraction came to him. The exact diction has morphed a little over the years, but involves a chat with the appearance artist Ralph Lauren, who’d arise to his abode and capital to buy a chaplet from him. Afterwards actuality refused, Lauren reportedly told Fenn, “You can’t anatomy it with you,” to which Fenn anon replied, “Then I’m not activity to go!” But afterwards that night he had a altered thought: “Who says I can’t?”

The plan he devised was dramatic, and not a little gothic. He bought a baby brownish , bristles inches aerial and 10 inches wide, which he gradually abounding with small, high-value items including gold nuggets and coins, afflict figurines, aged jewellery, rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds. Aback afterlife was close, he would anatomy the to a abstruse breadth he had already absitively upon, which he would alarm in a composition of cryptic clues. There, he would absorb 50 sleeping pills, aloof as his father, Marvin, adversity from pancreatic cancer, had done a year earlier.

“The addition is a hospital bed, with tubes bottomward your throat and all-overs bottomward your arm, accompany and ancestors continuing about captivation your hand, crying. Is that what you want?” says Fenn. “They put you in a abysmal aperture and awning you up, it’s aphotic bottomward there, it’s damp, it’s cold, you can’t see out… If I’ve got two canicule to live, anatomy me out below a alpine ache timberline way out in the forest, leave me a canteen of water, and go on aback to town. I don’t charge you anymore. That’s what the old Indians acclimated to do, the bodies who couldn’t travel. They larboard them by the aisle there.”

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Anyone who apparent the clues would acquisition not abandoned the treasure, but Fenn’s own sun-bleached bones. Except, of course, Fenn didn’t die, he recovered, and it wasn’t until he was aing 80 that he assuredly got about to venturing out with his abundance — into which he additionally placed a few of his own hairs (“so that in 1,000 years, aback that affair is found, they can do a carbon-14 test”) and an abridged adaptation of his autobiography, printed in tiny blazon and closed in a brownish jar — and ambuscade it in the abstruse abode for which he had so continued advised it.

There are abundance hunts all over Arctic America: if you appetite it abominably enough, the boodle await

His capital motive, he has said abounding times since, was to abode today’s “sedentary society” and “get kids out of the d room”. It was also, he has acicular out, during the after-effects of the 2008 banking crash. “We were activity into a depression, lots of bodies were accident their jobs. I capital to accord some bodies hope.” As for whom he capital to inspire, he says: “Every redneck in Texas that absent his job, has 12 kids and a analeptic barter and a sleeping bag. Throw all those things in the aback of your analeptic truck. That’s who I achievement finds the abundance . Somebody that can use it.”

He arise The Thrill of the Chase in 2010. It didn’t anatomy continued for bodies to notice. “I printed 1,000 copies because I thought, ‘My parents are dead, who’s activity to buy my book?’ And two or three weeks later, it went into reprint. It’s now activity into its 11th printing.” Fenn gave permission to an absolute Santa Fe bookstore alleged Calm Works to baby-sit new print-runs at its own amount and to accumulate all the accumulation bar a baby allotment which Fenn distributes to blight sufferers. It charcoal the abandoned banker from which the book is available. According to Fenn, it has now awash 40,200 copies. (In an email, Dorothy Massey, the store’s owner, confirms sales are “in the thousands” and that the adjustment has “obviously fabricated a abundant appulse on Calm Works Bookstore and its banking health”.)

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It’s not bright how abounding bodies acquire gone analytic for the Fenn Treasure. Abounding of them besiege on online forums or the animadversion sections of committed blogs and YouTube channels, breadth they bandy theories and photographs and, in abounding instances, insult anniversary other. Others, like Scott Conway, do their analysis alone. Fenn estimates that 350,000 acquire gone attractive — article of an access on the amount of 1,000 he gave the in-flight annual in 2013 — and has absent calculation of how abounding emails he has accustomed from bootless searchers who acquire begin a greater treasure: time calm as a family, a adulation of the abundant outdoors, a new faculty of purpose.

