I spent this 4th of July weekend on a hunt for Forrest Fenn
’s mysterious treasure near the Gates of Lodore
. That’s not the opening phrase of a Lord of the Rings book report; I really took the six-hour trip to the Green River in northwest Colorado with a few devoted friends in hopes of discovering a chest of gold. I had spent weeks trying to decipher the riddle left by the Santa Fe billionaire that serves as a treasure map to his loot
The clues were aligning. I convinced myself that I had pinpointed the exact location of the trove. With a generous three-day weekend — which is nearly unheard of in the restaurant industry — and a boatload of brats and beer, we were off.
In spite of being about as far away from Colorado Springs as possible while remaining in the state, the gates of Lodore are worth the trip. The high canyon walls, cool, rushing river and star-filled sky were all spectacular. We should’ve been over the moon enough upon reaching the campsite, pitched our tents, popped a squat and dug-in until Monday came. But something in us, that pesky adventurous spirit perhaps, told us there was a better spot waiting in the hills beyond.
There was promise early on, the sandy road wound through a lush meadow here and there, and ever closer to the point of my first thought the treasure could be. Still something told us to go just a little further, just beyond another bend. We had already been consumed by greed; we just didn’t know it. We had treasure goggles on.
Predictably, our greed was ultimately our downfall. The final small hill that we were sure would lead us to the perfect location snatched the car’s undercarriage and held on tight. We were high-centered and there was no way we were driving out of there without the help of another vehicle.
Only then did we take a moment to gather ourselves, and against the poetic screech of a canyon hawk, realized that we had meandered our way to the middle of nowhere. And it was hot. Blazing hot.
Our other three companions were perched along the bank of the river awaiting our return. We figured it our best bet would be to schlep the canoe to the river and head back to the site. But after spending all day on the top of the car, the aluminum shell baking in the sun, the canoe was nearly too hot to touch. We were only going to make it if we dragged the sucker.
We only had a vague idea of where the river was, and it’s easy to lose hope while dragging that monstrosity through the sizzling sand at a snail’s pace. But, with one foot in front of the other, and with the vision of our friend’s smiling faces, a cool drink and a camp chair, we trudged on.
Finally, we reached the river — but luck still wasn’t on our side. Just as the nose of the canoe got wet the clouds we had been pleading for in the hours prior to showed up in heavy force, bringing a roll of thunder, intense wind and dime-sized hail along with them.
Defeated, we just stood there and took the lashing. There wasn’t any shelter anywhere and we were too tired at that point to give much of an effort to stay dry. The typically slow-moving river had turned to violent whitecaps. The storm raged on longer than we ever anticipated but in an effort to take fate back into our own hands, we decided that we had to just go for it.
After a few moments of furious paddling, the weather began to subside and we found ourselves floating peacefully down a tranquil river. We were able to relax into the river’s momentum, and dreamt of the campsite that at that point we missed as much as home. It was during this stretch that I completely lost all desire for the treasure that had allured me before. I had been beaten down and whooped by the elements so much so that nothing mattered more than rest and friends.
After miles of the slow drone of the paddle we spotted the boat ramp near our site. We dragged the canoe to the bank and plodded, exhausted, but with one final rush of hope towards our companions. When they saw us — we were too tired to holler – they came running up, all of us weeping and laughing.
We had been gone for 4 hours, sundown was nearing and the relief was palpable. As one of our friends went off to notify the ranger station, I finally found my quiet bit of ground to sit on, surrounded by laughter, cold beer in my hand, safe and sound. I realized then — and here it comes — that I had found my treasure after all. (Hey, some things are cliché for a reason.)
Nic R. Krause was born a cranky, curmudgeon of a child in a Minnesota suburb. He was plucked from the muggy tundra and relocated to Colorado Springs 22 years ago. From intramural jai-alai, to his complicated relationship with the Minnesota Vikings, Nic, plainly stated, is bonkers for sports. Follow him on Twitter @NicRKrause.
This is a smarmy tale of friendship and love rediscovered in the face of a quest for material possessions. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.