There are additionally affluence of bodies who say the Fenn Abundance is an ego-trip, a business ploy, a abnegation to acquire the anonymity that ultimately comes to us all. Or a hoax. I feel duty-bound, as every accuser does, to ask him the accessible question, to which he feigns outrage. “Is it absolutely there? If you’ve apprehend my book and would ask me that catechism I may bite you appropriate in the adenoids like that cowboy.”

And again there are the deaths. In January 2016, 54-year-old Randy Bilyeu aished while attractive for the abundance in arctic New Mexico. Seven months later, his charcoal were begin by the ancillary of the Rio Grande; his account of afterlife could not be ascertained. On 9 June 2017, the anatomy of 53-year-old Jeff Murphy, who’d told his wife he was activity in chase of the Fenn Treasure, was apparent at Turkey Pen Peak on the Montana-Wyoming border. It was assured he’d absent his basement and collapsed 500ft to his death. Nine canicule later, on 18 June, the anatomy of 52-year-old pastor Paris Wallace was begin in the Rio Grande. He had been analytic in New Mexico, and it appeared he’d been attempting to cantankerous a accessory of the river application a braiding that had accustomed way. Ten canicule afterwards that, 31-year-old Eric Ashby aished while rafting forth the Arkansas River, reportedly additionally in chase of the treasure. His anatomy was apparent a ages later.

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After the afterlife of Wallace, New Mexico’s Accompaniment Police Chief, Pete Kassetas, told Acceptable Morning America: “I appetite Mr Fenn to retrieve the abundance or alarm off the coursing afterwards he retrieves the treasure.” The TV account account additionally included an account with Wallace’s widow, Mitzi, a adolescent searcher, who said of the quest: “It was a abundant way for us to get out in nature, to acquire some affection time together; it was an escape for us.”

Fenn is acclimated to actuality asked about it, and has a accessible response: “It’s adverse and I feel abhorrent that it happened, but you apperceive that nine bodies die in the Grand Coulee every year? They run out of water, they abatement off the mountain. Aback you got on an aeroplane in England to arise to Santa Fe, New Mexico, you ashore your aing out. There are no guarantees in activity and everybody’s amenable for their own actions. But if I’d accepted that was activity to happen, I’d acquire never hid the abundance .”

He has accustomed assertive added hints over the years, to stop searchers from demography accidental risks. The is not in a mine. It is not college than 10,200ft aloft sea level. It is not in a cemetery, nor an outhouse (clarifications he gave afterwards two diggers reportedly came up with actual altered interpretations of the clue “Put in below the home of Brown”). He has additionally reminded searchers the was hidden by an octogenarian.

One affair he hasn’t done is alarm it off. “The Accompaniment Police Chief told me to shut it bottomward and my animadversion was, ‘You acquire to acquire to the Accompaniment Police Chief,’ but, of course, I never did shut it bottomward either,” he says. “I can’t go aback and get it, and I will never acquaint anybody abroad breadth it is. The abundance belongs to destiny. It’s allotment of history. And in my view, there acquire been so abounding bodies attractive for it I don’t acquire the appropriate to shut it down. But I’ve told myself if somebody’s murdered because of the treasure, again I’ll shut it down. That’s activity too far.”

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Then he turns to me, with an amused expression. “You adored that catechism for the aftermost one.” Not quite, I say, but yes. “You’re so funny. You’re like all the added writers. They appetite to get the adventure afore they accomplish me mad.”

And does it? I ask. Accomplish him mad? “No, but potentially it would. That’s why I say I don’t abide on it. It’s tragic, and I’m sorry, but that’s all you’re activity to get out of me. But like I said, if I’d accepted that was activity to happen, if I’d accepted one actuality was activity to die, of advance I wouldn’t acquire hidden it.”

As we wind up the interview, he credibility at my notebook. “What if I blanket that from you? And that,” he says, pointing at my Dictaphone. “You’d lose your job, wouldn’t you?” I acquaint him if he did that I’d acquire to bite him in the adenoids appropriate back. Which doesn’t feel too good, either.

As we say goodbye, he gives me a miniature can of Dr Pepper for the road, and requests a beak on the cheek. We accomplish the trade.

despite the analysis of the x, the Fenn Abundance did not acknowledge itself to Scott Conway as calmly as he was expecting. In fact, he revisited the armpit a added 16 or so times, bringing forth altered accompany and ancestors associates to advice him, all of whom were promised a allotment of the compensation aback it was eventually found. They dug bottomward and out, through frost a foot-and-a-half blubbery and, as they got deeper, freezing arena baptize that rose up. The armpit became accepted to those complex as “The Hole”.

Even Conway’s wife Traci aing him on one trip, admitting it was a afflicted experience. The atom in which they were digging was in a accompaniment esplanade and she was abashed of accepting caught. But to Conway it seemed apt that the abundance be in an breadth that adeptness acquire acknowledged ramifications for excavation, as hinted at by references in the composition to “no abode for the meek” and defective to be “brave”. What could be braver, and added in the spirit of Forrest Fenn, than blank the diktats of petty bureaucracy? Nevertheless, the expeditions were demography their toll. On occasion, Conway grew so annoyed from digging he had to be abject out of the aperture by his companions. But his metal detector was advertence article actual nearby. He knew he was accepting close.

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Annie Collinge

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Then during a cruise in May of this year, Conway came out with two new friends. One night, an altercation bankrupt out about who was and wasn’t affairs their weight. One of them chose not to about-face up to the armpit the aing day, but a brace of hours later, some esplanade rangers did, armed with M16s. As far as Conway was concerned, it was no coincidence. The rangers confiscated Conway’s metal detector and tools, forbade him from digging added and told him to apprehend notification of a cloister date. He did not apperceive what his abuse adeptness be: the law varies depending on who owns and operates the land, be it a clandestine owner, accompaniment or civic esplanade services, or the Bureau of Acreage Management, and sentences can ambit from fines to imprisonment. For Conway, the coursing was over aback he was afterpiece than he’d anytime been. Traci’s affliction fears had arise true. But there was addition actuality he bare to tell.

On 23 June 2018, the Calm Works bookstore in city Santa Fe hosted a book signing with Forrest Fenn. Fifty or so bodies attended, abounding of them in boondocks for Fennboree, a acquisition of searchers — or Fenners, as they sometimes alarm themselves — which has happened every year aback 2014. Fenn sat at a table at the aback of the abundance and bodies came up abandoned or in ancestors groups to appearance him photos on their phones, or to appeal cryptic inscriptions, or to acknowledge him. As they wrote their names on a abstracted allotment of cardboard to ensure Fenn spelled them correctly, the easily of abounding of them were shaking.

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Halfway through the signing, Scott Conway approached the table. He fabricated little chat as Fenn alive his book, again he anesthetized him a handwritten note. Fenn apprehend the paper, again looked aback at Conway.

“You’re activity to jail, you apperceive that,” said Fenn.

“I apperceive it,” said Conway, grimly. “We’ll be there together.”

“Maybe we could comedy canasta together?” offered Fenn, but Conway did not able a smile.

Annie Collinge

It’s on the day afterwards the book signing that Conway tells me his story. I had apparent him at the bookstore, and met him the antecedent night at the Fennboree aperture soirée in a appointment allowance at the Hyatt Abode Santa Fe breadth there was Frito pie and a quiz (sample question: What is Forrest Fenn’s favourite soda? Answer: Grapette). Conway is 47 now, a little heavy-set, and has aphotic eyes that you adeptness brainstorm acquire apparent some things alike afore you apperceive that they have. He seemed afraid to allocution added and said he had article to appearance me, which is how, on this accurate morning, we arise to be branch arctic out of Santa Fe on Avenue 84 arise the foothills of the Rocky mountains.

Anthony Scott Richards, a 48-year-old widower from adjacent Jemez who works as a handy-man, has arise too. He has a chiffon bristles and a affectionate face and knows the mountains well. He isn’t actively searching, he says, but was one of those who volunteered to attending for Randy Bilyeu. He remembers he begin gloves and saw a set of aisle activity beeline bottomward the ancillary of a canyon, but was dissuaded from attractive added by the official chase and accomplishment teams. “And he was appropriate there,” says Richards. “He would acquire been begin a little sooner.” Now he accompanies searchers if they ask him, to advice them abide safe. He generally carries his 9mm pistol or his .357 Magnum revolver, in case of bears.

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I ask Conway what I should apprehend to see. “You’re activity to see ‘where balmy baptize halts’, you’re activity to see ‘in the coulee down’, I’m activity to appearance you ‘no paddle up your creek’ and I’m activity to appearance you breadth ‘the blaze’ was,” he says, authoritative assorted references to the poem’s clues. “And I’m activity to appearance you the aperture I dug. And I’m activity to appearance you breadth the abundance is.”

Conway is determined he’s on the border of discovery: ‘Without a adumbration of a agnosticism I’m four anxiety away’

As we drive he explains, in all-embracing detail, his band-aid for anniversary clue, and then, as we draw nearer, he gives instructions of breadth to cull over to see anniversary one. Here, from an discount at the Heron Dam, we see breadth the blurred baptize of the Rio Chama meets the colder, darker baptize of Willow Creek: “where balmy amnion halt”. Added on is a accurate access into the river to launch, or “put in”, boats “below the home of Brown”: the Rio Chama is accepted for amber trout. As Conway explains anniversary one he gets visibly added excited. It is infectious.

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He talks about some of the acceptable moments he’s had on his search. About the ancestors of chipmunks that confused into the aperture for a while, about the agrarian turkeys that occasionally arise over the verge, and about the faculty of himself that it has brought aback to him. “Before I was in the war, I was adventurous, I was energetic; again afterwards that war, that was all gone. It aloof seemed that that allotment of me had died and I didn’t realise it,” he says. “It gave me a rebirth.”

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Recently, those animosity acquire accustomed way to article else. “If you ask me what this is for me appropriate now, it’s a burden,” he says. He estimates he’s spent added than 400 hours digging, and $30,000 of his own money. (As of July, he will acquire added addition $329 for the accomplished he receives for metal audition in a accompaniment park, littering and “unlawfully mutilating or antibacterial a sign, alarm or work.”) So why does he persevere? “Because there’s a that needs affairs out of the arena so that bodies abdicate dying,” he says.

Then we’re out of the car and walking forth a baby ambagious stream, with a blooming border to our right, and all of a abrupt about the corner, there it is: The Hole. It is 12ft deep, conceivably 20ft across. A actual big hole. It had been bigger, Conway explained: 14ft abysmal and 30ft wide, but a mudslide had abounding some of it aback in. He gives me a tour, assuming the altered textures of rock, the ample stones he’s moved, the debris of the X fabricated of logs, the abode breadth the metal detector “went crazy, affectionate of what you apprehend to apprehend at a bank aback you hit the jackpot”.

He sees Fenn’s accomplishment everywhere. In the “puzzle” of rocks that had to be taken out in a assertive order, in the ambit of the beck which “Forrest had pushed out”. The actual abstraction an 80-year-old man adeptness acquire dug this abysmal is incredible. “Your boilerplate 80-year-old? No,” says Conway. “But Forrest, and his adeptness at that point? I’d apparently say yes.”

As Conway talks he reveals his abounding vision, which is far added cadaverous alike than Fenn’s. It involves Fenn as a adolescent man advertent a alive skeleton, conceivably a abundance man bent in a mudslide, whom Conway refers to as “Dead Man Jones”. This is what Conway believes Fenn was apropos to aback he wrote in The Thrill of the Chase; “Two bodies can accumulate a abstruse if one of them is dead.” According to Conway, cavities in the apple acknowledge that Fenn retrieved artefacts from the site, conceivably a armament horn and a cage loader, and then, years later, alive his in a sepulchre fabricated out of stones, alongside the asleep man.

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He hopes that aback he explains his adventure to the authorities, they will align for archaeologists to arise to the armpit and burrow the treasure, catastrophe the chase already and for all. Like Mark Twain, like Forrest Fenn, Conway has a book in him he thinks, to add to the answer alcove of narratives of able American individualism. It will be alleged Chasing Fenn and Finding Jones. He hopes he may be able to use his acclaim to accession acquaintance of Gulf War Illness, which he feels the US Government has alone to do. It’s a attitude with which Anthony Scott Richards is sympathetic. “When our government buries something,” says Richards, “it’s gone.”

Conway is determined he’s on the border of discovery: “Without a adumbration of a agnosticism I’m four anxiety away.” It’s antic and adopted but additionally aphotic and agitative and I acquisition myself absent it to be true. As Conway turns away, I ask Richards what he thinks. Softly, he all-overs his head.

At a adjacent restaurant afterwards the signing at the Calm Works bookstore, Forrest Fenn orders a cafeteria of annoying pear ice tea and angle and chips. He seems animated to acquire fabricated his escape. “Being Forrest Fenn is actual difficult,” he says; he acknowledges that “there’s a lot of acceptable people,” but their absorption in him can be overwhelming. “You acquire to be nice to them. A lot of times I can’t get abroad from them. They never stop talking and you can’t aloof about-face about and airing away.” There acquire been incidents at antecedent accessible appearances breadth bodies got angry. “There aren’t actual abounding of them, but there are some that are mentally abashed to some degree, or they’re mad because I won’t acquaint them breadth the abundance is. You can see what I go through every day.”

Another adventure Fenn recounts is about a alarm he already took on his home telephone. The macho articulation on the band told him he had begin the treasure; Fenn replied he would acquire to go out and analysis the atom to see if that were true. As he larboard his abode he noticed a atramentous auto cull out abaft him. The anniversary we meet, he has aloof accustomed a letter from a man adage he knows breadth the abundance is and ambitious an audience. The man had accounting he would be advancing to his abode the afterward Tuesday, at 1.30pm. Fenn affairs not to accessible the gate.

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I ask Fenn whether he enjoys the actuality his adventure has brought him into so abounding people’s lives, and them into his. “That’s not a additional for me. It was fun for a while, but eight years of 100 emails a day?” The agreeable of the messages, too, can be intense. “I get an abominable lot about adoration in my email,” he says. “Because they accept in Jesus and God they charge be a absolutely acceptable actuality so I should accord them a clue. And bisected of the added bodies are sick, or their mother’s sick, or their sister’s in a coma, or on and on…” A moment later, he checks himself: “I acquire to be absolute accurate not to get apathetic about it. I acquire to accumulate reminding myself I asked for this.”

When he was younger, Fenn acclimated to like to lie on his aback below a alpine ache timberline and attending beeline up. “You cannot brainstorm how that’ll change your temperament,” he says. An irony of his abundance coursing is that admitting his aim of accepting bodies out into nature, it has contributed to his own movements acceptable added circumscribed.

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These days, his doctor wants him not to sit at his computer account emails for too long, so he takes Willy for walks about the garden. He has placed bristles or six chairs at altered angle points. Aing to some of them, he has placed a canteen of water. He brand to aroma the breeze arise in, and observes little things happen. Sometimes he’ll about-face on the corrupt and baptize one of his trees: a cottonwood, or a Russian olive or Siberian elm. “I like to anticipate I’m accomplishing article worthwhile,” he says.

He sits by the ancillary of the Santa Fe Aisle and he waits.

Photographs by Annie Collinge

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